How often do you think about the pope? He probably doesn’t cross your mind too often, save for the odd dad joke.
Pope Francis, the current head of the Catholic Church, began his tenure in 2013 as the first Cardinal from the Western Hemisphere to be elected to the position. You’ve probably heard him described as one of the more liberal men to hold the position. His 2020 book, “Let Us Dream,” responds to the pandemic and offers insight into his mind.
Part meditation on a pandemic-stricken world and part personal exploration of faith in crisis, “Let Us Dream” attempts to be many things. If you or I were the pope, and someone asked us to write a book, it would likely not be a collected treatise. “Let Us Dream” reads like a collection of daydreams that you might expect the leader of an ancient institution to have: musings on humanitarian efforts, ecclesiastical conduct, the necessity of global connection, etc.
“Let Us Dream” wanders between topics as if in a daydream. There are moments of deep contemplation when life’s many challenges suddenly resurface and prompt sage meditations. There are also tangential moments, curiously placed but harmless. There are additional moments of thinly veiled sexism and blurted assertions of the evils of abortion.
The book opens with an appeal to our fortitude in moments of crisis when the “state of our hearts is exposed.” In response to the pandemic, Pope Francis writes, “That’s the genius in the human story: there’s always a way to escape destruction. Where humankind has to act is precisely there, in the threat itself; that’s where the door opens.”
“Let Us Dream” is framed as a call to action, but the specifics are vague. In the prologue, the pope makes his primary concerns clear: “How will we deal with the hidden pandemics of this world, the pandemics of hunger and violence and climate change?” But the pope does not always adhere to this broad sentiment. The book reads quite differently by its midpoint, nearly abandoning all poetry. I suspect that readers were not meant to tread past the inspiring prologue — the pages you might glance over at Barnes & Noble. Past that attractive introduction, “Let Us Dream” becomes less a sermon and more a crucial pathway into the conflicted mind of this man atop the spiritual mountain.
Pope Francis is known for his inclusivity. He is often lauded as the most progressive pope to date, both for his acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community (though recent comments challenge this) and his admittance of divorcees to communion. His famous sentiments are indeed reflected in “Let Us Dream” in his support for the practice of the synod, a sort of religious symposium. In bringing various arguments to the table, Pope Francis believes that “differences are expressed and polished until you reach, if not a consensus, a harmony.” It is a nice thought that disagreement could form harmony. But it is imperfect.
There are points in this book at which you may have to stop and remind yourself whose voice you’re reading. Here is one such point: “If you think abortion, euthanasia, and the death penalty are acceptable, your heart will find it hard to care about the contamination of rivers and the destruction of the rainforest.”
Yes, Pope Francis may be the most progressive of those who have held his title, but he is still the pope. His calls for harmony are undermined when he mentions the actions he disagrees with. Here we find a living record of a man dressed in the antiquity of his role.
It is vital that we approach this book as a character study. The crisscrossing moral arguments, the alternating optimism and criticism all contribute to the conflict and inconsistency of “Let Us Dream.” But this is a book of thoughts, written by a breathing man. I’ll admit, that man is no less than the pope, but he is still a person. I would be disappointed and skeptical if there were not a good deal of inconsistency.
I mentioned earlier that Pope Francis is the first pope from the Western Hemisphere, but this does not properly explain his significance. He is the first non-European pope in over a thousand years. Maybe we don’t think about it enough, the fact that we live in an age of instancy, yet the principles of other millennia survive in institutions, institutions like the Catholic Church. But here is a man, born not too long ago in the grand scheme of things, who holds that ancient mantle. Don’t you want to know what he’s thinking about?
Daily Arts Writer Julian Wray can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.