Poverty linked to respect for life in Pope's book

Pope Francis greets the faithful from the loggia of St John Lateran Basilica on April 7 2013 Credit Stephen Driscoll CNA CNA 4 8 13 Pope Francis greets the faithful from the loggia of St. John Lateran Basilica on April 7, 2013. | Stephen Driscoll/CNA.

In his newly translated book, Pope Francis proposes a Christ-centered understanding of human dignity that yields a comprehensive respect for life reaching from the unborn to the impoverished.

"He clearly makes the case that Jesus brings about a completely new vision of humanity, that human life is provided with a dignity that goes beyond our capacity to understand," Alejandro Bermudez, the book's translator, told CNA April 23.

"Therefore the most crucial approach to human life is reverence."

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.

The book depicts a firm reverence for human life that connects the Pope's committed opposition to abortion and euthanasia with his passionate concern for the poor and elderly.

"This reverence means paying attention first to secure life in itself, and second the continuity of life that comes through the relationship of one man and one woman, and third the dignity of the quality of that life," explained Bermudez, who is also executive director of Catholic News Agency.

"So for Pope Francis, it is a continuity … the zeal for the defense of life and of marriage is exactly the same zeal for human life that brings him to come out in the defense of the poor, and most specifically of all of those who are suffering."

Bermudez explained that "there are many forms of poverty which goes beyond just the physical, and Pope Francis has been extremely sensitive to any kind of human suffering."

In "On Heaven and Earth," Pope Francis speaks at length about the needs of the poor and vulnerable. He says that the elderly are unfortunately among those who are seen as "disposable" by today's "consumerist, hedonist and narcissistic society."

In the same work, the Pope explained that the death penalty "once was one of the punishments that Christianity accepted, but today the moral conscience has become much more refined."

Bermudez said that this perspective is not "anything different than what John Paul II said."

"In his mind, more and more the sensibility of Catholics should move us away from the death penalty …  Pope Francis comes from a part of the world in which the death penalty has long been suppressed, it doesn't exist."

This is the case in much of the world, so the death penalty does not have the "relevance" that it has in the U.S., Bermudez explained, "and so in general, Catholic leaders have not elaborated much beyond what John Paul II said in Evangelium Vitae and what the Catechism reflects."

"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.

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