Story and Metaphor in ‘Querida Amazonia’

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Jean-Pierre Sonnet, SJ

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Pope Francis’ exhortation Querida Amazonia (QA) surprises in many ways. Poetry occupies a particularly surprising place. Where previous popes accustomed us to philosophical and theological references, Francis offers extracts from poems. These create unexpected clearings in the text, unusual breaths in a document of the Magisterium. Sixteen writers and poets of South American origin or adoption are quoted; their texts have their greatest effect in Spanish and Portuguese.[1] If they resonate in other languages, it is thanks to the tireless efforts of translators.

In the following pages we will examine this precedent established by Pope Francis. [2] Why this intrusion of poetry – and South American poetry – into an ecclesial document? Is there a magisterium of metaphors? A Gospel of these metaphors? Is poetry the only literary form to surprise in the papal exhortation?

Jorge Mario Bergoglio’s connection with literature is well known. It was eloquently illustrated by the meeting he organized with Jorge Luis Borges in 1965. The Jesuit was then 28 years old and teaching in a high school in Santa Fe, 500 km from Buenos Aires; the writer, the most famous of his generation in Argentina, was 66 years old. Borges made the long journey by bus to talk with Bergoglio’s students for three days.

The latter, 55 years later, still remembers poems of his guest. One can imagine that the 16 texts mentioned in the exhortation Querida Amazonia are linked to Borges’ poems in Pope Francis’ memory, where they form a sort of poetic hinterland. In the opening of the document, the pope specifies that he wishes to express the resonances that the Synod’s proceedings provoked in him (cf. No. 2). The tone is personal, and one can imagine that this explains the use of poetry.

An apostolic exhortation nevertheless remains an apostolic exhortation. Why did the pope express through poems – and South American poems – a teaching addressed to all, beyond his first Amazonian addressees? Why did he want the exhortation, as a message of confirmation and encouragement, to take the path of poetry?

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