David Gibson religionnews.com To hear Cardinal Walter Kasper tell it, he became the pope’s point man for reform in the Catholic Church thanks to a bit of serendipity, or, if you will, Providence, before anyone knew that Francis was going to be the next Roman pontiff. The genesis of their partnership, Kasper recalled during a recent trip to New York, was a fateful encounter that took place a few days before last year’s conclave, when all the electors in the College of Cardinals from around the world were staying in the Vatican guesthouse. Kasper’s room happened to be right across the hallway from that of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires. A renowned German theologian who just turned 80, Kasper had recently received a Spanish translation of his latest book, “Mercy: The Essence of the Gospel and the Key to Christian Life.” He brought a couple copies with him and gave one to Bergoglio. “Ah, mercy!” the Argentine cardinal exclaimed when he saw the title. “This is the name of our God!” The two men knew each other a bit — Kasper had been to Buenos Aires several times on church business — but it turns out Bergoglio’s reaction wasn’t just one of those pro forma compliments you might give to an acquaintance at a book party. Mercy had long been a guiding principle for Bergoglio’s ministry, and he devoured Kasper’s original, wide-ranging study in the days leading up to the voting. Then, on the evening of March 13, it was Bergoglio who emerged on the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica as Pope Francis. And just four days later, the new pope addressed a huge crowd in the square — and as a surprised Kasper watched on television, he heard Francis praising him as a “very sharp theologian” and effectively blurbing his work: “That book has done me so much good,” Francis said.
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