Carlos Caso-Rosendi

Wandering about the web this morning I found a bunch of pretty hostile comments on the alleged heresy of Jorge Mario Bergoglio, now known to the whole world as Pope Francis. Hearing some of the first “controversies” about the Pope’s remarks I wrongly attributed the reaction to his lack of clarity, many of us Argentines are less than clear when communicating ideas. Not long ago a perfectly cogent and well educated Canadian friend returned a paragraph of mine with the words “I had to delete it because I could not make any sense of it.” I am sure there was not ill will. We Argies are a linguistically isolated community, we have developed a number of vices that affect our ability to communicate even among ourselves.

The slang of Buenos Aires is notoriously obscure. A line like this: “el chamuyo cafiolo es una papa, cualquier mistongo el repertorio ñapa” [1] is gloriously impenetrable for any decent Spanish reader. Unfortunately the problem does not end there, Argentines are masters of the implicit and we generously sprinkle our phrases with it, even when we are speaking other languages.

The Pope may suffer from argentinitis linguistica I thought. To make things more complicated he is the offspring of a Piedmont family, and a first generation Argentine who grew up in Buenos Aires, a city with a decades-old tradition of butchering the language of Cervantes. If God did not give Saint Paul the gift of clarity one cannot blame Bergoglio for his rhetorical shortcomings. The Lord giveth, the Lord taketh away.

The Pope’s latest interview was reported as containing the following. The phrases are taken from James Akin’s article in The Catholic Register:

(1) “The Son of God became incarnate in the souls of men to instill the feeling of brotherhood.”

By the way, this is the —Google translation— of the original phrase. Which would make Pope Francis a loyal disciple of Spinoza or Deepak Chopra, and also a heretic. Buzzard … wrong! For the original Italian phrase read this way:

“Il Figlio di Dio si è incarnato per infondere nell’anima degli uomini il sentimento della fratellanza”

Which is, if my Italian won’t fail me:

(2) “The Son of God became incarnate to instill in the soul of men the sentiment of brotherhood.”

The correct translation is, of course (2) and there is nothing heretical about it. But wait, there’s more.

“Everyone has his own idea of good and evil and must choose to follow the good and fight evil as he conceives them.”

Saying it that way certainly sounds relativistic and definitely not Catholic. But a better translation renders the original meaning in a completely different way. I can assure you this is much more accurate:

“Ciascuno di noi ha una sua visione del Bene e anche del Male. Noi dobbiamo incitarlo a procedere verso quello che lui pensa sia il Bene”

That should be translated as: “Each one of us has a personal vision of the Good or even of Evil. We must incite [others] to move towards their idea of Good.”

That phrase of the Pope is perfectly Catholic. God has given us a natural sense of good and evil. We must engage others at that level and then show them the next step: “the way, the truth, and the life” that is Jesus Christ. Is that proselytizing? Not in the modern sense of that word. The term proselytizing carries many negative connotations that hark back to the days of the “rice Christians” when certain Protestant missionaries baptized anyone who showed up for a free meal. What the Pope is pointing at is the witness of Christ.

Jesus did not send us to convert people. He sent us to all the nations to be His witnesses, to live the Gospel and be a model for others of what a citizen of the Kingdom of the Heavens looks like. Proselytizing (in the modern sense of the word) never worked because there is no material advantage to becoming a bearer of the Cross. The mystery of conversion is an inner move of the Holy Spirit brought about by our witness of the good news. Witness, yes. Proselytizing, no. We are in this world to gain souls for Christ, not simply to fill the pews with warm bodies. That is the meaning of the candlelight Mass during Easter. We are to set hearts on fire and for that purpose we have to be on fire ourselves bearing witness.

Wild, amateurish translations — twisting the words of the Pope to make him say what he never intended — are repeating the mistakes of those who carried the “spirit of Vatican II,” a “spirit” invoked to find ambiguities that are later used to justify real heresy and disobedient practices.

We have to protect the words of Bergoglio: some do not realize that here in Buenos Aires he was hated by both the extreme right and the left. Both sides have concocted the meanest lies to make him look bad. Those lies are easily exposed but they keep coming back. It is very tiresome.

I trust the man firstly because I am Catholic and I trust Jesus who taught us the Pope is not going to teach a lie. I also trust Bergoglio the man because of his witness through decades of modest, unassuming ministry. He is no fat lady standing first in line to dine with Obama; he never bowed to political power, he never stopped declaring the truth openly and aggressively, he never failed to be a MAN of Christ. I would find it very odd if he starts being the opposite of what he always was. He could have been killed, he was persecuted when he was a mere bishop, but he stuck to his guns. Why is he going to turn into a heretic now that he’s a pope?

In spite of anything his critics may say, Francis is on the right track. He has managed to make people listen to those interviews . Everyone is reading his words carefully. While the world is turned into a global Sodom, Francis’ papacy is engaged in a different sort of transformation. He, like Christ is willing to take on the challenge to change the world one soul at a time. It may seem impossible but it has been done before. Those who nit pick on bad translations of his words are missing the point. Maybe that’s why he chose the name Francis to answer the call of God to the Poverello: “Francis, repair my church, which has fallen into disrepair, as you can see.”

A friend of mine sent me this thought on those who pick on the words of our Pope:

“They are all idolaters, putting up false gods of one sort or another. Failing is too easy for we are all human. Only an attitude of constant surrender, of confession, of time before the Blessed Sacrament, reading Scripture and hearing the magisterial voice of those whose words and teachings have met the test of time; and digging, digging for the truth behind the often well meaning but distorted impressions and interpretations.”

Tomorrow is the feast of St. Francis of Assisi. Ultimately the ministry and life of St. Francis, the impulse behind his actions was nothing less than to live the teachings of Christ. His efforts made him deserving of the highest of prizes: he received the stigmata,bearing the witness of the Cross in his very hands and feet. His last words to his followers were: “I have done my part, may Christ teach you to do yours.” So he died on October 3, 1226, six hundred and eighty seven years ago. He had been chosen like this Francis of our time, to bear witness to divine grace. St. Francis wrote very little but the influence of his example reaches even these troubled times. May be we should look at this Francis as we look at old St. Francis, the man whose very life became a sublime homily on how to serve and love all creation.


[1] Taken from El Chamuyo by Felipe “Yacaré” Fernández. For the average citizen of Madrid or Mexico City, these verses are gloriously obscure.

Se bate, se chamuya, se parola,
Se parlamenta reo como grilo
Y aunque la barra bufe y le dé estrilo
El lengo ´e chele es un bacán de gola.
Si el vichenzo es cafaña y no la rola
Lo catan pa´ l fideo, manco dilo,
Y hay cada espamentoso tirifilo
Más puntiagudo que zapallo angola.
El chamuyo cafiolo es una papa,
Cualquier mistongo, el repertorio ñapa
Y es respetao cuando lo parla un macho.
A veces, si otro camba me lo emparda,
Hay programa de espiche en la busarda
O se firma con un feite en el escracho.

Published 3 October 2013.