With the election of Pope Francis on March 13, 2013, there was a rush among Catholic publishers to be the first to publish a book about the new pope. If you look at Amazon rankings for Catholic books, about a dozen different books on Pope Francis fill the Top 25. Even Life Magazine tried to get in on a piece of the action. But which one(s) should you read and which ones should you avoid? I can't vouch for all of them, but over the next couple of months, I will be reviewing what I view to be the Top 3 books to read about Pope Francis, starting with my #3.
On Heaven and Earth is a book of dialogue between Pope Francis (then Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio) and Rabbi Abraham Skorka. Both men are Argentinian and both are respected religious leaders as well as brilliant minds. In these conversations, which read like brief letters back and forth to one another, various subjects such as God, the Devil, Science, Education, are covered. My initial impression was that it was nice to see subjects other than religion covered. This has potential to attract a wider, perhaps secular audience, who would otherwise never read a book by the Pope.
Each chapter reads like a friendly debate (for lack of a better word). One man gives his and his religion's viewpoint on a specific subject, and the other replies with their viewpoint. The tone is never harsh, and you can tell that these men have a good deal of respect for each other. If you are looking for fireworks or one party to declare the other wrong, you need to find a different book. I must admit there are times when I wish Pope Francis would have told Rabbi Skorka that he was wrong, but that is not how dialogue, especially religious dialogue works. Both men exhibited what a religious dialogue is supposed to look like - loving, respectful, willing to listen, and willing to share.
Some chapters were more appealing to me than others. For example, the first chapter, "On God," was very interesting. I'm not sure what exactly I expected them to discuss as it related to God, but Rabbi Skorka's explanation of Nimrod and the Tower of Babel, according to Talmudic tradition, was very interesting and a perspective I had never heard before. The chapter "On the 1970s" had a hard time keeping my interest because I wasn't alive during that time. The beautiful thing about this book though is that you don't have to read it in order or completely if a chapter doesn't interest you.
I originally thought that this book wouldn't hold my interest as I tend to only want to know what the Catholic viewpoint is on things, but I was very wrong. It was very well put together, covered a wide variety of topics, and I felt that both men educated me, not just Pope Francis. I give it 5 out of 5 stars and recommend that you read through each section slowly and reflect on each one. Tune in next month for #2 in my list of Pope Francis books.