Local author raises understanding of Pope Francis

by CECILIA DRISCOLL
Mon, Mar 17th 2014 01:00 pm

Pope Francis has been much in the news with quotes and anecdotal descriptions since his election last March. For a more complete picture, a biography has recently been published by a Western New York native.

Michael Ruszala, author and director of Faith Formation at St. Pius X Parish in Getzville, explains the process through which he brought his book, "Pope Francis, Pastor of Mercy" to e-readers and bookshelves.

"Wyatt North (Publishing) contacted me to write this book back in August (2013)," Ruszala said. "What was neat about that was that the story was really developing. I had to keep adding things about Pope Francis almost every day."

Much interest was captured when Pope Francis spoke in July after World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro.

"People were talking about it on the Internet," Ruszala said. "Very intrigued, and also very confused by what he was saying."

To develop more understanding, Ruszala sifted through breaking stories on the Internet and studied available publications. One essential source was an interview published in America magazine in September 2013.

Ruszala also referred to "El jesuita," translated, "The Jesuit: Conversations with Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio," the only biography of the pope before his election, which came out in 2010. Ruszala said his research was complicated by language differences, name changes, and issues raised by looking back over time.

The book brings the picture together, giving readers a sense of walking through the struggles and joys of a life journey. It begins with descriptions of formative experiences in the pope's childhood and youth. Included in Ruszala's narrative are descriptions of strong childhood influences.

"His grandma Rosa, whom he mentions in his homilies," Ruszala said. "He calls her 'the theologian grandma.' She is a model for him of how to be a Christian. She accepted him unconditionally. When other family members disapproved of his entering the seminary, his Grandma Rosa said, 'Whatever God's will is, whatever is best for you, that's fine with me.'"

Ruszala said Pope Francis began working at a very young age.

"He believed that we need to enable people to find a good job, so they can feel their self-worth," Ruszala said. "Growing up in Argentina, he was confronted with the struggle between the rich and the poor and the drastic situations that the country faced. Also, the human rights violations that went on, especially that were committed against his friends and mentors."

Chapter titles such as, "Early Life in Argentina" to "Growth as a Pastor of Souls" and "A Cardinal for the Poor," develop details. Successive chapters describe consecutive events in Bergoglio's ministry as a Jesuit within his province and Argentina. The narrative explains the steps of the complex papal election process, in "The Conclave of 2013." Throughout, examples of Pope Francis's humanity, humility and gentle humor are present.

Ruszala said the pope's statements and actions throughout his life show that he believes in absolute truth and moral principles, with mercy foremost. Ruszala has studied the lives of Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict, and noticed contrasts and connections.

He emphasized the continuity between the past several popes. He explained that the last three popes could be seen as embodying the virtues of hope, as Pope John Paul II; faith, as Pope Benedict; and charity, as Pope Francis.

Ruszala said that Wyatt North, which published the book, puts together short, readable, affordable religious nonfiction. He has promoted the book locally to diverse audiences.

He said he has enough information to easily gear his talks to particular themes a group may request. Available as an e-book download or softcover, he has earned many positive reviews on Amazon and iApple.

As a catechist himself since age 14, Ruszala continues to develop topics of faith through writing. He is currently working on a handbook that will support catechists as they answer children's faith questions.

"It was always my dream to write popular religious books," Ruszala said.  

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