Since the election of Pope Francis publishing houses have rushed to print with books about the new head of the Catholic Church.
In “Francis: Pope of a New World,” (Ignatius Press), Andrea Tornielli, the Vatican expert for the Italian newspaper La Stampa, starts by describing the announcement of the new pope and then goes on in a couple of retrospective chapters to describe Benedict XVI’s papacy and the arrival of the cardinals for the conclave that elected Pope Francis.
Tornielli dedicated the largest part of the book to describing the life led by the new pope in Argentina, starting with the emigration of his grandparents from Italy.
For Jorge Mario Bergoglio the definitive moment in the discovery of his priestly vocation came when he was seventeen years old, while he was making his confession at his parish church.
After ordination the future pope was engaged in a variety of academic and pastoral activities. Regarding the period of military dictatorship in Argentina Tornielli noted that the accusations made against Bergoglio, that he did not sufficiently protect two Jesuit priests from the military and that he collaborated with the regime, were “trumped-up charges” and “a tissue of hearsay statements.”
By means of a number of anecdotes about experiences in the life of Bergoglio Tornielli described him as someone very close to people and concerned about their problems. He comes across as a kind, simple and wise priest, and later bishop.
His closeness to the people, especially the poor and the sick was a distinctive feature of his time as archbishop of Buenos Aires, according to Tornielli.
Among other books recently published are a couple of translations from Spanish of conversations. “On Heaven and Earth,” (Image) records a series of dialogs between the then Archbishop of Buenos Aires and Rabbi Abraham Skorka, originally published in Argentina in 2010
A number of topics in the conversations have since surfaced in more recent times in comments by Pope Frances. For example, the Devil was among the many subjects examined, a topic that has come up with certain frequency in the new pope’s addresses.
The Devil is real, the future pontiff said a few years ago, but “Maybe his greatest achievement in these times has been to make us believe that he does not exist.”
“To kill in the name of God is blasphemy,” he said in the 2010 book, a phrase he recently repeated as pope. In the book it came in the context of understanding other religions.
Killing in the name of God, he explained, turns the religious experience into something ideological.
Cardinal Bergoglio also rejected what he termed as “the liberal conception of religion” as something only allowed in places of worship and the elimination of religion outside of these places. The integral religious man, he explained, is just, and religious justice creates culture.
“The culture made by a woman or a man that worships the living God is not the same culture made by the idolater,” he affirmed.
Later on, in a section on education, Cardinal Bergoglio returned to the theme of culture and commented that schools need to include the religious worldview in what they teach, or otherwise they deprive their students of a cultural and religious inheritance.
Another book that sheds light on the current pope’s background is “Pope Francis: Conversations with Jorge Bergoglio,” by journalists Sergio Rubin and Francesca Ambrogetti, (G.P. Putnam’s Sons).
After the initial chapters about his family and early life the conversations center on topics about the Church and the situation in Argentina.
In a chapter on the challenge of evangelization Cardinal Bergoglio warned against priests becoming administrators and not pastors. Both priests and Catholics in general need to go out and seek people and not remain shut up in their community, he insisted.
He also warned against a clericalization of the Church, observing that the laity has a potential that is not always fully taken advantage of.
The journalists asked him if the Church asks too much of people, particularly in relation to matters of sexual morality. The Church preaches, he replied, what is best for people and will make them complete and happy.
In any case, he continued, sexual morality is not the central Christian message, which is rather the fact that God took flesh, he lived, suffered, died and came back to life.
In one of the concluding chapters that examine the political and social problems in Argentina the future pope talked about the need for forgiveness, following the political turmoil in the country.
He noted that it is very difficult to forgive without reference to God, “because people have the capacity to forgive only if they have the personal experience of being forgiven.”
These and other books depict someone with a deep spiritual life, who manages to combine wisdom, a great sensitivity to people’s needs, simplicity and humility. Qualities that have become amply evident in the short time since his election.