When you work alongside the same person for 20 years, you tend to have a pretty good idea of what his personality is like and how he approaches life.
Jose Maria del Corral spent that length of time working with Archbishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio in the field of education in Buenos Aires. Now, he is heading up a charity, inspired by Pope Francis, that aims to improve education worldwide and make it more inclusive, especially for pupils in low-income schools.
Called Scholas Occurrentes, it also focuses on sports and the arts.
During a visit to Rome in mid-March, del Corral spoke to the Register about Pope Francis, including his personality and his enthusiasm for this project.
How involved is the Pope in this project?
Totally; there’s full commitment. The Pope himself launched the project in August. He took advantage of his experience as archbishop of Buenos Aires; he led similar projects when he was archbishop. We’re sending him a monthly report about the evolution of the program and the expansion of networking all around the world. Yesterday, after a lunch with the Argentine president, he planned to take a little nap, as he does every day. But, instead, he decided to suspend the nap and receive us, and we spent two hours talking about the project.
What did he say about it?
He wanted to know how it’s developing: numbers and figures.
What are his views on education?
He believes that, without education, it’s not possible to change the world. Regarding the example of Syria, soon after he was elected pope, it was possible to mobilize the international community. But the only way to really finish with war as an institution is to do it in a deeper way, which requires education.
Can you tell us how you came to know the Pope and give some insights into his personality?
For me, the best way to know a person is working with him, and I knew that through working with him. I’m a theologian. I used to study economics, and I left the corporate world to be a teacher in Catholic schools. He knew me and asked me if I could become president of the Catholic Educational Council of Buenos Aires. I worked for 20 years in charge of Catholic education in Buenos Aires. I worked together with him, and we became friends. But I don’t want to consider myself as just a friend, because everyone wants to be a friend of the Pope, so they can say they’re friends with a pope. I consider him as a father to me.
What is it about him that makes you say that?
[Becomes emotional, at a loss for words] I always say, in the many movies and documentaries on Pope Francis I’ve been interviewed for, the same thing. They travel to Argentina to interview me, and I tell them that there are only a few leaders of the world who really don’t check the time when they’re talking with you. He sees you, listens to you; and at that very moment, there’s only one person on earth, and it’s you.
His time is the present. He really doesn’t miss the past, the glories of the past. He’s not distracted by the future and the world ahead. He lives in the present. He’s very intuitive, so intuitive that, at the end of the day, there’s a simplicity about him.
Some people find it quite difficult to decipher him. Can you help us to understand where he’s going to lead the Church?
I believe that he really doesn’t know. He lives in the present; he’s going to make the right decision, but in the here and now.
He’s a very intuitive person, and he develops a strategy with a lot of prayer and meditation. Every day, from 4am to 6am, he’ll meditate, no matter how tired he is. In the summertime, he usually stayed in his small, humble apartment in Buenos Aires, praying and reading.
Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.