Monday, June 9, 2014

Pagola: "This book has made me more a believer"

By José Luis Celada (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Vida Nueva
No. 2897, 6/6/2014

Seven years after its publication, and after overcoming quite a few difficulties, Jesus: An Historical Approximation (PPC 207 in Spanish, Convivium Press 2009 in English) continues to reap victories, most recently the 2014 Excellence in Publishing Award from the Association of Catholic Publishers (ACP) in the United States.

However, if anything moves José Antonio Pagola (Guipúzcoa, 1937) it's "the hundreds and hundreds of emails" from people telling him how, thanks to his book, the encounter with Jesus has changed their lives.

QUESTION: Is that saying that "no one is a prophet in their own land" coming true here too? What does this recognition that your Jesus just received from the U.S. Association of Catholic Publishers mean?

ANSWER: I think not. First, because I'm not a prophet, and second, because my book has been well received among us [in Spain], especially by the common people.

This latest honor fills me with joy because it will help the Good News of Jesus to be spread in places like Australia, Canada, India...At least, that's what they tell me. I'm also happy for Convivium Press which, being a modest publisher, has managed in little more than three years to put out the fifth edition of my book in a market as complex as the United States one.

Q: How do you assimilate the success of a work that has been translated into a dozen languages and with more than 120,000 copies sold worldwide?

A: Look, I'm my mother's son. I know who I am. What you're calling "success" gives me much happiness and stimulates me to go on working, but it doesn't go beyond that. What moves me are the hundreds and hundreds of emails which I'm still receiving from everywhere, especially Latin America, from people who tell me how they've met Jesus and how Jesus has changed their lives after many years of indifference, agnosticism, and even militant atheism.

For example, I got testimony from someone who had tried to take their life and is now proclaiming the Gospel, from prostitutes who, at the end of their day, wash and tell Jesus that they only do their work to feed their children, from terminally ill people who died hugging the book and thank me through their widows...

The day before yesterday I got an email from an atheist telling me that, certainly, he won't give up his atheism but that he cries every time he reads the chapter on the crucifixion and wonders about the mystery that lies in Jesus. He tells me that Jesus is making him more humane and compassionate.

Q: Beyond the publishing phenomenon it has become, to what do you attribute this great reception and the impact it has produced among readers?

A: To Jesus. His drawing power is incredible. Sometimes, we Christians don't have a clue about his humanizing and liberating power when it's presented simply with a little freshness and authenticity. Jesus frees us from mediocre and not very humane images of God. He draws us to live as he did, making life more humane. He fills our life with unmistakable joy and peace.

It's fascinating to follow him closely. The crisis in the Christian denominations will not drag down Jesus. Freed from less Christian associations, the figure of Jesus will grow. Only Jesus will save the Christian faith. That's what I feel inside.

Q: Does all [the book's] appeal lie in the figure of Jesus of Nazareth that it reveals? How much responsibility does the author's approach have as well?

A: The most important thing is that the author doesn't ruin his figure much. While writing the book, I spent many hours in silence "conversing" with Jesus. Sometimes, as a historian, I asked him, "Who are you who left behind so many questions and conflicts? What mystery lies in you that provokes so much love and rejection?"

Other times, as a believer, I said to him simply, "And now, Jesus, what can I tell the people of today about you? What is most important? Teach me to find good, clear, simple words to touch the hearts of today's men and women, so in need of encouragement and hope."

Q: Seven years have passed since the book first saw the light. To what extent does this "good news" now compensate for the bad times of suspicion and condemnation you experienced a while back?

A: Even though almost nobody believes it, I now hardly remember any of that curious and surprising past. Surely it's the best thing that could have happened to me. I don't have any wounds inside. It's good to suffer a little for Jesus sometimes. You will always identify with Him.

Q: What has this "child" given (or taken away from) you that the others haven't?

A: This book has made me more a believer. I'm no longer the same man who began to write this book twelve years ago. Jesus has totally centered my life. I only want to devote myself to spreading his Good News. I'm convinced that only Jesus will save his Church.

Q: So your future projects will continue going through the figure of Jesus...

A: I want to contribute all my efforts for us to experience a process of conversion to Jesus and his Gospel in the Church. The gospel renewal of the Church to which Francis is calling us will depend in large part on the development of small groups and communities that commit themselves to bringing up to date today the early experience of that first group of disciples with Jesus who heard his call and followed him. For this, I'm now promoting the so-called "Jesus groups."

Q: And what are these groups?

A: Their main purpose is to experience together a process of individual and group conversion to Jesus the Christ, delving simply into the essence of the Gospel. This is first and critical. Making a journey together that leads us to know Jesus better, to rekindle our whole allegiance to him and follow him, working with him on his humanizing plan for the Kingdom of God.

Q: Have you ever imagined for an instant that, as has happened with other titles and authors, Pope Francis might publicly suggest some day reading your Jesus?

A: The Pope is doing something much more important. Every day, through his deeds, his words, and his whole life, he is drawing us towards Jesus and his Gospel. I know his words by heart. In October last year, he said: "The Church must lead to Jesus. He is the center of the Church. If the Church ever didn't lead to Jesus, it would be a dead Church."

The Pope isn't talking about aggiornamento or adapting the Church to the times. Nor is it just recovering the spirit and guiding principles of Vatican II. He's telling us we have to go back to Jesus Christ who "can break through the dull categories with which we would enclose him." He also says that "we must go back to the source and recover the original freshness of the Gospel."

Q: They say the Pope has read your book...

A: I got the word from Argentina that Jorge Bergoglio was one of the first to buy my book from the Claret bookstore in Buenos Aires and I know he gave one to a bishop friend of his while we were distracted by the controversy here. If that's true, I'm deeply glad.

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