Pope Francis
This week I was in New York for publicity on the launch of my new book, “The Francis Miracle: Inside the Transformation of the Pope and the Church.” Doing the media rounds, most questions I drew were fairly predictable, beginning with the classic American curiosity about whether this pope is a liberal or a conservative.

I was a bit surprised, however, that few interviewers popped a question that seems fairly obvious given the book’s title. It is: “What do you mean, ‘miracle’?”

For Catholics who harbor theological or political grievances with Francis, calling him a “miracle” can seem terribly partisan. Even those with no bone to pick with Francis may find it premature, since he’s been in office only two years and it’s a bit early to be drawing such dramatic conclusions.

Both are perfectly reasonable reactions, but neither actually captures what I mean by a “Francis miracle.”

Instead, the point is that there’s something about this pope that can’t be adequately accounted for in terms of purely human calculations, something that requires a supernatural or mystical point of reference in order to be properly understood.

In a nutshell, the enigma is this: What accounts for the sharp contrast between Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio in Argentina and Pope Francis today?

For sure, that contrast is not absolute. During his 15 years as the archbishop of Buenos Aires, Bergoglio was committed to the poor, strove to re-light the Church’s missionary fires, and lived a life of gospel simplicity. All are traits he’s carried into the papacy.

Yet there clearly is a difference in style and personality, because the Bergoglio of Argentina was nobody’s idea of a pop culture sensation.

The cardinal rarely appeared in public and almost never gave formal interviews. When he did have to take the public stage, friends would call him “shy” and critics “boring.” Nobody came away saying he turned the world on with his smile. In fact, it’s hard to find a photo of a beaming Bergoglio taken before his election two years ago.

Neither was he the spontaneous, shoot-from-the-hip sound bite machine the world sees today. He came off as more controlled, more circumspect, always preferring to operate quietly behind the scenes rather than in public view.

When I asked her in April 2013 what she made of the change, Maria Elena Bergoglio, the pope’s only surviving sibling, said jokingly: “I don’t recognize this guy!”

The question therefore presents itself: What happened?

Whether his papacy is truly “miraculous,” in the sense of boosting the long-term fortunes of Catholicism in some world-changing way, remains to be seen. There’s no doubt, however, that as Francis views it, his is a mission with a miracle at its core.


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