In Francis of Rome & Francis of Assisi: A New Spring in the Church (Orbis, Aug.), renowned liberation theologian Leonardo Boff explores the ways that Pope Francis reflects, and does not reflect, his namesake, Francis of Assisi, and illustrates how the new Pope is breathing fresh air into today’s Catholic Church. Boff was not always welcomed by other popes--he was condemned to "obsequious silence" and suspended from his religious duties by the Vatican in 1985 for the liberation ideas expressed in his book Church: Charism and Power (Crossroad, 1985). Because of international pressure on the Vatican, that decision was repealed in 1986, but when Boff faced a second such action in 1992, he renounced his activities as a priest. Boff responded in Spanish to PW via email; his response was translated by Orbis publisher Robert Ellsberg.
What prompted you to write this book now?
The original inspiration for the book was Pope Francis’s visit to Brazil in 2013. The principal theme is theological: just as Francis of Assisi was called to reform the church of his time, in the same way Francis of Rome was chosen by God to reform the Church of our time, in its grave credibility crisis.
How are Saint Francis and Pope Francis different?
Francis of Assisi trusted totally in the Holy Spirit. Francis of Rome, as a good Jesuit, practices the discernment of spirits, and without forgetting the Spirit chooses rationally the best paths for the Church of today.
How are they similar?
The spirituality of poverty, humility, love for the poor, and respect for nature is the same.
What kind of Pope does Francis want to be? How would you best characterize his vision for the church?
Francis of Rome doesn’t want to be Pope but rather the bishop of Rome; not a theologian but a pastor who is close to his flock—or, as Francis likes to say, a “shepherd who has the smell of the sheep.” He wants a Church especially for the poor, without the apparatus of power, [a Church] humble and open to all persons. More than doctrine, he wants to promote faith as the joy of an encounter with Jesus of Nazareth.
How is Pope Francis a promoter of ecological awareness?
Francis, the bishop of Rome, shows great preoccupation with the future of life. He is preparing an encyclical on ecology, and he asked me for materials about this theme because he knows I have done substantial work on ecology.
Can you summarize what Pope Francis is and what he is not?
Francis of Rome is not a scholar but a pastor; he wants a “revolution of tenderness,” as he said in Brazil. To that end, his central message is love and mercy without limits. He isn’t centered on the Church, but on the world, and especially the world of the poor. He doesn’t think in terms of the exclusivity of the church, but wishes to collaborate with all the churches and religious of the world in the service of humanity and peace.
What themes or lessons would you like readers to take from your book?
My wish is that all might learn to think of themselves as brothers and sisters with one another; that they might value simplicity; that they might love the poor of the world and have mercy and know that what matters are not doctrines but the living encounter with the person of Jesus; and that they be happy in this world because of the gospel, which is beautiful and good for everyone.