.- Church leadership and outreach must be rooted in the pursuit of holiness and always attentive to the dignity of each human being, teaches Pope Francis in his newly translated book.
“It's impossible to understand anything this Pope is doing without understanding personal conversion, and specifically in the very profound Jesuit tradition of the change of heart,” the book’s translator, Alejandro Bermudez, told CNA April 23.
“Only the changing of the heart will create a change in the Church, and a change in the Church is what will create a change in society and culture. For Pope Francis there is no way around that reality – that arises only from a converted heart.”
The new book, “On Heaven and Earth,” is a conversation between Pope Francis and Abraham Skorka, a rabbi and scholar from Buenos Aires. It was originally published in Spanish in 2010, when Francis was still Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, archbishop of Buenos Aires.
Among the wide variety of topics covered in the book is the centrality of holiness to the Church's mission to evangelize.
Pope Francis explained in “On Heaven and Earth” that holiness is essential to leadership in religious organizations, saying it is “a springboard to the transcendent.”
“With regards to religion, holiness is unavoidable for a leader,” he said.
Discussing various periods of difficulty and corruption in the Church’s history, the future Pontiff observed that “religion bounced back” when figures such as Mother Theresa of Calcutta appeared to “rejuvenate religious fervor.”
“In the history of the Catholic Church the true reformers are the saints,” he said.
Bermudez, who is also the executive director of Catholic News Agency, said that holiness will be “absolutely central” to Pope Francis' reform of the Roman curia.
He also commented on the Roman Pontiff's view that while women hold a key place in the Church, their role is complimentary but not identical to that of men.
“Pope Francis has constantly, in several documents and also in the book, explained the importance of the particular role that women have in society, in culture, and in the Church,” Bermudez said.
“He strongly believes that this crucial role has nothing to do with trying to accomplish what men are doing, or imitate what they are doing in the Church, because that will be defeating the key concept of women providing something that men cannot.”
In the book, Pope Francis explained that women have a special “function in Christianity, reflected in the figure of Mary … the woman has the gift of maternity, of tenderness; if all these riches are not integrated, a religious community not only transforms into a chauvinist society, but also into one that is austere, hard and hardly sacred.”
This recognition of each person as bearing dignity in God’s image is also important in engaging non-believers, Pope Francis said, explaining that his approach in dialogue with atheists is not primarily one of direct preaching, but rather one of love and respect.
The future Pontiff characterized his attitude toward such conversations by saying that “I do not approach the relationship in order to proselytize, or convert the atheist; I respect him and I show myself as I am.”
“On Heaven and Earth” is now available in English from Image Books, an imprint of Random House, in print, digital and audio formats.
Until recently, the works of Pope Francis have been available only in his native tongue. Two works on Jesuit spirituality, entitled “Humility, the road towards God” and “Corruption and sin,” are being published this month in Italian.