May 5, 2014 By Ajay P Mangattu

I Have Read a Pope

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On ‘Pope Francis: His life in his own words’ is valuable read for many reasons. Through his own words we come to know a man whose actions and words reflect his deeply rooted humility. This is the first time in two thousand years that a rabbi has written the forward for a book on the thoughts of a Catholic priest, writes Ajay P Mangattu

Even the mightiest can be found to weaken in some difficult situations. Drona is the grand master of the art of archery. Nobody can defeat him. Suddenly in the midst of war he weakens, when he hears his son’s name. He gets killed as he puts his arms down thinking his only son is no more. Prominent flaw in Drona’s character is his boundless passion for his son. Apart from his son, the only person who has received his affection is Arjuna. That’s why he demands Ekalavya‘s thump as gurudekshina. Drona knows one day Ekalavya will beat Arjuna. Even though Ekalavya sees the betrayal in Drona’s demand, he weakens before his Guru. He obeys him, cuts his finger and retreats from history, giving away his future. And what will happen to Arjuna, the master warrior? Eventually in a crucial situation, when   women are kidnapped, he forgets his archery and fails to protect them from humiliation.

The question is: what exactly is strength? What is its meaning? Is soul more powerful than body? This question arises many times in Mahabharatha. In Kuttikrishna Marar’s Bharatha Paryadanam, a critical work in Malayalam on the epic, Bhishma associates Dharma with strength. Whatever the strong men do can be called dharma. Perhaps, he is saying this to justify his king Duryodhana, to argue that whatever a king does is right. But if we think again there is more to the word ‘ strong’ or ‘ the one who is strengthened’. It can have many varied meanings. What is the strength of Draupadi ? Even though she is armed and goes in the battlefield herself she makes the war inevitable. It is when Draupadi is dishonored by Dushasana in a public place, before her husbands and relatives, the story takes a fatal turn to the total doom. It’s she who declares war on everyone who resorted to violence on her body. It is curious that we remember another humiliation in public. When Duryodana visits Pandava’s palace he is humiliated before a herd of women led by Draupadi. Duryodana finds himself weak before the laughter of women. The insult is deadly. He never forgets it.

No matter one is good or bad, strong or weak  ,one cannot move forward escaping the traps of doubts.

Even the most truthful person  has doubts about the purity of his own deeds and purpose. I have these thoughts as I have finished reading  Pope Francis’s conversations with two journalists about his childhood to priesthood.  This is a bout literature, religion, politics and God. There are strong men with weak soul. Some are seen in higher places and achieve a lot of successes; still they make serious mistakes in a crisis. Wrong judgments cause untimely fall. Pope’s talk is intellectual and encouraging. He says, we sometimes misunderstand that men in big positions are far beyond doubts and frailties don’t affect them. But we forget that each man is undergoing a continuous process of purification to achieve a luminous personality. In his book of interviews Pope Francis talks about his sins and doubts, his ambitions and struggles. This is the first time I have read a Pope. And this is the first Pope I find interesting. Because he is positively open to talk. He loves literature and he was a friend of Borges.

Pope Francis talks about common things but with sharp wit and intelligence. In one of the conversations, he answers about how to take correct decisions in life. Mistakes never go away from one’s life. Many decisions we take in day to day life may go wrong. If something is gone wrong we may have to go back to correct them. Since our failures keep return to us we may not succeed to get away from them. Only going through failures we realize our deficiencies. ‘I don’t have all the answers,’ Pope says, ‘nor do I have all the questions.’ I try to propose new questions every time. Well, new questions will always arise. Each time we may have to choose new answers. Pope gives an example from his own life: I confess that, because of my disposition, the first answer that comes to me is usually wrong. When I am facing a situation, the first solution I think of is what not to do. It is funny. But that’s how it works for me.

Pope reminds us that no one can escape passing through the solitude of decision-making. Each day we awaken with a new decision. These decisions need not always be correct. We may not get a correct answer easily. We may go to a priest or cardinal. There also we can’t have the right solution. One should always come back to one’s own soul in order to take a correct decision. It’s hard always but one cannot escape its solitude. Pope says only in solitudes one meets one’s God. Alone, there your God also.

Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was the archbishop of Buenos Aires, before he was elected to succeed Pope Benedict XVI on March 13th 2013. He is the first Latin American Pope, and the first to take the name Francis, after saint Francis of Assissi, the thirteenth-century friar known for his charity and kindness.

This is a book prepared by Francesca Ambrogetti and Sergio Rubin; both are well known Argentine journalists who have done a series of interviews with Bergoglio for a period of time. All these conversations were done before Bergoglio became Pope Francis and originally published in 2010. After the Cardinal became Pope, the book got published in English with new title “ Pope Francis  : His Life in his own Words.’ Through his own words we come to know a man whose actions and words reflect his deeply rooted humility. This book concludes with Pope Francis’s own writings and reflections full of wisdom and inspiration.

This book’s introduction is written by Rabbi Abraham Skorka of Buenos Aires. ‘This is the first time,’ he says, in two thousand years that a rabbi has written the forward for a book on the thoughts of a Catholic priest. And readers also will be happy with this first experience.

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