Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Book Review -- On Heaven and Earth: Pope Francis on Faith, Family, and the Church in the Twenty-First Century


Written by: Jorge Mario Bergoglio and Abraham Skorka

On Heaven and Earth Pope Francis on Faith, Family, and the Church in the Twenty-First Century is a fascinating book, in which the man who would become Pope Francis -- Jorge Mario Bergoglio, archbishop of Buenos Aires, warmly and casually converses with Argentinian Rabbi Abraham Skorka on a diverse range of topics.  Some of these topics include: religion, prayer, euthanasia, women, homosexuality, abortion, divorce, money, poverty, politics, and power.  Originally published in 2010, this book documents a series of conversations between Bergoglio and Skorka as they seek to promote inter-religious dialogue and build bridges between Catholicism and Judaism.

Written in a clear, comprehensible style, On Heaven and Earth is presented in a conversational format.  It is as if you are present as a spectator, listening to the conversation between the two men, which has the advantage of making you feel as if you are a first-hand observer. There can be no skimming through this material, however, not if you want to grasp the interchange of ideas and the camaraderie between the two men. As a Catholic, I was obviously more interested in what Pope Francis had to say about each topic and had considered just reading the Holy Father’s portions of the conversation and skipping over the rabbi’s words. However, I am glad I did not do this, as I would have missed some profound insights and some new discoveries about the Jewish faith.

Much of what the Holy Father has to say about each topic is not surprising, but the way he expresses himself, the way in which he interacts with the rabbi, and the way in which he explains Catholicism is what made this book special for me.  Pope Francis does not mince words, yet his responses reflect his deep humility, his congeniality, his wit, and his wisdom.  As I read, I highlighted and underlined many of his brilliantly succinct and beautiful responses on these important issues.

Despite the fact that I enjoyed this book, I was disappointed with it in two ways.  First, I was expecting the issues to be covered in a more in-depth manner.  Instead, the issues are discussed briefly, for the most part, and the tone is informal, presented in the style of a casual conversation between two friends.  The pope’s general audience would probably provide more in-depth information than is presented in this book on a specific topic. Second, there are many specific references in the book to Argentinian politics and culture, which may seem a little alien to those who are not South American historians. Although I am somewhat familiar with the political history of Argentina, it was occasionally difficult to follow the conversation when the names of specific leaders and detailed events of a certain era were discussed.

Overall, I enjoyed On Heaven and Earth: Pope Francis on Faith, Family, and the Church in the Twenty-First Century.  It was an interesting look at how the Holy Father interacts with a religious leader of another faith and it also provided some insight as to what he believes on a variety of topics. Most of all, it reveals his personality and character.  It is a good introductory book on Pope Francis and I recommend it as such.

Disclaimer: I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group in exchange for this review.

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