The illustrated “Cliff Notes” of Benedict XVI.
That’s how I describe Benedict XVI: Essays and Reflections on His Papacy. You can learn more about the book at www.popebenedictbook.com. (If you’re into cyber-shopping, the site can lead you to a great bargain.)
Since I’m editor of the book, interviewers have asked how we decided to approach coverage of this papacy. Simply put: As if we were People magazine. We sought short essays and limited most writers to 400 words. You can do that when you’re dealing with people who know what they’re talking about. (Some say it is easier to write a poem then a novel because for a poem you have to really crystalize your thought.) Choosing writers from USCCB staff , we found people up to the task. Some brought wry humor, such as Don Clemmer who “investigated” Benedict’s relationship with cats and clothes. Others, such as Father James Massa, an interfaith and ecumenical expert, waded into the world of relations among churches. Virginia Farris looked at the pope and China, a smoldering topic in some ways. Richard Doerflinger treated the complicated world of bioethics
Pictures are vital to People magazine and to this book as well. The photos are splendid and in researching them we found a company of Italian women, Catholic Press Photo, who combine news photographer’s sense of timeliness and an artist’s eye for beauty. The cover shot, for example, shows they both saw Pope Benedict in a reflective mode and recognized the Cologne Cathedral in the distance. The cover is a photo poem of the man from Germany.
U.S. bishops opened up with personal observations and some even spoke on video for popebenedictbook.com.
Cardinal Francis George describes the pope as “a kindly man” who is “good with people in difficulties.” Archbishop Dolan paints the pope as teacher. He recalls Pope Benedict’s early days as a theology teacher and noted that his students would say. “from his mouth to a book,” that is, “when he lectured, it was with such clarity and such precision and such research and credibility that you could almost take the notes and immediately publish a book.”
Most reviewers are zeroing in on the splendid still photos. It’s hard not to. “Part of what makes the book worth a look is that the photography is superb,” says Bill Tammeus of the Kansas City Star.
But there’s much in the brief essays and the even briefer reflections of those who have seen the pope up close and personal.
“This overview provides enough visual and spiritual manna to satisfy the … faithful,” notes Margaret Flanagan in Booklist Online. Another reviewer, John Leonard Berg, writing in Library Journal, looked at the breadth of the book, saying “The pope is shown here as a loving man, a benevolent priest, and a diplomatic world leader.” And Michael Sean Winters of the “Distinctly Catholic” blog that runs on National Catholic Reporter Online, notes “most of all, this book brings the human face of our faith, in the person of the Pope, closer to us.”