While the newly elected Pope John Paul II stood before Catholic cardinals in the Sistine Chapel on the 16th of October 1978, half a world away in Argentina a middle-aged priest named Jorge Mario Bergoglio was following the election on the radio of his car.
In that moment began a connection between the Polish pontiff and the man who would later become his successor as Pope Francis.
It is this historical moment that opens a new book by the Rev. Luigi Maria Epicoco, in which the Italian priest interviews Francis about his predecessor, finding continuity instead of rupture.
The book, titled “St. John Paul the Great,” was released in Italy on Tuesday (Feb. 11) in honor of the 100th anniversary of the birth of St. John Paul II. It is already being translated into several languages, including English.
Francis “recognizes John Paul II to be an extraordinary figure of a pope, a saint,” Epicoco said in an interview with Religion News Service on Tuesday.
John Paul II was the pope who promoted Bergoglio from priest to auxiliary bishop, from archbishop to cardinal, allowing him to become eligible — and then elected — to the papacy in the 2013 conclave. In turn, Francis placed a halo on Pope John Paul II’s head in 2014, making him a saint.
The book was the result of an informal conversation between Epicoco and Pope Francis, who had shown interest in the works of the young priest, teacher and theologian from the Italian Diocese of Aquila. Epicoco’s book on the importance of fatherhood in contemporary society, “Telemachus Wasn’t Wrong,” was much appreciated by the pontiff, he said.
During a meeting with Francis in June 2019, Epicoco voiced his intention to write a “spiritual biography” of John Paul II and was so taken by Francis’ personal anecdotes and stories of the pope that Epicoco suggested the idea of interviewing him on his predecessor.
“We told the story of John Paul II through the eyes of Pope Francis,” the priest said, adding that the book touches on many subjects dear to both pontiffs.
Among the topics discussed in the text are some of the thorniest facing the Catholic Church at this moment. These include the ordination of women, gender theory and the importance of priestly celibacy.
The latter has been a particularly hot-button issue since the last gathering of bishops, in October, which addressed the possibility of ordaining tested married men in remote areas where there is a shortage of priests.
Since then, the Vatican has made concerted efforts to reduce expectations for any changes in the church’s rules about celibacy. Notable figures in the Catholic Church, including the now retired Pope Benedict XVI, have spoken out in defense of celibacy, and Pope Francis has told bishops from the U.S. visiting Rome that he doesn’t “think the Holy Spirit is working on that now.”
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Source: Religion News Service