If you want a sneak peak at what we are to expect out of Pope Francis's papacy, go no further than your local bookstore. On Heaven and Earth, a published dialogue between then-Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio and Rabbi Abraham Skorka, reveals a great deal about the Pope's thoughts on a wide variety of topics. Both men discuss their beliefs and views about many of the topics that concern people today. Yes, we all have a good idea of what Pope Francis is all about when it comes to his concern for the poor and jobless of today. We have seen the news stories and we have all found ourselves remarking at his humility, his gentleness, and his ability to still be the man he was and is before becoming Pope.
We are still in the beginning of his papacy and he has already captured our hearts with his endearing smiles, his jokes, and his constant care for the most marginalized in our society. The media has had a lot of fun either taking his quotes out of context or reading too much into his every action and word. This is where a book like "On Heaven and Earth" becomes quite useful. It is not a paraphrasing author that speaks on behalf of Pope Francis, but Pope Francis speaking for himself. And he sure has a lot to share regarding God, the Devil, atheists, religions, religious leaders, the disciples, prayer, guilt, fundamentalism, death, euthanasia, the elderly, women, abortion divorce, and quite a few other topics. He doesn't tip-toe around the hard issues either!
The premise of this book is simple enough. Pope Francis, a Catholic, and Rabbi Abraham Skorka, a Jew, have had many discussions together as leaders of two seemingly different religions. They seek dialogue in order to build bridges where walls had been built throughout history. They speak as both religious leaders and friends, as evidenced by the very personal nature in which they confide their beliefs and the experiences that helped shape as well as define their beliefs. Pope Francis, though he's been viewed as a radical of sorts, speaks as a Catholic who believes Catholic doctrine. Rabbi Skorka, likewise, speaks as a Jew. Yet, there are many areas in which they agree. Even when their views don't mesh completely, they leave a lot of room open for discussion, understanding, and respect.
One thing I noticed and appreciated, was the use of cultural, personal, and historical references used by Pope Francis. The biblical understanding is there and there is no evidence to suggest that Pope Francis hasn't studied religion extensively (he often cites the bible and other religious texts). However, he speaks in the same personable manner as any other Catholic evangelist would speak to their friends and neighbors about Christ. He uses personal experiences to paint pictures and even references comic strips when making points. I may not be Argentinian or know exactly what comic he is referring to, but I really appreciated his down-to-earth style of speaking. Fortunately, there are footnotes in this book and they did a wonderful job of putting things in context whenever I didn't understand a reference.
This book was a very profound look into the mind and faith of Pope Francis (and Rabbi Skorka) and will be of great use to anyone who wants to know Pope Francis as he is, not as the media portrays him to be. I think this book is worth a read if you want to know what the Catholic community and the world will expect during Pope Francis's papacy and I would not be surprised if people of other faiths find themselves enjoying this book. Much of what is shared is easily translatable across faiths and cultures. I am a Catholic, but I definitely found myself learning new things about Judaism. I also started seeing many similarities between Catholicism and Judaism with regards to important issues in our everyday lives.
I would highly recommend this book to anyone, regardless of their faith and world views. I found myself rethinking a lot of what I had learned about things like charity. As Pope Francis makes clear, there is more to charity than simply giving money to someone on the street. The contact with this person and acknowledgment of this person is intensely important. He advises people to look into the eyes of those they give alms to and he challenges us to rethink our ideas of what role we should play when seeking a better world. His words are stern at times, but always spoken out of love and concern for the poor and for the salvation of those who read his words. As down-to-earth Pope Francis may be, his words will certainly shake you and instill the beginnings of a grand metanoia in those who read this book with the intention of improving their lives and understanding how this Pope intends to change the world.
Disclaimer: I was offered a free copy of this book for review by Blogging for Books. All words and views expressed in this review are entirely my own.