Pope Francis Pursued: Pilgrimage by Mark Shriver

Pilgrimage by Mark ShriverThe subtitle of Mark Shriver’s book Pilgrimage is My Search for the Real Pope Francis. The implication is that there is some confusion, disagreement, or misunderstanding about who Pope Francis is. It’s almost as if Pope Francis is too good to be true. Or perhaps there’s a suspicion that the public persona of Pope Francis is a mask that conceals his real agenda. As Shriver himself writes in the prologue,

I kept warning myself not to believe unconditionally in a guy who, I kept reminding myself, headed a very flawed institution and would need to execute some serious reforms before I could truly consider him “the real deal.”

But as he continues reflecting on his interest in the man previously known as Jorge Mario Bergoglio, Shriver comes to understand a deeper reason for writing his book:

I needed and wanted more of Bergoglio in my life. I needed him to help remedy my own distance from the Church and faith I was born into. I wanted to explore the warts and moles and failures as well as the virtues and good words and successes. Can I believe him? Can he help me? Is he for real?

By going on pilgrimage to visit the places and people that formed Jorge Mario Bergoglio into the man the world now knows as Pope Francis, Shriver hopes to find that Pope Francis is real and not an illusion. Because if Pope Francis is real, with all of Bergoglio’s “warts and moles and failures,” then there is hope for the rest of us.

Pilgrimage grew on me as I read it, probably because it revealed more and more about Pope Francis with each successive chapter. The further I got into the book, the closer I felt to Francis.

It was interesting to observe how Shriver was affected by what he discovered, and I admire his courage in visiting some of the dangerous slums in Buenos Aires in order to speak to priests who knew Bergoglio in the 1990s. Shriver’s meeting with those priests, Toto and Pepe, were some of my favorite parts of the book, along with the section that described how Bergoglio was able to convince Jorge Luis Borges to come to his high school literature classroom. Ultimately, it was the final chapter and afterword that most moved me, partly because of the presence of Pope Francis himself, and partly because of Shriver’s descriptive and reflective talent.

While I enjoyed Pilgrimage: My Search for the Real Pope Francis, the book probably has its greatest appeal to those who, like Shriver, feel disconnected from the Catholic Church and yet feel drawn to Pope Francis.

Regardless of where you find yourself in relationship to the Church, Shriver’s book does a fine job in helping the reader understand many of the key influences on the life of one of the world’s most compelling figures.

Highly recommended.

Pilgrimage: My Search for the Real Pope Francis by Mark K. Shriver
New York: Random House, November 29, 2016
Print length: 256 pages

Deacon Nick

Nick Senger is a husband, a father of four, and a Catholic school teacher, vice principal and technology coordinator. He taught junior high literature and writing for over 25 years, and has been a Catholic school educator since 1990. In 2001 he was named a Distinguished Teacher of the Year by the National Catholic Education Association.

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