Most anyone who keeps up on Vatican news knows the name Andrea Tornielli, one of the most respected reporters following the Vatican beat.
It’s no surprise, then, that his biography of the new Holy Father is filled with fascinating details, even as it recounts the events of the resignation, conclave and first days of the pontificate, featured by media around the globe.
Available since March 27 as an e-book and in hardcover a week from today, “Francis, Pope of a New World” (Ignatius Press), also gives readers the background story of Jorge Mario Bergoglio: his family life and how those closest to him reacted to his vocation, his ministry as a Jesuit in Argentina, even amid the violence in his country, his simplicity despite being a Prince of the Church, his unfailing sense of humor, etc.
ZENIT asked Tornielli to answer by e-mail some questions about his new book, an excerpt of which can be read here.
ZENIT: You are an expert on the Vatican, but our new Pope comes from afar. How did you set about studying this new subject, and so quickly?
Tornielli: It was not so difficult for me because I’ve known him for 10 years, and met with him a few times in Rome. I also interviewed him one year ago, in February 2012.
ZENIT: As a journalist, you know well the perils of being an actor on the world stage. Based on Cardinal Bergoglio’s relationship with media in Argentina, what are you expecting from this pontificate in terms of communication and media?
Tornielli: I know the peril very well, but I want to tell you that it does not exist with Pope Francis because he is who he is and he will not change his lifestyle. I think that from the point of view of communication with and to the media, the first days of the pontificate are wonderful: the Pope is perfectly able to communicate in a very simple and direct manner. I don’t know how long the “honeymoon” with the media will last, but I think we have a Pope that is able to communicate heart to heart with people around the world.
ZENIT: Related to question two, now that Francis is under global scrutiny, seemingly small choices — say, the color of shoes, or style of chair — might be given far-reaching interpretations, something along the lines of “He is using a simpler white chair, so he’s making a break with his predecessor (or predecessors.)” What’s your perspective on Francis’ choices in these first days as Pope?
Tornielli: I don’t agree with the analysis about the breaks with his predecessor. Gossip over continuity and breaks with previous popes based on mozzettas, ermine furs and red shoes is threatening to overshadow the reality of true continuity between Benedict XVI and Francis. Theirs is a continuity that finds proof in several passages, in small deeds and acts that were seen and heard during the first few days of this pontificate: the humility shown by both, their shared knowledge that the Church is ultimately led by God, and their sense of peace.
ZENIT: Tell us some of the things readers might be surprised to learn about Francis from your book?
Tornielli: I think first of all, to discover that Francis is a Church man so rigorous with himself but also merciful to others. He is a very humble and poor man, a real witness of the Gospel. In one of the chapters of my book, I share the story about his last Mass in the residence for priests of via della Scrofa in Rome, in which he lived before the conclave. He concelebrated Mass every day with the other priests, but the last day he wanted to concelebrate serving a Mass presided by a priest, with the cardinal serving as “altar boy.”
ZENIT: I recently asked another of Francis’ biographers to summarize the new Pope’s personality, albeit aware that a person cannot be summarized in a few sentences. How would you summarize him?
Tornielli: A humble priest, a real pastor, who knows that the gift of faith and the experience of an encounter with Jesus the Lord is not a property or a sacred power, but exists to be communicated to the people, especially those who live in the peripheries, not only geographic but also existential.
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