Guest Columnists

Tale of the Beggar Bishop

by Therese J.Borchard

Approximately 43.6 million people in the United States are what we term “poor,” defined as lacking a socially acceptable amount of money or material possessions.

For 2011, the national poverty level was set at $22,350 for a family of four. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that more people fall below the poverty line this year than at any time since it has started making this estimate available.

New York Times bestselling author and retired priest Father Joseph F. Girzone hopes to bring awareness of the poor who live among us with the publication of his newest novel, “The Homeless Bishop” (Orbis Books).

Father Girzone casts his hero as an intelligent, talented Catholic archbishop named Carlo Brunini, who acquires permission to take an extended leave of absence to try to understand why Jesus so loved the poor and disadvantaged.

He renounces his status and worldly goods to experience life in America as a homeless beggar, and in doing so, gains an entirely new perspective that equips him for a leadership role in the church that he never dreamed of.

Father Girzone’s tale was inspired by the many years that he himself spent working directly with the poor and homeless.

When Father Girzone learned about an elderly couple freezing to death, he assigned staff to go from home to home to determine people’s living conditions.  Reports revealed that thousands of elderly people were living in tenuous conditions.

“When I heard politicians remarking that there were no real poor people, just people too lazy to work, I cringed,” Father Girzone told me in an interview. “I could not believe that intelligent people, and people charged with the responsibility of running our country, could be so ignorant.”

Like his first book, the runaway bestseller “Joshua,” the protagonist in the pages of “The Homeless Bishop” is sure to rouse readers, helping them to understand why Jesus so loved the poor.

In his endearing, simple prose, Father Girzone takes the reader on a journey from the halls of the Vatican to the streets of New York and unexpected places such as Iran.

When I asked Father Girzone what he hopes his readers will take away from his engaging story, he told me about Tom Cousins, a man who built several skyscrapers in Atlanta. Cousins’ best investment, however, was the money he put into the East Lake community, a crime-ridden corner of Atlanta.

With some love and care, plus a few dollars, the crooked place was transformed into a model community with a 98% graduation rate from high school.  For the first time in history, those kids went off to attend prestigious colleges.

What was Cousins’ motivation?  Father Girzone’s adored protagonist of his first novels: Joshua.

Therein is proof that Father Girzone’s fictional characters are capable of influencing and changing the world that we live in.