Four years ago, the newly elected Pope Francis asked the faithful for their blessing, met with the poor and washed the feet of strangers—remarkable acts of humility that inspired businessman and former politico Mark K. Shriver, of the Kennedy-Shrivers.
The son of Sargent Shriver and JFK's sister Eunice Kennedy and brother of Maria, the 52-year-old found renewed vigour in his Catholic faith through Francis, eventually tracing the Pontiff's life from Buenos Aires to the Vatican for his new book Pilgrimage: My Search for the Real Pope Francis. Shriver spoke with Zoomer.
Mike Crisolago: The title of the book recalls your search for the real pope. Was there anything that you found out about him that surprised you?
Mark K. Shriver: His discipline [and] his frugality. I was in his room that he lived in for more than 30 years in Buenos Aires and his room that he lived in Córdoba for two years, where he was in exile, essentially. And it was a little twin bed, a bureau with three drawers, a place to kneel and a place to sit. And that's it. No flat screen TV, no couches, no refrigerator in the corner with food and drinks. He's up at 4:30 in the morning every day. He is completely committed to his boss.
MC: You've also noted that Pope Francis helped guide you toward a rebirth in your own faith.
MKS: One of my favourite stories he tells is of a woman who had three little kids whose husband had left her. The woman had to turn to prostitution in order to make ends meet, and he sent food over to the family. And she came over at Christmas to see him and said, "I want to thank you for the food but I want to thank you because you always called me 'senora.'" He understood that she needed food but also to be treated like a real human being. So when I look around at homeless people in Washington, D.C., now I ask them their name. I ask them how they're doing. I ask them where they're from. I think he's challenged me.
MC: Are there parallels between the pope's duties and those of a politician?
MKS: It's an interesting question. I think his commitment to his job is more comprehensive than a politician. I talked to a lot of poor people in Buenos Aires who live in the slums who told me that he would come and visit them on his day(s) off. He's not going on a two-week vacation to the south of France. There are politicians that really give their heart and soul to it, but they're not as 100 per cent committed as this guy because you couldn't be.
MC: If you could speak with Pope Francis today, what would you tell him?
MKS: He has taught me over the last two and half years everything I really needed to know. So if I met him, maybe I would ask him to have one of those [traditional South American caffeinated] drinks called "mate," I would ask him about his nephew and I would tell him about my kids and wife. Because what we do about 98 per cent of the time is everyday stuff. And it's not glamorous stuff. It's the daily grind.
"Pilgrimage: My Search for the Real Pope Francis" is available in stores and online.
A version of this Q&A appeared in the March 2017 issue on p. 20.
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