Archbishop Charles Chaput met the man who was introduced to the world March 13 as Pope Francis while both were attending the Synod for America in Rome in 1997. The archbishop of Philadelphia talks here with the Register about his initial impressions of the man who would become pope and what he expects from his papacy.
At the time you met the man we now know as Pope Francis, did you see anything in him that would suggest he could be a future pope? Could you share other impressions of him from that meeting?
I was struck by how keenly he listened to the synod’s speakers and how well he understood the issues facing the Church in both North and South America. But, mainly, I remember the warmth of his personality and how generously he greeted me as a brother. I was still a fairly junior bishop.
You still have a portrait of Mary that was a gift from him. Why did he give you this gift, and can you tell us more about the portrait?
He liked my synod intervention [talk] because I referenced Charles Borromeo, one of his favorite saints. The portrait he gave me is Mary, the Virgin of Desatanudos, an Argentine devotion that originally began in Germany. In the portrait, Mary is seen untying knots, and the knots are the difficulties in our life as a Church.
How will having a Latino pope benefit the Church, especially Latino Catholics in the United States?
This is a great gift, a huge benefit for the Church, and also a candid recognition of the new Catholic reality worldwide. I think it will have a wonderful energizing effect on Latino Catholics in the United States, who already contribute so much to American Catholic life in great numbers.
How do you expect the new Pope to impact religious vocations?
Young people respond to authenticity. Pope Francis lives what he teaches and proves it by the simplicity of his manner. It’s always easier to choose God and a vocation of service when the Vicar of Christ himself radiates the joy that those choices bring.
It is being said that this Pope believes in adorning doctrine with the works of mercy. Would you agree with this? If so, what evidence have you seen of it?
As the Epistle of James says, faith without works is dead. Likewise, works without faith have no permanence or larger meaning. As a cardinal in Argentina, the Holy Father preached the Catholic faith and then showed what that means by his actions, especially his witness of charity. I suspect he’ll do exactly the same as Pope.
Register correspondent Judy Roberts writes from Graytown, Ohio.