Monday, April 01, 2013

A close-up on Pope Francis, with one of his oldest friends

Fr. Gustavo Larrazabal, an Argentine Claretian missionary, has been the publisher of the books of Cardinal Bergoglio, now Pope Francisco, during all his years as Archbishop of Buenos Aires. "Editorial Claretiana" Buenos Aires, belongs to Claret Publishing Group. The writings of this unknown Pope are now being made available to the rest of the world. We offer this endearing interview to the readers of our blog. In this interview, as well as in his books, we can have a glance at our new Pope Francisco.

Fr. Gustavo, how did you meet Cardinal Bergoglio?
I met him way back in 1997, when he was appointed Archbishop Coadjutor with right of succession in Buenos Aires. At that time the previous Archbishop was sick. We went to visit the new Archbishop Bergoglio and brought him a book as gift. I remember that it was a simple interview. He was behind a simple desk in his office. I remember also that the book we gave him was a commented edition of the  “The Code of Canon Law”. Some time later, in a meeting with other Catholic publishers, the Cardinal made me look red faced when he said: "The first time that Gordo (the chubby one—Gustavo is a big man and we all call him ‘Gordo’ as a nickname), visited me, he gave me the “Code of Canon Law,” thinking perhaps that I am an ignorant and that I needed to study Canon Law better...”. I remember fondly that first meeting.
Fr. Gustavo Larrazabal,cmf.
That was an interesting story...
The second time I met Bergoglio was in a more difficult situation. That was the time when I began to forge a close relationship with him. He was of great help to me in moments when we had difficulties as a publisher. From Rome, the Holy See, contacted us with a few negative comments about a book we had published. The cardinal called me to help and asked for some clarifications about the book. He was the ecclesiastical authority of the place where I was the publisher. He intervened in an extraordinary, careful way, helping to solve the problem. The cardinal called and asked me: "Gordo, what is this book about?" I told him: "But if you remember, bishop... I sent it as a gift to all the bishops..." (laughs). The truth is that he helped me a lot. From Rome they were putting a lot of pressure, and Bergoglio, in a very paternal and fraternal way, helped us out of trouble and to realize that the book had some edges that needed to be polished....
Cover of one of the titles of Cardinal Bergoglio, published by Editorial Claretiana
From that time on we started a close relationship, and a close friendship that lasts until today. The day I turned 50 years old, about a year ago, I celebrated  Mass with my friends, the editorial staff and family. They had hidden it to me, but the cardinal came to concelebrate at the Mass. I didn't want to preside with the cardinal there. But he stood like one more Claretian brother accompanying me. He told me I had to preside because it was my birthday. And so I did. I really enjoyed that day. My mother and my aunt godmother of baptism were also present. The cardinal was very friendly and affectionate with them also and they were enchanted. He had dinner with us and we had a good time. It was a gesture of closeness with me and a moment of full emotion.

And your relationship with him as a publisher?
We offered him to publish his writings. This strengthened, obviously, this good relationship. He wanted that we be the editors and publishers of his books while he was the Archbishop in Buenos Aires. So now, we have all the books that he wrote during his time as pastor in this Archdiocese; books that now are sought after all over the world. Editorial Claretiana has the rights to all his writings, until the day he became Pope. Thus  a close relationship of author and publisher was established, as well as  institutional relationship, between the Archbishopric of Buenos Aires and the Editorial Claretiana. We also published many other books, like on catechesis and other titles, and for this we sought his approval.
You have known him well and have dealt much with him...  how would you describe his personality?

I found in him a father and a friend whenever I had to go to him; a person who always heard me, together we could find solutions; an always optimistic person, but not naively optimistic. He is, without doubt, a man of great faith and much prayer. His advice was always qualified, as of a spiritual guide: advising, guiding...; a person always seeking solutions, not wanting to abide in the problem. I think this is very important because, after talking with him, myself and others, came out better; I don't know how to explain it, but after talking with him, you would have another perspective to address the problem, a word that he said... or, simply, that he had heard or advised you.

These days people are saying that he is very affable, very cordial. All that is true! That smile that he has is also very natural, but I would still point out to something deeper than this: the ability to understand each person, no matter who they are. He attended to many people, and people who have been in touch with him are telling the same thing. This is also what we are reading these days in the newspapers. On the other hand, there is the ease to meet him. You do not need to ask for an appointment. When I wanted to see him, I simply called him by phone saying: "Jorge, I want to talk to you, when can you see me?" And he would ask: "Is it urgent, Gordo?" If I said ‘Yes’ he would say something like this: “Well, now I will make a little room… come now, or come tomorrow morning", all without too much protocol. Many times to have access to these personalities you have to go through a secretary, ask for an audience, etc. With him it was not necessary and he always facilitated the process.

Going back to the books. Let's talk about the first two that are being translated in many languages. In his homily at beginning of his pontificate, he used the title of one of the books almost as if it were a programmatic slogan, and then he sent it by twitter: "Service is the real power."
Fr. Gustavo Larrazabal in Hong Kong with Frs. Alberto and Ezakias [file]

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