By Tanya Connor | The Catholic Free Press
WORCESTER – A Holy Cross graduate from a family prominent in politics and social service returned to his alma mater, promoting Pope Francis and the college’s retreats.
Mark K. Shriver, nephew of President John F. Kennedy and president of Save the Children Action Network, spoke at the College of the Holy Cross Nov. 30. Afterwards he signed copies of his book, “Pilgrimage: My Search for the Real Pope Francis,” released the previous day.
Mr. Shriver is also author of the 2012 bestseller “A Good Man: Rediscovering My Father, Sargent Shriver.” His father was first director of the Peace Corps, a former ambassador to France and the 1972 Democratic vice presidential candidate.
The author’s pilgrimage led him to Argentina to interview people who knew Jorge Mario Bergoglio there before he became pope. (Mr. Shriver said Pope Francis didn’t give him an interview, but he’s learning from the Holy Father.)
A key part of the pilgrimage took place while Mr. Shriver, Class of ’86, was at Holy Cross. He said the best thing he did as a student there was attend a several-day, silent retreat, which helped him figure out how to have a closer relationship with God and other people.
He focused on the centrality of those relationships as he spoke about Pope Francis at a press conference and to those attending his talk, which was sponsored by the Rev. Michael C. McFarland, S.J. Center for Religion, Ethics and Culture.
All people are pilgrims in search of a better relationship with God and each other, Mr. Shriver said, when asked whether the Democratic Party, regrouping after this fall’s election, can find something useful in Pope Francis’ message. Pope Francis doesn’t fit into a Democratic or Republican Party box, he said.
“He listens to his boss, and his boss in Jesus Christ,” Mr. Shriver maintained. “His power source is not of this world.”
The pope is about building bridges between people and reaching out to the poor, and the Republican or Democratic Party can pick that up, he said.
“I think Pope Francis’ message challenges us all,” he said, calling himself a progressive Catholic. “He challenges me … I like my comforts. I like my car,” and belonging to a country club. “Do I really need that?”
In Maryland Mr. Shriver was a member of the Juvenile Justice Advisory Council, the Governor’s Task Force on Alternative Sanctions to Incarceration and the House of Delegates, the lower house of the state legislature. Pope Francis has visited prisoners and called for treating them with dignity and ending the death penalty and life imprisonment. Given all of this, what would Mr. Shriver tell political and religious leaders and ordinary people?
“He challenges me right to my core – when he goes and visits people in jail … invites the homeless to his birthday party,” rides in a Fiat, Mr. Shriver said of the pope. “He’s sending a message to all of us that’s consistent with his life. … Do I really want to go visit people in jail? No.” The pope is pro-life and against the death penalty and has spoken about the environment, accumulation of wealth and humility, he noted.
“Our political leaders could stand to have a dose of humility,” he said. All parties could become more caring in their conversations.
Mr. Shriver illustrated Pope Francis’ humility and caring with stories and answers to questions.
He mentioned Theology of the People, which involves learning from the poor, and told about meeting a trash collector who Pope Francis hung out with on his time off in Argentina. After the papal installation Mass, the pope told this special guest of his to keep fighting for the poor.
A Holy Cross audience member said Mr. Shriver’s father stood on the same stage and told students why they matter. He challenged the son to do the same.
Mark Shriver said change comes from the bottom up. He said his father maintained that real peace would come not from meetings but from Peace Corp volunteers living with and learning from the poor while serving them. The younger Shriver told students they can change Holy Cross to be more attentive to their spiritual needs, if that’s what they’re looking for.
Mr. Shriver made similar points when responding to a question about whether he thinks Pope Francis will enhance women’s roles in the Church. He said he thinks there will be female deacons. The Church is huge; in the United States people are more progressive than in some other countries, but the pope has to work with everyone, he explained.
He encouraged students to ask their questions of the Jesuits at Holy Cross and said young people can have an influence. Activism is really important, but so is faith, he said, urging them to go to the college’s new retreat center.
“That will give you more energy to change the Church,” he said.
He told students they can find 20 minutes to do spiritual exercises, which he likened to gym workouts, and said the Jesuits should do more to help them.
At Holy Cross one hears about being a man or woman for others and with others, he said, noting that the “poor” can include those with emotional and spiritual problems.
“I think this is the best school in America,” Mr. Shriver said. “You can learn and grow spiritually and professionally, but you have to stay” attuned to God – or at least you should.
Mr. Shriver also told about woman who’d turned to prostitution because she didn’t make enough at her part-time job. The woman thanked the future pope, not so much for the food he sent as for calling her “Señora.”
Mr. Shriver applied that to his own experience of encountering homeless people on the streets and feeling obligated to shell out $5, while the pope talks about calling them Mr. or Mrs. and asking their name.
“I’m trying it,” Mr. Shriver said, explaining that he thought he was too busy to stop and chat with beggars. But after doing so, he feels like he’s doing better at work and with his family, he said, adding that it makes one sensitive to other people’s needs.