The First American Pope Makes a Comeback
Almost home.


LOPEZ: Why does he keep going to St. Mary Major in Rome?

CRAUGHWELL: The fifth-century Basilica of St. Mary Major is the premier shrine to the Blessed Mother in Rome. Francis is devoted to Our Lady. (Find me a pope who wasn’t. Find me a practicing Catholic who isn’t.) The day after his election, he spent half an hour kneeling in prayer before the ancient icon of Our Lady, Protectress of the Roman People, the most sacred image of the Virgin Mary in the Eternal City. But St. Mary Major has another tug at Francis’s heart — on Christmas Day, 1538, in the tiny chapel where the relic of the Infant Jesus’s manger is displayed, St. Ignatius of Loyola celebrated his first Mass. St. Ignatius founded the Jesuits, and Pope Francis is, of course, a Jesuit.


LOPEZ: Who is the “Undoer of Knots” and why does she matter to understanding Pope Francis’s vision of the Church today and moving forward?

CRAUGHWELL: While he was completing his doctoral studies in Germany, Father Jorge Bergoglio visited the Church of St. Peter am Perlach in Augsburg, Germany. There he saw a painting of Mary untangling a knot from a long white ribbon. The image is the work of artist Johann George Melchior Schmidtner, who painted it in about 1700. The inspiration for the painting comes from the writings of the bishop of Lyons, St. Irenaeus (c. 130–200), who said, “The knot of Eve’s disobedience was loosed by the obedience of Mary. For what the virgin Eve had bound fast through unbelief, this did the virgin Mary set free through faith.” In an age when spiritual and temporal “knots” are rampant, and faith is in short supply, Our Lady, Undoer of Knots is a welcome addition to Catholic devotional life. I have begun to pray to her every day because I have a whole lot of knots that need undoing.

LOPEZ: When the young man who would become known as Pope Francis told his mother he wanted to be a priest rather than a doctor, he said he was going to “study the “medicine of the soul.” Have we seen that sentiment in his approach to the papacy?

CRAUGHWELL: Absolutely. Like any physician, he has to show up in the examination room and practice his art. And Pope Francis does. He teaches, encourages, exhorts, inspires, and sometimes he reproves — the spiritual equivalent of telling us to eat less fried food, eat more vegetables, and get more exercise. He does this in a manner that is off-the-cuff rather than scripted, and it has won him an enormous following, even in Rome, which has seen its share of popes. At the weekly Wednesday outdoor papal audience, John Paul could fill half of St. Peter’s Square; the crowds that come to Pope Francis’s audiences have been overflowing the square and spilling down the boulevard leading to St. Peter’s.

LOPEZ: What’s significant about the trip Pope Francis made to the Aparecida shrine on Wednesday? How does it feature in his time as a bishop in South America?

CRAUGHWELL: Our Lady of Aparecida is the national patroness of Brazil and her church is one of the most important Marian shrines in the world. The massive basilica — which can accommodate 45,000 worshippers — draws 10 million pilgrims each year. In 2007, the bishops of South America gathered at Aparecida to discuss the future of the Catholic Church in their part of the world. The document they released — written largely by then-Cardinal Bergoglio, now Pope Francis — called for four things: a more dynamic Catholicism that would reclaim souls lost to the Evangelical churches; an unequivocal solidarity with those on the margins of society, from the disabled to the sexually abused and victims of HIV/AIDS; a dedication to the poorest of the poor, without drifting into the Marxism of liberation theology; and a renewed commitment to fostering the traditional devotions of the people that have nurtured the Catholic faith in South America since the 16th century.

LOPEZ: Do you expect, as I’ve heard commentators suggest, that Pope Francis might “make peace with liberation theology” while back home in South America this week?

CRAUGHWELL: As superior of the Jesuits in Argentina, and then as cardinal archbishop of Buenos Aires, Francis has always been very clear: Any version of liberation theology that promotes a Marxist ideology, defies the teaching authority of the Catholic Church, or deforms Jesus into an insurgent Palestinian gun-runner is anathema. Standing up for the poor is one thing; calling for class warfare is another, and that is antithetical to the Catholic faith. He is not going to “make peace” with liberation theology as the leftists promote it.


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