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In First Book as Pope, Francis Calls for Mercy for All Who Recognize Themselves as Sinners


“I felt as though I had been abandoned”  

Pope Francis recalls how, as a teenager growing up in Buenos Aires in the early 1950s, already considering his own vocation, a visiting priest to the Bergoglio family’s parish of San Jose in the Flores district taught him, when he went to confession, all about the mercy of God.

“I don’t have any particular memories of mercy as a young child. But I do as a young man. I think of Father Carlos Duarte Ibarra, the confessor I met in my parish church on September 21, 1953, the day the Church celebrated St. Matthew, the apostle and evangelist. I was 17 years old. On confessing myself to him, I felt welcomed by the mercy of God.

“Ibarra was originally from Corrientes but was in Buenos Aires to receive treatment for leukemia. He died the following year. I still remember how, when I got home after his funeral and burial, I felt as though I had been abandoned. And I cried a lot that night, really a lot, and hid in my room.

“Why? Because I had lost a person who helped me feel the mercy of God, that miserando atque eligendo, an expression I didn’t know at the time but eventually would choose as my Episcopal motto. I learned about it later, in the homilies of the English monk, the Venerable Bede [672–735]. When describing the calling of Matthew, he writes: ‘Jesus saw the tax collector and by having mercy chose him as an apostle saying to him, “follow me.”’

“This is the translation commonly given for the words of St. Bede [originally written in Latin]. I like to translate ‘miserando’ with another gerund that doesn’t exist: misericordando or mercying. So, ‘mercying him and choosing him’ describes the vision of Jesus who gives the gift of mercy and chooses, and takes with him.”

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