The unexpected resignation of Benedict XVI-the first Pope to abdicate in nearly six centuries-has ushered in new winds at the Catholic Church. The hope for change, of a religious institution closer to the expectations of its faithful in the 21st century, comes tied to the March 13th election of Pope Francis, the first Latin American and the first Jesuit Pontiff to sit in Peter’s chair in the millenary history of the Church.
The reprinting of Sobre el Cielo y la Tierra (On Heaven and Earth) by Vintage, is timely and necessary. This book provides many of the answers to the expectations that have been placed on the new Pope. Sobre el Cielo y la Tierra compiles the conversations held in Buenos Aires in the spring of 2010 in by Rabbi Abraham Skorka, rector of the Latin American Rabbinical Seminary, and Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, Pope Francis today.
In a clear, scholarly and profound way, the two men reflect on the existence of God, poverty and social work, the relevance of religious leaders, communism and capitalism, science, education, aging and death. “To think that we need to leave a legacy is very serious anthropological and religious dimension that deals with dignity. It is saying to yourself: I don’t withdraw within myself, I don’t corner my life, at least my existence will transcend my children, to whom I will leave a legacy,” says Pope Francis as he ponders over death.
Thus, the book owes much of its success to the fact that these spiritual leaders do not overlook key issues often questioned by society as well as topics that have stirred controversy and erupted in scandals within and outside of Catholicism and Judaism: homosexuality, abortion, euthanasia, and the role of both institutions during the military dictatorship in Argentina (1976-1983).
In the first pages of Sobre el Cielo y la Tierra, Pope Francis explains the reasons for the book: “There are many barriers that hinder everyday dialogue: misinformation, gossip, prejudice, defamation, slander. These realities create a sort of cultural sensationalism that stifles openness towards others. Thus, dialogue and encounter are obstructed.” Skorka adds: “To talk, in its deepest sense, is to bring the soul closer to one another, in order to reveal and illuminate its inner life.”
Beyond a person’s beliefs, in the pages of this book, the reader has the feeling of being in front of two men who have taken the proper time to discuss and think about the world, perhaps, as in the beginning of times.