People might not think they know Jorge Mario Bergoglio from Argentina. As a matter of fact, when asked, most will probably say they’ve never heard of the man. However, if you mention that the fellow changed his name from Jorge Mario Bergoglio to Francis and is currently residing in Rome in the Apostolic Palace, a light will go on and they will nod, “You mean the Pope.” Or perhaps they will use the familiar descriptor “Papa Francisco” to show that they indeed do know who the man is and that they rather like him.
An affable looking, round-faced fellow, often smiling, Pope Francis has been touted in the press for humility; he has spoken out against abortion; and he seems not to care for wealth and material goods. Those are indeed virtuous marks with which no fault can be found.
But ponder this: the man also prays the rosary three times a day. For those not familiar with praying the rosary, there is this clarification. To pray the rosary properly you begin at the bead holding the crucifix, starting there with saying the Apostles’ Creed. Moving to the following bead the “Our Father” is recited. The next three beads take the Aves. That is to say:
Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum, Benedicta tu in mulieribus, et benedictus fructus ventris tui, Jesus, Sancta Maria, Mater Dei ora pro nobis peccatoribus, nunc, et in hora mortis nostrae. Amen.
Translated that reads:
Hail Mary, full of grace, The Lord is with thee, Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus, Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen.
The Gloria Patri follows, and so it goes on throughout the chain of beads. The usual number of beads on a rosary, by the way, is 59, although that can vary.
Pope Francis is very fond of Mary. In the 1980s, while studying in Germany, he found great solace praying in front of a baroque painting entitled “Mary, Untier of Knots.” The painting depicts Mary untying a knot while simultaneously stomping her foot on a serpent. He took the painting back to Argentina and urged people to be devoted to the Virgin. The pope sees her as an untier of problems. The knots represent sins to him, sins that separate people from God. Mary, as shown in the painting, unties these knots and brings sinners closer to God. The pope, and the Catholic Church, wrongly attribute mediatory qualities to Mary.
The adoration of Mary is nothing new in Catholic circles. Many stories circulate with regard to her. One such story was reported on in the Nottinghamshire Guardian of September 9, 1864. In this article it was said that a soldier had appeared before the police court in Madrid, Spain. He had been charged with having stolen a gold cup, a gold cup of great value. Exacerbating this crime was the fact that this cup had been placed as a votive offering on one of the numerous altars dedicated to Mary in the city of Madrid.
Hat in his hand, the soldier was his own defense lawyer. “My family and I were in great need,” he explained to the judge in the police court, “and our straits were so dire that I went to church to pray.”
The judge regarded him rather blankly over the spectacles that he wore. “Go on,” he ordered.
“Well, the statue of the Holy Mother of God drew me near,” the soldier went on, “and I knelt down in prayer in front of her.” He paused and wiped the sweat off his forehead before continuing. “I pleaded with her for assistance. I begged her for help.”
“Yes?” the judge prodded as the accused stopped once more.
“Well,” the man went on, “while I was engaged in prayer, I beheld the jewels displayed on the brocaded gown of her statue. I did not covet, but simply stared at them. And then, the Virgin Mother stooped down to my person and she smiled at me. Yes, she did. And she, while she smiled, took that gold cup which I am accused of stealing, and handed it over to me. Yes, this is the truth. She gave it to me.”
There was complete silence in the court. No one replied to the defense. The soldier stood, face down, twisting his hat in his hands.
It was decided, in the long run, to hand the case over to an ecclesiastical commission. This commission met and discussed and discussed. It came to the conclusion, over time, that however inconvenient the admission of the miracle might be, it would be impolitic to dispute its truth. Consequently, the soldier was allowed to keep the cup to aid his needy family. He was also given the severe warning that, should a similar theft occur in the future, the court would be inclined to disbelieve his story.
Not satisfied with Jesus alone
On average, it takes fifteen to twenty minutes to pray the rosary. You keep track of the various prayers by using the rosary beads. Pope Francis is on record as saying that the Christian who does not feel that the Virgin Mary is his or her mother, is an orphan. The archives of the Vatican Radio tells the story that the pope met with a couple during the seventies, a young couple with small children who spoke quite beautifully of their faith in Jesus.
At one point Pope Francis asked them, “And devotion to the Madonna?”
They answered him, “But we have passed that stage. We know Jesus Christ so well, that we have no need of the Madonna.”
The archives then relate that because of their answer the future pope thought of the young couple as orphans, poor orphans, because Christians without the Madonna are orphans. And Christians without the Church are orphans. He said:
A Christian needs these two women, these two women who are mothers, two women who are virgins: the Church and the Madonna. And to make a “test” of a good Christian vocation, you need to ask yourself: How is my relationship with these two mothers going, with mother Church and with mother Mary? This is not a question of “piety.” No, it’s pure theology. This is theology. How is my relationship with the Church going, with my mother the Church, with the holy mother, the hierarchic Church? And how is my relationship going with the Madonna, my mamma, my Mother?
In a December 2014 address to Iraqi refugees, the pope said:
Dear brothers and sisters… You are in the hearts and prayers of all Christian communities, whom I will ask to pray in a special way for you on December 8, to pray to Our Lady to protect you; she is our Mother and will protect you…
That same December the pope sent Christmas greetings to prisoners: “May the blessed and Immaculate Virgin Mary keep you under her maternal mantle.” And that same month, following the death of an archbishop, he wrote: “I entrust his soul to the maternal intercession of the Virgin Mary.”
What is good?
Pope Francis is viewed positively by many people around the world. His concern for the poor, his statements about the environment, abortion and same-sex marriage, and so on – whether right or wrong – resonate with many. Many view him as a moral and humanitarian spokesperson for the world, (regardless of the sexual allegations leveled on a seemingly monthly basis against many priests). But the fact remains that he abounds and leads in idolatry. And does it really matter how the world thinks about you?
As a young boy in Argentina, Jorge Mario Bergoglio suffered an infection and had half a lung removed. He is 80 years old and occasionally suffers from fatigue, sometimes has difficulty breathing and has lost some weight. How many more years does he have before his body turns to dust? How many more days does he have left before his soul will face the only Mediator between God and man – our Lord Jesus Christ? Will veneration of Mary stand him in good stead at that time?
Christine Farenhorst is the author of many books, including an upcoming historical fiction novel, “Katharina, Katharina,” about the times of Martin Luther. This article first appeared in the June 2016 issue.