The path to a better future
In a new book written during the pandemic-imposed lockdown “in conversation” with British writer and journalist Austen Ivereigh, Pope Francis explores what can be learned from the current global crisis and shares his own personal moments of solitude, which he identifies as “Covid moments”. Published by Simon & Schuster, the book entitled “Let Us Dream: the Path to a better Future” is scheduled for release on 1 December.
“I’ve experienced three ‘Covids’ in my own life: my illness, Germany, and Córdoba”, the Pope writes.
At the age of 21, his first Covid moment, Francis fell deathly ill with a lung infection in his second year at the seminary in Buenos Aires. This experience, he explains, changed his perception and gave him insight into how people with Covid-19 feel as they struggle to breathe on ventilators. “I remember hugging my mother and saying: ‘Just tell me if I’m going to die’”.
Two nurses helped him greatly during his stay in hospital. One was Sister Cornelia Caraglio, who saved his life by increasing his dosage of medication without the doctor’s knowledge. Another, Micaela, performed a similar gesture of mercy with painkillers when he was suffering from intense pain. “They fought for me to the end, till my eventual recovery”, the Holy Father said.
That near-death experience, he explains, taught him the importance of avoiding cheap consolations. Many people offered empty promises of a quick recovery, spoken with good intentions, but one nun who had taught him as a child, Sister María Dolores Tortolo, just came in, took his hand, gave him a kiss, and sat in silence. She finally said, “You’re imitating Jesus”. From this experience, he learned to speak as little as possible when visiting the sick.
Pope Francis’ second Covid moment occurred in 1986 in Germany when he felt thrown off balance by the loneliness of not belonging. During this period, he spent much time watching planes land from a vantage point at the cemetery of Frankfurt, pining for his homeland. When Argentina won the World Cup during his time there, he felt the loneliness of a victory that you cannot share.
Pope Francis goes on to describe his third Covid experience of solitude, between 1990 and 1992 during his time in Córdoba, Argentina. He says this uprooting was a healing that came in the form of a radical makeover, especially focused on his way of exercising leadership. He spent one year, ten months, and thirteen days in the Jesuit residence in Córdoba, celebrating Mass, hearing confessions, and offering spiritual direction. Rarely leaving the house, he described it as a sort of self-imposed lockdown, during which he wrote, prayed a lot and developed ideas.
Three things struck him from that time, he says: his capacity for prayer, the temptations he experienced and the inspiration he felt from God to read all 37 volumes of Ludwig Pastor’s History of the Popes, which, he said, has been useful to him as a Pontiff, because by knowing papal history, there is not much that goes on in the Vatican and the Roman Curia that can surprise one.
Córdoba, says the Pope, was truly a time of purification, giving him greater tolerance, the ability to forgive, understanding, more empathy for the powerless, and especially patience, which taught him that change is organic and takes place within certain limits, though we must keep our eyes on the horizon, as Jesus did. He learned the importance of seeing what is big in little things, and paying attention to the little in big things. His time in Córdoba was a time of growth, which occurs after a harsh pruning.
Overall, the Holy Father writes in his new book, these three personal “Covid moments” taught him that great suffering has the power to change you for the better, if you allow it to.