“First an Earthquake, then a Hurricane”: Life & Justice Interview with CNN’s John Allen

As mentioned here on Friday, National Catholic Reporter senior correspondent and CNN’s Vatican correspondent John Allen was the keynote speaker at the Diocese of Camden’s Justice for All Dinner last week. John is one of the most respected Church observers, and he provided invaluable coverage throughout Pope Benedict’s resignation and all that followed.

At the end of his talk here, John said he hoped the evening would just be the start of a conversation. I took him up on the offer, and emailed him some Life & Justice questions connected to his areas of expertise: the papacy and the ongoing transformation of the Catholic Church. He kindly replied despite his incredibly full schedule.

John Allen with Pope Benedict XVI.

MJL: You mentioned at the Justice for All Dinner Pope Francis’ line that he wants a church that is “poor and for the poor.” How have you seen this commitment lived out already early in his papacy? How do you think it might develop in the future?

JA: There’s the obvious: shunning the papal limo as much as possible, living in the Casa Santa Marta rather than the papal apartment, and so on. I visited his sister’s home in Buenos Aires, and it gives new meaning to the term “simple”! More deeply, it’s clear based on the trajectory of this pope’s life that the poor are at the heart of his pastoral vision. My suspicion is that Francis will nudge Catholicism towards a simpler, more evangelical style of life, and towards greater solidarity with the poor at all levels.

 MJL: The vision of Life & Justice Ministries in Camden is to promote a consistent ethic of life, from conception until natural death and every moment in between. Pope Francis seems to embrace this both/and philosophy, resisting the barriers that sometimes divide “pro-life Catholics” and “social justice Catholics.” Do you see this “both/and” vision in Francis’ thinking?

JA: Very much so, but I saw it in Benedict XVI and John Paul II as well. We Catholics are often creatures of our culture, and the political culture in the States does a terrific job pitting these two dimensions of Catholic social teaching against one another. If we’re going to overcome that, it will require a deeply counter-cultural commitment from us, not just once-and-for-all but every day. Papal vision can help, but ultimately it’s up to us.

MJL: As the Catholic Church’s population center continues shifting toward the Global South, what can we in the United States do to stand in solidarity with our Catholic sisters and brothers who are not from the West?

JA: Most deeply, we can accept the premise that American Catholics are just six percent of the global Catholic population, so membership in this global family of faith means that we can’t always have things our own way and that the welfare and perspectives of Catholics in other parts of the world matters too. Everything else flows from that.

What was one of the most powerful things your saw or learned during your recent visit to Cardinal Bergoglio’s hometown of Buenos Aires?

I visited one of the villas miserias, the slums in Buenos Aires, where then-Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio spent enormous amounts of time and where his pastoral vision of a “poor church for the poor” came alive. Talking to the often abandoned people who live there, it was clear that politics and the media may have forgotten about them, but the Church under Bergoglio had not.

MJL: A little experiment, if you’re willing: Write a six-word memoir of your experience in Rome since February 11, the date Pope Benedict announced his resignation.

JA: First an earthquake, then a hurricane.

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