This week I had the opportunity to interview Robert Moynihan, author of Pray for Me : The Life and Spiritual Vision of Pope Francis, First Pope From the America’s and editor of the magazine Inside the Vatican.
PETE: Pray for Me is a fantastic look into the first days and weeks of Pope Francis’ papacy. How much work does it take to undergo a project of this magnitude considering it was released a mere six weeks after Pope Francis’ election?
ROBERT MOYNIHAN: I was in Rome to follow each day during the period from the announcement by Pope Benedict XVI of his resignation to the election of Pope Francis and through the first weeks of his pontificate. I saw him personally on a number of occasions, and read everything he was saying, and much of what the world press was saying about him.
I was writing a series of Letters from Rome on all of these events, and so I decided that the best way to interpret the new pontificate was to go more deeply into each word he spoke, he gesture he made, and then attempt to draw out from that a picture of the man and his mind, heart and soul. That is what I did. I then read everything I could find of what he himself had written as a bishop (his homilies in Buenos Aires) and interviews with him over the years. All of this helped provide an insight into the man and his vision for the Church and the world, his vision of the meaning of human life, and the Christian message.
I worked around the clock after the election on March 13, and submitted the book at the beginning of April. It was an arduous but very exciting and rewarding task, and a memorable time in my life. I am in Rome now and following events very closely, and hope to continue to write about this pontificate as it unfolds.
I worked each day for about 18 hours, attending papal events during the day, then reading for several hours, then writing into the little hours of the morning, then doing it again. There was no way to do this book without living the first days of the pontificate with a nearly total focus on what the new Pope was saying and doing, and what his words and actions meant. To grasp the main lines of his youth and life prior to the election, I talked to those who knew him, and read everything I could as others, like myself, researched his life and work, and wrote about it. In this sense, I depended on the work of others, who were also working hard to understand this man and his life, and vision.
PETE: Being in Rome during such an historic moment in time must have been quite an experience. Can you share any of your personal thoughts on that experience and how it affected you as a Catholic?
ROBERT MOYNIHAN: I felt profoundly privileged to be in Rome during those days. They began with a thunderclap: the announcement on February 11 by Pope Benedict that he would resign, and then the two bolts of lightning that struck the dome of St. Peter’s that evening, in a tremendous storm, a tempesta as the Italians call it, chillingly cold, and sweeping gusts of rain, at about 6 in the evening. During February, the focus was on Benedict and his passing. During March, the focus was on the conclave, and the choice of the cardinals. Once their choice was announced, the task was to understand what it meant. I was filled with a sense that the times were “historic” for the Church, and I still believe today that the Church passed through something very extraordinary with the resignation of a living Pope, and the election of a Jesuit from the new world who is deeply Marian, deeply Christo-centric, deeply in love with Christ and his Church, and with the poor and marginalized of the is world, for whom his heart goes out in a great wave of Christian charity. I only regret that I did not have more energy and strength and wisdom to enable me to follow even more effectively the events of those days. But I am grateful that I was in Rome to watch the events unfold.
PETE: Your last entry in the first section of the book was for Palm Sunday Mass March 24. What are your thoughts on the Petrine Ministry of Pope Francis since?
ROBERT MOYNIHAN: Now it is July, the days are hot, the nights are still, and we await the Pope’s departure for Brazil, and all sorts of world events seem about to challenge this Pope in unprecedented ways. I will try to be ready to recount what the coming weeks and months will bring.
PETE: You have also written a book on Pope Benedict XVI titled Let God’s Light Shine Forth : The Spiritual Vision of Pope Benedict XVI. Could you give my readers brief synopsis of that book and how it came about?
ROBERT MOYNIHAN: I also wrote a book on Pope Benedict, whom I know well, in the days after his election in 2005. I used material from my own interviews with him in the 1990s, in that 2005 book. I felt I captured the essential vision of the man, and I still feel that book was one that in a few pages gave a deep insight into Benedict, one of the most misunderstood men of our age. He has a great and profound vision of the dignity of man in light of the Christian “fact,” and he analyzed the malaise of our modern world as effectively as any other thinker of our time, perhaps more effectively. But his soaring vision and his commitment to the truth he held so firmly, led him to encounter many enemies, who eventually impeded his work as Pope, and made it impossible for him to continue. But he is in contact with Pope Francis, and in this sense, this new pontificate is an extension, in a new key, of what he did from 2005 to 2013. We will see this more clearly in the months ahead.
PETE: Would you like to take some time to let my readers know about your magazine Inside the Vatican and your website The Moynihan Letters?
ROBERT MOYNIHAN: My magazine follows these Church events monthly, and I would be happy to have more subscribers. I have done a monthly magazine on the Vatican since 1988, or for 25 years. It is still in paper, and still has color photographs, and attempts to capture the meaning of what is happening at “the heart of the Church.” My letters are occasional, and available at the Moynihanletters,com. I have not been writing for some weeks, but am about to begin again almost daily. These letters go out to those who sign up. Currently 20,000 people are subscribed. Subscription is free.
PETE: Time for my signature ending question. This is a blog about books. What is currently on your bookshelf to read?
ROBERT MOYNIHAN: On my bookshelf? A little book by Cardinal Marc Oullet, “The Christian Vocation to Marriage and Family in the Mission of the Church” (in Italian), in order to better understand the great issue of marriage in our time; and a book by Gianni Valente, a friend of Pope Francis, and pif Pope Benedict, and my own friend, entitled “Ratzinger at Vatican II,” also in Italian. I also am continuing to read Pope Benedict’s three books on Jesus, and thinking of writing my own commentary on those three great books.