Many of thee books I read or glanced at over the recent six months have not been too helpful in understanding the newly elected Pope, Francis. A recent publication, Pope Francis: Key to His Thought, has promise. Penned by Monsignor Mariano Fazio, Vicar of the Prelature of Opus Dei in Argentina since 2010, begins the substance of his narrative when he first met Jorge Mario Cardinal Bergoglio in Rome in 2000. Fazio was then working at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross; he was rector there from 2002-2008.

The author’s thesis is based on many friendly meetings with Francis and thus sketches in a lively manner some of the key ideas that are fundamental in knowing who the Pope is as a person and as a shepherd. I think this perspective opens wider the door of our opinion of the new pope and hopefully engenders in us a spirit of greater collaboration based on something concrete versus the media hype that is prevalent these days.

Monsignor Fazio’s text covers Francis’ “urgency to defend human life and marriage, and the need to ‘go out to the periphery’ to meet people where they are. The latter concern is reflected in the strong encouragement given by Cardinal Bergoglio to the so-called “shantytown priests” for the envangelization of the poorest neighborhoods in Buenos Aires. This effort was grounded on sacramental catechesis and educational projects that foster human dignity, and was never to be confused, Bergoglio always insisted, with an overly political ‘liberation theology.'”

As Fazio says, “I have three letters he sent me in recent years. Whenever I sent him anything, he would respond in writing, in his own hand. The format was always the same: a large card with an image of La Virgen Desatanudos (Our Lady Undoer of Knots), a title originating in Augsburg, Germany (Maria  Knotenlöserin) that he had made known in Buenos Aires . . . In the blank space he writes in small letters, much like Benedict XVI, a few personal and affectionate lines. Here are some: ‘I wish you a holy and happy Christmas. May Jesus bless you and our Lady take care of you. And, please, I ask that you pray and have others pray for me’ . . . These notecards were always accompanied by two holy pictures: one of St. Joseph and the other of St. Therese of the Child Jesus, saints to whom he had great devotion . . . On the back of the picture of St. Joseph is the famous text of St. Teresa of Jesus about the efficacy of devotion to the Holy Patriarch. On various occasions when, having spoken with him, I asked for his blessing, he always invoked these saints and in addition placed me under the protection of St. Josemaria.”

Pope Francis: Keys to His Thought is available from  Scepter Publishers.