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Blog / Reflections from Pope Francis: An Interview with Susan Stark and Dan Pierson

Reflections from Pope Francis: An Interview with Susan Stark and Dan Pierson

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Susan StarkOnly a little over a year into his papacy, Pope Francis (@Pontifex) is being hailed by the news media, Christians, and non-Christians alike as a refreshing figure in the Vatican. His humility, piousness, and forward-thinking ideas rooted in the Bible have been celebrated around the world.

With Pope Francis visiting the USA, Bible Gateway interviewed Susan Stark and Dan Pierson (@faithAlivebooks) about their book, Reflections from Pope Francis: An Invitation to Journaling, Prayer, and Action (Tarcher, 2015).

[See our blogpost: CNN: A Catholic Reads the Bible.]

[See our blogpost: The Tweetable Pope: Catholic Resources in the Bible Gateway Store.]

For those who may not be aware, explain the role of the Pope in the Catholic Church.

Dan PiersonSusan Stark and Dan Pierson: In Latin, the word pope means papa or father. The Pope is the Bishop of Rome and successor to the Apostle Peter, who Jesus named the “rock” of the Church, and shepherd of her flock (see Matt. 16:18-19, John 21:15-17). He’s the spiritual father and unifier of Catholics around the world, who, together with his brother bishops, shepherds and teaches the people of God. While Pope Francis has been recognized as an excellent administrator, we present him as a pastor and teacher. Simply put, the Pope’s primary role is to preach the gospel to all people.

Click to buy your copy of Reflections from Pope Francis in the Bible Gateway StoreCardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected Pope March 13, 2013. What are the characteristics that distinguish him from his predecessors?

Susan Stark and Dan Pierson: The Holy Spirit has been at work in the Church through many gifted leaders over the centuries. Each Pope brings his own charisms, or gifts to the ministry, and particular emphasis. Like his predecessors, Pope Francis has been uncompromising and challenging in his teaching about the Church’s core beliefs. Some, though, have called him the People’s Pope because of his desire to live simply, and to be with people who are poor or disenfranchised. He repeatedly speaks of God’s mercy, of the dignity of every human person, of tolerance, inclusion, and peace. People perceive him as gentle, humble, and unabashedly honest and open.

Why did he choose the name Francis and how does that name reflect his approach to the office?

Susan Stark and Dan Pierson: The story goes that as the Papal conclave voting was winding down and Cardinal Bergoglio had surpassed the 77 votes needed to be Pope, he was hugged by a fellow Cardinal who told him, “Don’t forget the poor.” Cardinal Bergoglio took the words to heart and chose the name Francis after Francis of Assis, a great Saint of the Catholic Church, a man of peace, a protector of creation. Shortly after his election, Pope Francis declared that he wanted a church that is poor and that is for the poor. His papacy reflects the spirit of St. Francis.

Why do you think Pope Francis is such a popular Pope that even Protestants speak well of him?

Susan Stark and Dan Pierson: Pope Francis has put a new face on the Catholic Church—he’s changed the way people talk about it, in part through his simple, unassuming, honest style. The conversation now centers more on how the Church is a loving, caring church, a defender of human dignity, friend of the poor, and caretaker of God’s creation. People are attracted to leaders who demonstrate integrity in the way they live—walk-the-talk types of folks. Pope Francis preaches, teaches, and lives the gospel. His personal touch is extremely attractive in today’s world.

Pope Francis has shone a bright light on things the Catholic Church has been quietly doing for a long, long time, such as being the largest charitable organization in the world, providing food, clothing, shelter, health care, etc., to more people than any other organization. And he challenges us to do more.

How is Pope Francis encouraging Catholics to regularly read the Bible?

Susan Stark and Dan Pierson: Pope Francis teaches by doing. His daily homilies demonstrate his process of reading Scripture: meditating on it, praying and reflecting with it, and discerning what it is challenging him and others to do. This is a process Catholics use called lectio divina. Pope Francis is a big proponent of praying with Scripture.

A lot of people who aren’t Catholic don’t realize how central Sacred Scripture is to us. Not only are specific Scripture readings a part of every Mass every day of the year (at least three readings each day, four on Sundays), but many of the prayers spoken by either the priests or the assembly at Mass and other liturgies are direct quotations from biblical texts. The Liturgy of the Hours (a daily prayer of the Church) is Scripture based, as are prayers such as the Rosary.

Pope Francis encourages all Christians to read the Bible daily and especially the Gospels. He often distributes in large quantity to his audiences a book of the four Gospels.

What is the format of Reflections from Pope Francis and what need in readers does the book fill?

Susan Stark and Dan Pierson: As Blaise Pascal said, “There is a God shaped vacuum in the heart of every person”—we need God in our lives, we have a hunger for that which is spiritual. For us, this project has been about bringing to the forefront the value of spiritual reflection—allowing ourselves to be nurtured, challenged, and changed in order to be, as Pope Francis says, “lights of hope” in our world.

We invite our readers into a simple spiritual reflection process—reflection, journaling, prayer, and action. Each reflection begins with a focusing statement which is an initial thought to ponder, followed by a short reflection from the Pope. We encourage the reader to interact with the reflections by journaling or drawing in the blank space on each page: How does the Pope’s message connect to your experience or to the world’s experience? What action does it challenge you to take to live the Gospel more concretely, to change a behavior or attitude? This interaction is a unique aspect of our book. Each reflection ends with a Scripture passage which reinforces or further illuminates the theme. Many people use this Bible verse as a brief prayer at the end of their reflection. The book also includes an extensive thematic appendix and listing of the source for each reflection.

It’s our hope that through reading and reflecting on the words of Pope Francis people will experience the grace and love of God. Our book is a tool that will both affirm and challenge people as disciples of Jesus Christ.

How did you select the reflections that are in the book and the Bible verses that correspond to each?

Susan Stark and Dan Pierson: First, we read through every message, homily, and address of the Pope’s from his first year. Our source for these was the Vatican’s website. From these, what emerged for us were short excerpts that best highlighted Pope Francis’ universal messages meant for every person regardless of religious affiliation—such as welcome, community, hope, forgiveness, care for the poor, mercy, and compassion.

With each reflection we wanted to make a Scripture-based connection to the theme that would reinforce or illuminate it, or in many cases was the source of the Pope’s reflection. Some of the reflections are from his daily homilies and thus there was a Bible verse from that day’s liturgy that naturally fit.

What reflections inspire you the most and why?

Susan Stark and Dan Pierson: The Pope has shared so many simple yet profound and challenging thoughts, such as show a sign of love, say “thank you,” knock at the door of God’s heart, set a place at your table. One which is particularly inspirational and drawn from the Gospel of Matthew (Matt. 13:24-33) is, “Believe that the Kingdom of God is already present.” Wow. What a different world this would be if we lived like we truly believed that!

What are the themes included in the book?

Susan Stark and Dan Pierson: A thematic appendix in the back of our book lists over 100 themes, such as mercy, compassion, service, family, gratitude, hope, and justice. We even include a reflection on gossip! While we used reflections from Pope Francis’ first year, he will continue to address these themes in his visit to Cuba and the United States when he speaks to the US Congress, General Assembly of the United Nations, and the World Meeting of Families. He will address the issues of immigration, climate change and the environment, and the need to support, nurture, and minister to and with families.

What are your thoughts about Bible Gateway and/or the Bible Gateway App?

Susan Stark and Dan Pierson: Bible Gateway is an excellent, easy-to-use resource for making the Bible more accessible to both those beginning to explore the Bible as well as those who are engaged in study and research. We used Bible Gateway extensively while researching Scripture for this project. We’re pleased that Bible Gateway includes the New American Bible translation, which is the officially approved translation for Sunday and daily Masses and the Liturgy of the Hours for the Catholic Church in the United States. There may be times when individuals may want to use Bible Gateway as they read and pray the Bible verse for each reflection. By exploring the different translations of the same verse, readers may experience a more enriching and meaningful understanding and life application.

Is there anything else you’d like to say?

Susan Stark and Dan Pierson: In addition to Reflections from Pope Francis‘s value for personal spiritual growth, there are numerous applications for it in other settings. It’s a great resource for small group prayer and faith sharing. Groups could meet for one hour and use the Spiritual Reflection Process that we explain in the introduction. Some groups may want to meet for a period of six weeks at anytime during the year with special thought given to the six weeks of Lent. Sometimes all members of the group may select the same reflection and at other times each member may make a personal selection. After writing their thoughts or drawing, then each member is invited to share with others. Conclude with prayer a including the accompanying Bible verse.

The book is also a wonderful tool for youth and young adult ministries and campus ministries in both Catholic and ecumenical settings to introduce young people to the process of spiritual reflection.

Bio: Susan Stark (email) has been working in Catholic ministry settings for over 30 years, including work in parish and diocesan leadership roles in the Diocese of San Diego, as a publications coordinator and trainer for a the Center for Ministry Development, and most recently in creative development, writing, and editing for Catholic religious education publishers. Mother of four and grandmother of two, Susan and her husband live in San Diego, CA.

Daniel J. Pierson is a former diocesan director of religious education for the Diocese of Grand Rapids, works with religious publishers in areas of product development, and is the founder and editor of and In addition to Reflections from Pope Francis, he’s collaborated with Susan Stark on What Do I Do Now: A Guide for the Reluctant Catechist (Pflaum, 2007). Dan, his wife, and their son live in Grand Rapids, MI.

Filed under Books, Devotionals, Interviews