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Journalists Cindy Wooden and Joshua McElwee present the Pope with the cover design for their book 'A Pope Francis Lexicon' Journalists Cindy Wooden and Joshua McElwee present the Pope with the cover design for their book 'A Pope Francis Lexicon' 

'A Pope Francis Lexicon' explores key words of pontificate

Vatican journalists Cindy Wooden and Joshua McElwee share insights into the work of compiling this new volume of essays by well known Catholic voices, as well as young, up-and-coming theologians and writers

By Philippa Hitchen

‘A Pope Francis Lexicon’ is the title of a new book being hailed as an essential guide to key themes defining the papacy of Jorge Mario Bergoglio.

Timed to coincide with the fifth anniversary of his election, the book is a collection of over fifty short essays by an impressive set of contributors from around the world, or as the inside cover puts it, “an A-list of insightful voices from the Catholic world” and beyond. These include cardinals and bishops, priests and nuns, mothers and grandparents, writers and teachers, as well as other Christian leaders.

Taking terms such as Careerism, Conscience, Dignity, Discernment, Field Hospital, Periphery or Throwaway Culture, the authors reveal what these words tell us about Pope Francis’ priorities. They don’t shy away from the difficult issues of sex abuse and episcopal accountability, or the lack of women in leadership roles, but they also provide strikingly fresh perspectives on more traditional topics such as prayer, mercy, justice, joy and hope.

The volume is edited by two of the best known Vatican journalists, Cindy Wooden who heads the Rome bureau of Catholic News Service, and Joshua McElwee, correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter. They came into our studios to talk about this anthology and about the one word that doesn’t make it into this comprehensive collection

Listen to the interview with Cindy Wooden and Josh McElwee

Cindy describes the book as “a collection of very accessible reflections on different words that the Pope uses all of the time”. They’re reflections done by Church leaders and theologians, but also by “people living in the trenches of the Church” who offer concrete explanations and applications.

Wide range of writers

Josh talks about the process of deciding on which key words to use and identifying someone who could best explore the issues. He cites an essay by Argentinian Archbishop Victor Fernandez, one of the Pope’s closest confidantes, writing on the word ‘Encounter’ and an essay on ‘Mercy’ by Canadian Archbishop Don Bolen “who has made mercy one of the themes of his own ministry”.

Cindy jokes that it was “shockingly easy” to persuade the authors to contribute to their volume. The only problem, she reveals, was that they wanted to have half of the essays written by female writers. In the end, they received 20 out of 54 because many of the women they approached were too “busy with families and children and applying for tenure and new jobs!”

Young female voices

Josh notes the significance of having “a mix of names that people might know and newer names” of up-and-coming theologians, such as Nontando Hadebe from Zimbabwe writing on ‘Ecumenism’ and Jordan Denari Duffner from the U.S. writing on ‘Youth’ in the context of Christian-Muslim dialogue.

Challenging issues

Among the most critical essays in the book is one on ‘Episcopal accountability’ written by Katie Grimes from Villanova University. Though it’s hard to read, Josh says, “I think it’s very fair and I think readers will appreciate the fact that we are engaging with the Pope -  even where he might not be the best”.

Cindy adds that the authors range in age from “20-something to 70-something” to encourage “a real discussion or wrestling with issues” that the Pope has called for. The only word that does not appear in the book is ‘Hypocrisy’, she says, as “we couldn’t find anybody willing to do it!”

19 February 2018, 11:14