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A Tradition of Little Flowers

New book recounts the first year of a popular pope

By Jason Godin
Associate Editor, Fathers for Good

A sense of smell allows us to associate specific scents with events in our past. It can also help us make sense of our faith. In Fioretti: The Little Flowers of Pope Francis (Ignatius Press, 2014), journalist Andrea Tornielli adopts an approach popular for understanding St. Francis of Assisi to examine the “smell of the Gospel” that has infused the first year of his early 21st century papal namesake. Arranging a collection of the pope’s everyday encounters, speeches, writings and interviews into a bouquet of thematic “little flowers” – mercy, frugality, holiness found in daily living, closeness to the Blessed Virgin Mary, touching souls by telephone or with a smile, courage and sharing – Tornielli shares insider access to Pope Francis by shedding light on matters near and dear to the Holy Father’s heart.

Tornielli, a Vatican correspondent for the Italian newspaper La Stampa, recently spoke via email with Fathers for Good about his latest book.

Fathers for Good: What single story do most people cite when talking about Pope Francis truly being “one of us”?

Andrea Tornielli: I’ve found that people were amazed about the black leather bag which he used in the plane. I asked him about it during the flight from Rio de Janeiro to Rome. “I took my bag onto the flight with me because I always do,” he answered. “What’s in it? My razor, my book of hours, my diary and a reading book. The book was on St.Therese of Lisieux, whom I’m deeply devoted to. It’s normal to carry a bag, we need to be normal, we need to get used to being normal and I’m a bit shocked that the world took such an interest in the bag. Anyway, there was no nuclear bomb in it...”

Pope Francis’s life choices — not a novelty for him because he was acting in the same manner as archbishop of Buenos Aires — are coherent with his personal testimony and his evangelical faith. People are not looking to an actor, but to a real witness. For that reason, I think Francis is perceived and really is “one of us.”

FFG: You identify both a “return to the essentials of the Christian faith and to the radical character of the Gospel” as the “distinctive sign” of his pontificate.

Tornielli: I believe that in order to fully comprehend the “pastoral conversion” that Pope Francis asks of the whole Church, it is necessary to reread the pages of the Gospel, those pages which should be the constant point of reference in the life of every Christian. The essential message of the Gospel is closeness, a God who loves people. And humility is the more distinctive attitude of a true Christian. A person who is believing in Jesus knows very well how much is the weight of his sins, and how immeasurable is the mercy of God. How is it possible to not be humble? The pope is teaching us about the essential, about truly the heart of the Christian faith. It is the testimony of a Church that is not afraid of tenderness, the silent tenderness whose role model is St. Joseph.

FFG: What do you believe families, particularly fathers, will most take away from your book?

Tornielli: I hope the possibility to know Pope Francis better, and that really being a father means to be able to be a son. The book is not a biography, nor is it an analysis of the pontificate. It is a collection of “little flowers” about the pope, one that I think is possible also to share with children.

I also think that it could be possible to take away from my book the examples and little stories of a man and bishop, who is really a father, teaching the message of the Gospel and the secret of a good life to his sons more with his gestures and his personal testimony than with his words. Or, we can say better, his behavior and attitude are a perfect consequence of his words, and people are understanding that very well.

Visit Ignatius Press for more information.