FRANCIS: POPE OF A NEW WORLD
by Andrea Tornielli, translated by William J. Melcher
(Ignatius Press, 2013, hardback, 175 pp, $40.00. ISBN: 978-1-58617-852-9. Available from Freedom Publishing)
When the name Jorge Mario Bergoglio, Archbishop of Buenos Aires, was announced to the world from the loggia of St Peter's Basilica as the new pope many were surprised. Although it was rumoured that he had come second in voting at the 2005 Conclave which elected Pope Benedict XVI, he remained an unexpected choice, being largely unknown outside South America.
Since Jorge Bergoglio was the first bishop from the Americas – and the first Jesuit – to be chosen pope, there was worldwide interest in the man, his personality and his background. Many of his early speeches, homilies and gestures suggested a person likely to bring a fresh approach to his leadership role .
Andrea Tornielli is Vatican correspondent for the major Italian newspaper La Stampa and has previously published a number of books including: Pius XII: Pope of the Jews, Benedict XVI: Guardian of the Faith, The Secret of Padre Pio and Karol Wojtyla and The Attack on Ratzinger.
The present book, Francis: Pope of a New World, while by no means a definitive biography, given that much of the Pope's "history" has yet to occur, provides a solid introduction to the career and personality of the Italo-Argentine Jesuit priest who has been elected to the highest office of the Church.
The author relies on past interviews, previously published material and his first-hand experience of the Vatican.
The first three chapters cover Pope Benedict's resignation and the conclave and as such would be familiar to most readers.
Certainly, Tornielli's familiarity with the Vatican, and the number of journalistic sources he has built up there over the years, add depth to this relatively short book. He has interviewed Cardinal Bergoglio in the past over shared meals and that gives him an advantage over others seeking to put together a comprehensive picture of this pope from "the ends of the earth" (as Francis described himself during his first public appearance).
Referring to the public's early and positive reaction to the new pope, Tornielli writes: "In him they recognise one of themselves: someone who came to serve and not to lord it over them. A man who came to share, not merely to exercise a sacred authority." The writer adds that Francis wants a peaceful Church for the poor and of the poor (as evidenced by the choice of his papal name).
There are four dimensions to a full Catholic life: belief, worship, lifestyle and service – especially to the poor, marginalised and excluded. Pope Benedict gave particular emphasis to the belief dimension, while Pope Francis has indicated he will emphasise the service dimension while not overlooking his role as guardian of the Faith and the sacred liturgy.
Tornielli tells the story of a man who hails from humble, blue-collar origins. He commenced part-time work at age thirteen, putting in long days between school and his factory job.
Stories of Bergoglio's early life are drawn from interviews with family members as well as a previously released Spanish-language biography of the then Cardinal Bergoglio. The author then follows Jorge Bergoglio through his teenage years to the moment he responded to God's call to the priesthood to the day he entered the Society of Jesus and their emphasis on obedience, discipleship and missionary work.
In due course, Father Bergoglio became novice master and, later, provincial of the Jesuits in Argentina during the difficult days of the military dictatorship.
Tornielli stresses Bergoglio's personal touch, from installing a direct phone line as bishop so that all priests could contact him privately at any time, to taking the bus or train to his office so he could mingle with people on the street and demonstrate his desire to bring the love of God to the people and identify with them.
His profound care for the poor, and for those with addictions or sufferings which was already well known in Argentina, now shine out as examples to the Church throughout the world.
Tornielli's biography concludes at the present, following the new Pope's installation. After this, we wait, watch and listen as we journey with Pope Francis. He encourages us to "walk in the presence of the Lord, with the Lord's cross, to build the Church on the Lord's blood which was poured out on the cross and to profess the one glory: Christ crucified".