Thursday, June 27, 2013

Book Review: On Heaven and Earth

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

by Jorge Mario Bergoglio and Abraham Skorka
Edited by Diego F. Rosemberg
Trans. by Alejandro Bermudez and Howard Goodman
New York: Image Books, 2013

On Heaven and Earth was originally published in Spanish in 2010 for an Argentine audience. Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio (now Pope Francis) and Rabbi Abraham Skorka, an Argentine rabbi, biophysicist, and professor of biblical and rabbinic literature, sat down to have a dialogue on a variety of topics. It is interesting in and of itself as a dialogue between representatives of the Catholic and Jewish faiths, but in light of the recent election of Pope Francis, it provides great insight into the beliefs of our current Pope and signs of where he may lead the Church.

The topics the two covered are wide-ranging. While some are of interest primarily to the Argentine people, where both lived, worked, and ministered, the vast majority have a wider appeal. Some of the subjects of conversation include God, the devil, atheists, religion and religious leaders, prayer, guilt, death, capitalism and communism, poverty, abortion, euthanasia, women, elderly, divorce, same-sex marriage, and education.

It truly is a wide-ranging conversation between two individuals of different backgrounds who show each other a great deal of respect. As Rabbi Skorka states in the introduction, “True dialogue is at the heart of the thinking man’s life and demands that each person tries to get to know and understand the person with whom they are conversion. . . To have a conversation is to bring one’s soul nearer to another’s in order to reveal and illuminate his or her core.” How different this is from our world which tends to function in soundbites. While I am certain these two men could have spoken at even greater length on any of these topics, On Heaven and Earth offers a blueprint on how to have meaningful interreligious dialogue.

One of the most difficult conversations centers on the Holocaust. Where was God in the midst of all that suffering? Where was the Church? Could the Church have done more to alleviate suffering or end the Holocaust? Bergoglio states that he feels the Vatican archives regarding this time should be opened:
Then it can be seen if they could have done something, to what extent it could have been done, and if we were wrong in something we will be able to say: “We were wrong in this.” We do not have to be afraid of that. The objective has to be the truth. When one starts to hide the truth, one eliminates the Bible. One believes in God, but only to a point. One is not being fair. . . . We must know the truth and go to those archives.

It will be interesting to see if as Pope he follows through on this statement. 

On Heaven and Earth makes fascinating reading. It is highly recommended for anyone who wants to learn more about Pope Francis and his personal beliefs and positions on a wide variety of important topics. 


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