By Linda Bordoni
As the Synod of Bishops on Young People drew to a close at the end of October, Pope Francis joined fellow Jesuits, collaborators and a hall full of young people for a book-launch.
The book, published by Loyola Press and entitled “Sharing the Wisdom of Time”, is a collection of stories about elders from around the world. From all walks of life and from over 30 countries, they share their wisdom rooted in lifetimes of experience, providing a witness to the power of faith, perseverance, human resilience, and love.
Pope Francis contributes to the book as a fellow elder, offering the Preface, his own story in each chapter, and calling for a new alliance between young and old people.
“I entrust this book to the young, he says in the Preface, so the dreams of their elders will bring them to a better future”.
One of the elders featured in the book is Jesuit Father and human rights activist Cedric Prakash. He told me of how he was contacted by a journalist while he was serving as Regional Advocacy and Communication Advisor of the Jesuit Refugee Service for the Middle East and North Africa.
Gentle, affable, well-spoken and modest, Father Cedric Prakash told me that it all came “as a great surprise!”
He said he was contacted by the publishers, Loyola Press, and asked whether he would be available for an interview about his life, his work, some insights, and so on.
At the time, he revealed, he was in Beirut where he was stationed for his work with JRS MENA.
Fr Cedric said the journalist, Rosemary Lane, got in touch with him soon afterwards and conducted a very long interview.
“She asked me all sorts of things, about human rights, about what types of involvement I had, about what type of work I had done, and generally asked me to talk about anything in particular that had struck me, and I mentioned a couple of anecdotes and other stories” he said.
Regarding the story that was chosen to feature in the book, on page 90, in the Chapter dedicated to ‘Love’, Father Cedric said: “I never thought they would take that actually!”
The spilled cup of coffee
He explained that Rosemary had asked him to mention anything simple that he felt good about and said he told her of the time when, after having spent a long time working on a document, highlighting passages and scribbling in notes and sub-notes, a friend came up to me and spilled his whole cup of coffee on it.
“With a pen I used to put down words, phrases, ideas on plenty of sheets of paper; I like jotting down things in my ugly scrawl” he said.
He says that instinctively he was upset: “It was several hours of work gone – it was all blotched, nothing to be saved, as the pen I was using was one of these fluid ink types”
“I didn’t know what to do” he said, reflecting on the fact that he had several possibilities: “being angry, crying… because it was just work that was gone”. “So I smiled as said to him: shall I make you another cup of coffee?”
Later, Fr Cedric said, that friend told him he would never forget that instance in his life.
Actually, Fr Cedric continued, reflecting on his reaction, he doesn’t think it was “anything fantastic.”
He said he has come to the conclusion though that we go through many situations in life that do not warrant a strong reaction, although he points out, that does mean we should look the other way if someone else is affected.
“I ask myself: If I react negatively, violently, angrily, do I change the situation? Or can I help make the situation much better?” he said.
The Pope’s response
Fr Cedric revealed he was amazed that not only Rosemary chose that anecdote to be written in the book, but that the Pope – who responded to 31 of the selected stories – chose to respond to it with beautiful words.
“The story of Father Cedric helps us understand that we must go beyond the inconveniences of life… maybe with a sense of humour, and certainly with the conviction that all things can be resolved. The wisdom of age, accompanied by a sense of humour and a touch of irony, can help us to see our daily challenges in a positive way and avoid dramatization. We have to take a fresh and creative look at things. Love is creative, and it will not be overcome by the disasters and pitfalls of life. That’s the way love sees things.” (Franciscus)
I feel greatly privileged, Fr Cedric, said: “it’s a great honour to be part of this book that was launched at the Synod of Bishops with so many young people present”.
He says the book has a message for the world and calls for a connection between the youth of today and the wisdom of time, the wisdom of the ages as, he says, we can all learn from each another.
But, he continues, there has to be some kind of a complementarity and the will and the quest to enrich each other: “How do we try to make this world a better one? A more humane place, more lovable, more inclusive, more warm and welcoming?”
This – Fr Cedric concludes – has been the mission and the message of Pope Francis consistently.