The Heart of Pope Francis

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The Heart of Pope Francis

How a New Culture of Encounter is Changing the Church and the World

At the heart of Pope Francis' vision lies a keen interest in people, a passion for understanding the life experience of the other.

By reaching out, welcoming and listening to others, especially those that are often not heard nor respected Pope Francis has already changed the church more than we might even understand. This small book written by a friend and fellow Jesuit who has worked for many years with Jorge Bergoglio offers clear, and enlightening insights.

Preface by Antonio Spadaro, S.J.
Friendship Is Born in a Moment
1. “We must go out of ourselves”
2. Encountering the Other
3. “God’s faithful people are infallible”
4. Encountering Jorge Bergoglio
5. The God of Pope Francis
6. The New Ministry of Relationship
7. A New Culture in the Church
8. Reflection Guide

Reviews and endorsements

Father Diego Fares, SJ does a masterful job of explaining both the essence and genesis of the world view of Pope Francis, without falling into the politicized black holes that attracted so many of America's TV "talking heads" during the Pope's recent visit to the USA.  As Father Fares reveals, the Pope's message of striving for authentic encounters with others as a fundamental practice of our faith is not a new theme, but one honed from his early days of formation as a Jesuit priest dedicated to helping the poor and marginalized as a true path to a better world.  But even 25 years ago, as the newly minted Auxiliary Bishop Bergoglio cautioned that one needs more than a mere charitable gesture: "If I simply toss him some coins ... if I have not actually touched him, I have not encountered him." And long before his words as Pope would take on instant global acclaim, in 1977, then Father Jorge Bergoglio told his Jesuit brothers: "By walking patiently and humbly with the poor, we will discover how we may help them, after first having welcomed them.  Without this slow, patient walk alongside them, any action we might take on behalf of the poor and oppressed is contrary to our intention and instead we will impede them from fully feeling their own aspirations and from acquiring those tools they need to effectively assume responsibility for their own and collective destiny."

And there is much more -- all succinctly captured by Father Fares in this short, very readable edition.

—David Warden


The title of this book conveys the spirit and tone of this very personal study of the ministry of Pope Francis. Implied in the discussion that treat of various features of the Pope’s dealings with people he meets with in the course of his Papal activities is a long friendship between the author and the Pope. This is rather a work on the spirituality of the Holy Father and its early roots in his formative years as a Jesuit.  This pastoral work is written by a fellow Jesuit who more than forty years ago became an eager and faithful disciple of Father Bergoglio. It was Father Bergoglio, acting novice master for the Jesuits, who received the young Fares into the novitiate and taught him the Jesuit way of life and after the novitiate served as his spiritual director. Later on, the author worked in Buenos Aires where Bergoglio had been made Bishop of the largest city of the country.

Fr. Fares became a prominent presence in the area for he was the Professor of Metaphysics at the Pontificia Universidad Catholica de Argentina. At the same time, he also served in a ministry of feeding the poor of the area. In addition he joined a colleague in managing a hospice for the terminally sick.

The author begins his account of Bergoglio’s priestly work with a brief statement that characterizes the Jesuit-Pope’s manner in dealing with people: “To speak personally, authentically, and directly.” He seeks to create a climate of respect for each person. Just as Jesus’ ministry was marked by a directness of encounter with others, so we are to strive to follow his example. He urges us to “create a culture of encounter” that conveys respect for the individual, however lowly in the opinion of the world.     

While Francis as Pope continued to express his message of concern for all persons in direct and simple language, yet he had studied thoroughly the theologically sophisticated work of Romano Guardini and Hans Urs von Balthasar, and was strongly influenced by their writings. He made it a point to express their insights in a simple language adapted to the capacity of the individuals he encountered. In the effort to reach out to persons of all conditions, Francis was not always careful in his words. He made some mistakes that were to cause some confusion in the faithful on occasion regarding homosexuality: who am I to judge? St. Paul had no such doubts (cf. 1Cor.6:9). In his more formal writings he has been more cautious in his expressing the faith and its teachings.

Already as a young Provincial of the Jesuits in 1974, Fr. Bergoglio sated that he had a strong confidence in the views and practices of the “people of faith” regardless of their lack of training or theological sophistication. He gives as an example the pilgrims who traveled to the Marian shrine of Lujan in Argentina. He was sensitive to the views of the faithful people of God and spoke movingly of the need to listen to them with attention and respect. As he addressed the meeting of Jesuit provincials in 1977 he stressed the need for the Fathers of the Society to reach out to non-believers and “the voiceless poor”, as Pope Paul VI had urged the Society of Jesus. Certainly as Pope, Francis has repeatedly shown this concern in his dealings with atheists. He also has expressed great concern for the sick, the crippled, and by his visit to the Roman jail and its prisoners. As Archbishop he urged the priests of his Diocese of Buenos Aires to engage in the “culture of encounter”. This theme was take up again and treated in detail when he was Cardinal. He stressed that encounter with Jesus is the most important for the ministry. It is the basis from which he urges the faithful to go out to contact others, to spread the faith but also to receive what others have to offer. These two movements are blended into a whole so that encounter with others is impelled by intimate response to God who gave his Son that we might be formed into  a whole. We are united with one another through becoming united with Him.

The Church, he stated to the Ambassadors to the Holy See, works for the integral person, the full development of each. He also suggests that it is by looking to God that one gains inspiration. The fruit of dialogue rather than confrontation is peace among people. One of the major sources of inequality in the modern world, the Pope asserts, is the excessive importance given to money and wealth. He does not hesitate to criticize the fact that money rules today rather than serves human interests. He urges Church leaders to reverse this practice, using available buildings for hostels rather than profitable hotels. The people of God are to stress the dignity of every individual, and stress that refuges and the homeless possess the dignity of being children of God.  In various contexts and to different audiences Pope Francis stresses the importance of meeting others as deserving of respect. In this way, he encouraged bishops to instill hope that brings light to the eyes.

The last brief chapter concisely summarizes the Pope’s manner of viewing his office. He considers himself as a pilgrim, walking along with his companions, at their head, in brotherhood. His choice of the name “Francis” indicates this view he takes of his office. His concept of his pastoral office is that t is an expression of a ” culture of encounter.” This chapter is followed by a section that suggests various topics that a reader may wish to examine and study in greater detail.

Clearly this book treats, as the author realizes with the pastoral character of the office of Pope Francis. It deals then only with a part of his role. There are also legal and canonical issues that require his attention and decision that remain to be resolved. A prominent one that continues to require further, decisive action on his part is that of the cases of sexual abuse by priests, as he acknowledges.

Pope Francis has won the hearts of many, unbelievers as well as of many Catholics. May he add to the fruitfulness of his years in office by showing equal effectiveness in all areas of the Church’s involvements in our increasingly secularized world.       

—Fr Abbot John Eudes Bamberger, Abbey of the Genesee


Since the appearance of Pope Francis on the world scene, a steady flow of books has appeared, each of them helping us better understand this exceptional man. In this book,the reader gets to the heart of the man. And that heart can be described in one word—encounter. The author, who writes from a very personal relationship with Francis, shows how the imperative—"You must go out of yourself"—has been the preaching and the practice of Francis's entire life. This is a book whose impact exceeds its size—seven chapters—but each of them reveals some further aspect of the message needed for our times. I have used it several times as inspiration for homilies and teaching. The study guide for each chapter could be a useful tool for those involved in leading prayer and study groups.

—Deacon Michael E. Bulson

As a friend and pastoral companion of Jorge Mario Borgolio, S.J., for over forty years, Diego Fares, S.J., gives tremendous insight into the various texts of Pope Francis, written while both a provincial superior of the Argentinian Jesuits and as Archbishop of Buenos Aires, as well as the context of the pope’s lived experiences in his native country. With care and precision, Father Fares explains the philosophical bases so important to an understanding of this particular pope: encounter, discernment, dialogue, closeness, and availability.  Pope Francis, an extraordinary individual whose life is rooted in a love for Jesus the Christ, integrates within himself key dimensions–doctrinal, scriptural, practical, personal, ecclesial, and social—of what he expects of himself in his role as Bishop of Rome. Above all, he puts into practice what his fellow Jesuits have termed “a preferential option for the poor” and “the promotion of justice.” The Heart of Pope Francis is a marvelous book!

—Patrick Samway, S.J., St. Joseph’s University, PA


Diego Fares’s little book on Pope Francis’s “Theology of Encounter” will help put to rest any remaining misconceptions that Papa Bergoglio’s papacy is without a strong theological framework. Fares develops Bergoglio’s long development of a “Culture of Encounter” as the basis of authentic renewal in the Church and the World. Fares writes from the strong position of being a longtime friend, a respected professor of philosophy and theology and a priest daily engaged in ministering to the elderly poor.

One might well label Begoglio’s developing pastoral theology as one in harmony and continuity with Rene Latourelle’s theology of encounter, Paul VI’s fostering of Dialogue and Vatican II’s major theological thematic communio. The similar themes of fraternity, solidarity and closeness also feature in this little work whose riches can be explored in groups with the help of the study guide that closes the text.

—Andrew D. Ciferni, O.Praem., St. Norbert College De Pere, WI


As Antonio Spadaro informs us in the foreword, Diego Fares has been a friend of Pope Francis for over 40 years (10).  Friendship begets knowledge, and there is no better way of knowing a person than by living with him day in and day out and sharing each days sorrows and trials as well as its joys and occasional triumphs.  Here in this little book of scarcely over a hundred pages Fares deals with the formation of the mind of our new Pope, which is inseparable from his physical and material existence.  Fares is eminently qualified to present the thought of his former provincial, sponsor, rector, and director (9-10), in short his beloved confrere in the Society of Jesus. 

It is important to know the early spiritual and intellectual influences that formed the thought of any wise person we are interested in.  According to Fares Jorge Mario Bergoglio was primarily influenced by Romano Guardini (21).  The “notion of ‘encounter’” was important for Guardini and is equally so for the present Pope: it presupposes “freedom, respect, a proper perspective, esteem for the other, and dialogue (21).”  Guardini summarized encounter thus: “I am wounded by the brilliance of his being, when I am touched by his action (cited by Fares, 21).”  Encounter involves closeness and “touch,” and it requires the going out from self or “transcendence.”  If encounter does not take place, according to Guardini, the soul becomes ill.  It loses touch with “truth, goodness, and justice, values that transcend the world of utility (22).”

Pope Francis wants to create a “culture of encounter.”  We must learn to go beyond ourselves.  Jesus is “knocking at the door to be let out (16).”  We live in a “culture of fragmentation,” a “culture of waste,” a throwaway culture (17).  But the Pope’s idea of culture excludes the connotation of refinement and sophistication.  A cultured person is not “polite.”  Rather it is a way of life and relationship that he is interested in.  For him “culture” is united with a “faithful people (27).”  Paul VI spoke of the tragedy of splitting Gospel and culture.  Instead we must work at “inculturation (29).”  We must recognize that the people of faith or the faithful people are a resource.  They embody what the Church believes (28).

At this point we find the Pope’s next key concept: “solidarity (34).”  Confronted with the myriad inequalities of our time, the contrast between the rich and the poor, and the shameful waste of natural resources, it is necessary to go beyond fragmentary relationships and consumerism and actually touch and listen to people.  Solidarity implies responsibility and participation (36).  Amid the various ideologies that arise from time to time (the modern Gnosticism) it is necessary to practice discernment of spirits.  Discernment is made concrete by “welcoming” movements toward good and “rejecting” those that are inclined toward the bad (42).  The Pope discerns evil spirits of sickness that go to “discord, fighting, and division” and prescribes the “cure” of encounter and embrace.  At the same time he “rejects” and “banishes” “theoretical plans or practices that lead to non-encounter (43).”

In chapter five Fares shows how the qualities shown by the new Pope were already present in his life as Archbishop of Buenos Aires.  His previous “words and deeds” have “blossomed” in his activity “as Pope” on the “world stage (50).”  We must “re-encounter” him along with his fellow Argentineans (51).  He has always been “shaped by” his ministry, and now that he is Pope he enters on a new ministry (52).

—Br Brian Kerns, Abbey of the Genesee


“I would recommend this book to anyone looking for a short (116 page) guide to Pope Francis’ thought and his theology of encounter, which has motivated him from his early days as a Jesuit, through to Archbishop of Buenos Aires, and now Pope. We are led to an understanding of what has inspired Pope Francis’ apostolic zeal in his accent on the encounter with ‘the other’, with our neighbor and, through him, with God, the ultimate other: “…we must do what Jesus does: encounter others.”

For an authentic interpersonal encounter, I have to present the real me in going out from self, both in prayer and in the service of others, in particular in my “encounter with the wounded body of Christ in the poor.”

The pope stresses the place of dialogue, which leads to peace. For this to be fruitful we are told that we must be people of integrity. We have a shining example of this in Pope Francis himself.

There is a useful study guide and color photos throughout (including Pope Francis about to spin a basketball on his index finger, to the delight of the Harlem Globetrotters.)”

—Br David Hodges, OCSO, Caldey Abbey, Wales, UK     

Hardcover / 112 pages
Dimensions: 5 x 3.75 x 8.25