In excerpts from his upcoming book coauthored by Austen Ivereigh Let Us Dream: The Path to A Better Future set to be released December 1st, Pope Francis talked about “personal COVID moments” from his past and how they changed his life.
“Illness, the failure of a marriage or a business, some great disappointment or betrayal, these are moments that generate a tension, a crisis that reveals what is in our hearts.”
He said during these major moments of challenge and pain, “what I learned was that you suffer a lot, but if you allow it to change you, you come out better. But if you dig in, you come out worse.”
Writing about the time he had a life threatening lung illness during his second year at seminary, Pope Francis wrote it was his “first experience of limit, of pain and loneliness” that “changed the way I saw life.”
“I remember the date: Aug. 13, 1957. I got taken to hospital by a seminary prefect who realized mine was not the kind of flu you treat with aspirin. Straightaway they took a liter and a half of water out of the lung, and I remained there fighting for my life. For months, I didn’t know who I was and whether I would live or die. The doctors had no idea whether I’d make it either. I remember hugging my mother and saying: ‘Just tell me if I’m going to die.’ After three months in the hospital, they operated to take out the upper right lobe of one of the lungs. I have some sense of how people with coronavirus feel as they struggle to breathe on ventilators. One of the nurses, Sister Cornelia Caraglio, saved my life by doubling my antibiotics. Because of her regular contact with sick people, she understood better than the doctor what they needed, and she had the courage to act on her knowledge.”
Pope Francis said he also learned the meaning of “cheap consolations” during his time in the hospital, time he said helped him “rethink my vocation” and decide to join the Jesuit Order.
“People came in to tell me I was going to be fine, how with all that pain I’d never have to suffer again — really dumb things, empty words.”
He also wrote about two other “COVID moments” during his life, his “displacement” in 1986 for his studies in Germany, and when he was sent away to Cordoba, Argentina, for nearly 2 years in the early 1990s.
In another excerpt released from the book, Pope Francis segued from COVID to politics, discussing populism.
“Today, listening to some of the populist leaders we now have, I am reminded of the 1930s, when some democracies collapsed into dictatorships seemingly overnight. We see it happening again now in rallies where populist leaders excite and harangue crowds, channeling their resentments and hatreds against imagined enemies to distract from the real problems. Superficially religious people vote for populists to protect their religious identity, unconcerned that fear and hatred of the other cannot be reconciled with the Gospel.”