"And it's Ignatius by a nose." So writes Mark Judge at the start of his review of Francis: Pope of a New World (Ignatius, 2013), by Andrea Tornielli, which is available now as an e-book and in hardcover on April 10:
Since Pope Francis was elected March 13, there has been a breathless
scramble by publishers to get anything by or about the pontiff into
stores and onto Kindles. The first one out is Andrea Tornielli's Jorge Mario Bergoglio: Francis: Pope of a New World. It's published by Ignatius Press, the popular Catholic house that published most of the books by Pope Benedict XVI.
Francis: Pope of a New World is exactly what you would expect of a book published by a respected house in two weeks: a serviceable primer that uses lengthy quotes from other sources. Still, Tornielli, a writer for the Vatican Insider website, is a good storyteller, and his insane deadline may have contributed to the lucidity of his prose. He's like a hard crime writer who had to chop anything superfluous in the rush to pub date.
Thus, we get a general sketch of Jorge Bergoglio, the man who would become pope. His parents were Italian immigrants to Argentina. They were devout Catholics, and during a confession when he was a young man Jorge felt the call to the priesthood. He joined the Jesuits because he liked the tough language of the order that called itself "the pope's Marines" (of course, today they're more like Obama's army).
He felt a particular compassion for the poor, and insisted on living simply even as moved up the ranks. He cooked for fellow priests and rode the subway to work. He moved up to Archbishop of Buenos Ares, and then was appointed a cardinal by John Paul II.
Tornielli relies on a lot of long block quotes, but his choices are always interesting. Very soon a picture emerges, and it is one that reveals just what a tonic, in fact how revolutionary, Francis may turn out to be.
Read Judge's entire review on the RealClearBooks.com site.
Over at National Review Online, Michael Potemra also offers praise for the biography:
Ignatius Press has just released an insta-book that is an impressive account of the recent papal transition. ... The author, prominent Italian Vaticanista Andrea Tornielli, provides the key details of the resignation of Benedict XVI and the subsequent papal election and inauguration, as well as a biography and character study of the new pope.
Tornielli does a good job of assembling the existing Spanish-language and other sources into a coherent portrait of a humble but strong pastor: “someone who came to serve and not to lord it over [people,] a man . . . who came to facilitate their encounter with Jesus. Nearness, mercy, gentleness, patience: These are the words of Father Bergoglio.” ...
There is also a hint that the new pope is less interested in church controversies about such matters as liturgical rubrics and canon law than in more basic issues of the church’s presence in the external world. Talking to a young priest who wanted to know whether he should wear a cassock, he said: “The problem is not whether or not you put it on but whether you roll up the sleeves to work for others.”
Tornielli was recently interviewed by ZENIT about the book:
ZENIT: You are an expert on the Vatican, but our new Pope comes from afar. How did you set about studying this new subject, and so quickly?
Tornielli: It was not so difficult for me because I've known him for 10 years, and met with him a few times in Rome. I also interviewed him one year ago, in February 2012. ...
ZENIT: Related to question two, now that Francis is under global scrutiny, seemingly small choices -- say, the color of shoes, or style of chair -- might be given far-reaching interpretations, something along the lines of "He is using a simpler white chair, so he's making a break with his predecessor (or predecessors.)" What's your perspective on Francis' choices in these first days as Pope?
Tornielli: I don't agree with the analysis about the breaks with his predecessor. Gossip over continuity and breaks with previous popes based on mozzettas, ermine furs and red shoes is threatening to overshadow the reality of true continuity between Benedict XVI and Francis. Theirs is a continuity that finds proof in several passages, in small deeds and acts that were seen and heard during the first few days of this pontificate: the humility shown by both, their shared knowledge that the Church is ultimately led by God, and their sense of peace.
ZENIT: Tell us some of the things readers might be surprised to learn about Francis from your book?
Tornielli: I think first of all, to discover that Francis is a Church man so rigorous with himself but also merciful to others. He is a very humble and poor man, a real witness of the Gospel. In one of the chapters of my book, I share the story about his last Mass in the residence for priests of via della Scrofa in Rome, in which he lived before the conclave. He concelebrated Mass every day with the other priests, but the last day he wanted to concelebrate serving a Mass presided by a priest, with the cardinal serving as "altar boy."