Thursday, February 20, 2014

Pope Francis and the freedoms of literature

Fr Michael Collins
The Central Catholic Library is delighted to have Fr Michael Collins as one of the speakers for our spring 2014 lecture series. Fr Collins, who is attached to St Mary's Parish, Haddington Road in Dublin, published a biography of the newly elected pope last year, and is well know as a writer. Some of his previous books, available to borrow from the library, include The Fisherman's Net: the influence of the papacy in history (2003), and studies of Benedict XVI (2010) and John Paul II (2011). The title of his lecture, which will be take place in the library at 6.30pm on Tuesday 4th March, is The Franciscan Revolution: Pope Francis and his push for change.

To me, one of the most interesting aspects of Jorge Bergoglio's career is the time he spent as a teacher of literature and psychology while training for the Jesuit order in the 1960's. In his biography, Fr Michael describes how Bergoglio spent 1964-5  at the Colegio de la Imaculada, (a secondary school in Santa FĂ©), moving to the Colegio del Salvador in Buenos Aires in 1966. While Bergoglio found psychology easy to teach, literature posed some problems for him.

This is something Pope Francis takes up in his interview with Antonio Spadaro S.J. for the Italian Jesuit review La Civiltá Cattolica, (available in English at ). Faced with the disinterest of his young students in the required study of Spanish classics such as El Cid, Bergoglio adopted a creative approach. The boys could study their El Cid at home, while in class he would discuss with them the authors they were interested in; so allowing them to develop their tastes in a natural rather than an imposed way. He also encouraged creative writing, and sent two stories by students to the major Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges, who was inspired by them to contribute an introduction to a story collection by the whole class. 

Going back to Fr Michael's account, there might seem to be a discrepancy between the creative teaching strategy adopted by Bergoglio, and the recollections of his students, who, according to Fr Michael, remember both their teacher's self-discipline and his strictness with them. At its best, education leads not just to the mastery of a subject but also to the successful transmission of ethical values, and Fr Michael underlines Bergoglio's awareness of this. Yet perhaps there is no discrepancy here. Asked in the Spadaro interview about his favorite artists, the pope mentioned composers and painters but spoke also of his appreciation of fiction, in the form of both novels and films. He loves Cervantes, Dostoevsky and Manzoni, Fellini's La Strada, and the films of Rossellini; writers and directors who all, whether by word or image, explored the way we live, how we live and why. In encouraging his students' sensitivity to fiction, Bergoglio had them enter a psychological space in which ethical and human values are evoked, experimented with, explored.

As a teacher, Jorge Begoglio trusted the link between literature and life.