The election of a new pope was always likely to inspire a race to the printing presses. The potential readership is huge (millions of English-speaking Catholics eager to know more about their leader) and in these uncertain economic times publishers can hardly be blamed for backing a dead cert. A little imagination is still desirable, however, and the first of these books lacks that precious commodity, writes Jonathan Wright in The Catholic Herald.
Pope Francis In His Own Words is a compendium of extracts (ranging from short paragraphs to one-liners) from Jorge Mario Bergoglio’s writings, speeches and homilies, covering everything from Christmas to the tango, and from assisted suicide to television. Aside from a cursory five-page introduction there is no attempt to place Francis’s musings in context: just a random trawl through the press-clippings and internet sites.
It could be argued, I suppose, that the editors had little time to put together their volume, but Robert Moynihan’s splendid book demolishes that excuse. He, too, was under an unforgiving deadline but he managed to produce an insightful and important book. Moynihan offers a detailed eyewitness account of Francis’s first few days in office – all the meetings and acts of worship – which is likely to stand the test of time as a useful historical document. As a seasoned Vatican-watcher, Moynihan has a sharp eye and his evaluation is even-handed.
It is entertaining to read about Francis making mundane phone calls to Argentina – to his dentist, cancelling appointments, and to a kiosk owner, announcing that he no longer needs the newspaper to be delivered – and Moynihan makes some good guesses about the kind of pope Francis is likely to be. Perhaps most importantly, he warns against shoehorning him into stale, simplistic categories such as liberal or conservative.
The book also provides a potted biography, from Francis’s childhood and education to his progress through the ecclesiastical ranks and the reconstruction of what probably happened at that 2005 conclave has the ring of authenticity.
Best of the bunch, though, is a volume that has nothing directly to do with recent events in Rome. It is a translation of a book, first published in Argentina several years ago, which recounts some of the conversations between Cardinal Bergoglio and Rabbi Abraham Skorka. It is a treat and should be placed in the hands of anyone who thinks that Francis is not going to be a sufficiently intellectual pope. One doesn’t have to agree with everything Bergoglio has to say in order to be impressed by his passion and rigour.
On Heaven and Earth by Jorge Bergoglio & Abraham Skorka, Bloomsbury, £14.99
Pray for Me, by Robert Moynihan, Rider books, £8.99
Pope Francis in His Own Words, by Julie Schwietert Collazo & Lisa Rogak, William Collins, £8.99
FULL STORY Our new Holy Father does not lack steel (Catholic Herald)