A Unified Theory of Pope Francis

Re-tracing Jorge Bergoglio’s journey to forgiveness.

On March 28, 2013, only two weeks after he was elected, Pope Francis celebrated Holy Week in a jail in Rome. For the previous thousand years, hundreds of popes had re-enacted Jesus washing the feet of his disciples at the Last Supper, ceremonially pouring holy water over the toes of priests and bishops at the Vatican. Pope Francis, in a very clear snub of tradition, chose 12 juvenile offenders instead of priests. One pair of feet was deformed from too much walking in cheap shoes. Another was covered with gang tattoos. And, for the first time in church history, a Pope washed the feet of women, including those of a Muslim and a refugee from Bosnia.

“Washing your feet means that I serve you,” Bergoglio told the young men and women in an accent that still bore traces of his native Buenos Aires. “And we should all serve each other. We don’t wash each other’s feet every day…but it’s a symbol, a sign. A sign that we are here to help each other.”

Keep Reading Show less

The Equalizers

A secret history of the fight for social justice among Brazil’s greatest soccer stars of the past century

Brazil has won more World Cup titles than any other country, but the nearly 200-year old South American host nation has a legacy of competitors as valiant off the field as on it—so much so that it is possible to imagine a player at every position on the soccer field whose life displayed an abiding commitment to rallying against social inequality.

Keep Reading Show less

Stimulant of the Masses

Meet the radical ex-priest who took on Brazil's military dictatorship.

Almost 25 years ago, I was learning to organize miners and peasants in the north of Chile. One of the movement’s leaders pulled me aside and handed me a worn copy of Comunidades Eclesiales de Base, a book by Leonardo Boff. “This is how to make it work,” he told me. A couple of years later, in a refugee camp in El Salvador, I got the same book as a gift. Since then, I have found Boff’s books on the shelves of human rights lawyers in Colombia, activist journalists in Mexico, and peasants trying to win land rights throughout Latin America. Boff, who spent most of his career as a Catholic priest, was both a spiritual and political leader, providing both moral weight and practical guidance to the fight against dictatorships and rapacious capitalism throughout Latin America’s most tumultuous years.

Boff left the small town of Concórdia, in the state of Santa Catarina where he was born to join the Franciscan Friars in 1959. Over the next 30 years, he organized “base communities,” small groups, spun off from the Brazilian church, to resist the dictatorship and strive for human rights. Writing about religion, community and politics, Boff became the most prolific scribe of liberation theology, a populist movement that questioned the church’s role in preserving a status quo rife with inequality and injustice. The poor and marginalized, he insisted, see power and suffering in a different way than the rich. Not that crazy an idea, considering the Bible is ostensibly a book about poor Judean peasants, carpenters, and fishermen.

Keep Reading Show less