By Kelsey Littlefield
On Nov. 30, College of the Holy Cross alumnus Mark K. Shriver ’86, president of Save the Children Action Network and nephew of President John F. Kennedy, spoke in the Hogan Ballroom about his new book, “Pilgrimage: My Search for the Real Pope Francis” (Random House, Nov. 29, 2016). The talk was sponsored by the Rev. Michael C. McFarland, S.J., Center for Religion, Ethics and Culture at Holy Cross.
In the book, Shriver retraces Pope Francis’s personal journey, revealing the origins of his open, unpretentious style, and explaining how it revitalized Shriver’s own faith and renewed his commitment to the Church and to Ignatian spirituality. To help us understand how Father Jorge Mario Bergoglio became Pope Francis, Shriver travels to Bergoglio’s native Argentina to meet with the people who knew him as a child, as a young Jesuit priest, and as a reforming bishop. Shriver also draws upon his own life, to moments that formed and tested the foundation of his faith, including his years at Holy Cross.
He recalls the paths of his roommates, what drove them to the priesthood and the military, and considers his own discernment that began at a five-day silent retreat as a Holy Cross senior. He wrote of the retreat, “It was one of the most peaceful, rewarding, and enriching events of my life. I had never heard my own deepest, innermost, wisest voice so clearly as during those five silent days, and I didn’t hear it again with such clarity until the days after my dad died.”
When asked by the Telegram & Gazette (T&G) about how the Democratic party might utilize Pope Francis’ message after its loss during the presidential election, Shriver said,
“What Pope Francis has spent his entire career talking about is part of the Jesuit tradition, reaching out to the peripheries, the margins of society, and trying to accompany people on their journey in life,” said Shriver. “We’re all pilgrims essentially, in search of a better relationship with each other, and a better relationship with God. That’s what he stands for.”
Shriver followed this sentiment with how Pope Francis challenges all of us on a number of issues, including the environment, social life, and the accumulation of wealth by “visiting people in jail and inviting the homeless to his birthday party in the Vatican.”
“Pope Francis’s message challenges us all, whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican. I like to think, as a progressive Catholic, he was, quote, ‘on my side.’ But he challenges me right to my core on any number of issues, and I know he does that with conservatives as well,” Shriver told the T&G. “I visited the rooms he lived in for 40 years, and they’re tiny rooms with a double bed, a bureau with three drawers, and a place to kneel. That’s a real statement about the accumulation of wealth and possessions. I like my comforts. I like my car. I like belonging to a country club. Pope Francis is getting to the core of, do you really need that? Get out of your comfort zone.” Shriver also commented on how his time at Holy Cross affected his decision to become involved with the public service and social justice sectors.
“The best thing I did was go on the five-day silent retreat, which when you stop talking and you pray, (which is really just trying to have a conversation with god) it’s amazing what happens to your brain and your soul,” explained Shriver. “And I think this place was profoundly important for me, and even though I didn’t go on another retreat here, I think it was a profound experience for me, and I think it tried to help me figure how to have a closer relationship with God and a closer relationship with social justice and with people. I have not done it well; like the rest of us, I’m trying to do it a little better every day.”
When asked what students should take away from his book, he went on to say that it’s important for students to recognize that, like Pope Francis, they will make mistakes that they must learn and grow from. In addition, he noted the academic and, more importantly, spiritual guidance that Holy Cross provided him as a senior when he partook in the Spiritual Exercises.
“I think that we are all on a journey and we are all pilgrims here, and a pilgrim is someone who is on a life journey. I don’t think that the Pope Francis we see today is always that man that we see today. As a student, you have to realize that we are all pilgrims, and you can learn a lot from Holy Cross Jesuits, who I think are the best teachers in the world and I think this is the best school in America,” said Shriver. “[The College] helps you intellectually, but I think more importantly, it helps you spiritually, which a lot of schools don’t focus on. I hope students take away that they are going to make mistakes, and they can learn and that this place gave them the foundations spiritually to grow. It’s a journey that essentially I went through the last three years, trying to bring more joy into my life, and how to have a better relationship to god and to fellow human beings. It may sound goofy and idealistic, but it’s a better understanding of how to interact with people and be more attuned to their needs and their pain and their joys, which a lot of people don’t want to do. And I include myself in that.”