Book Review: Pope Benedict XVI: A Personal Portrait

Heinz-Joachim Fischer’s book on our new Pope, Pope Benedict XVI: A Personal Portrait, translated by Brian McNeil, is based on interviews and meetings he has had with Benedict XVI over the years. Fischer, a newspaper reporter for a German newspaper, first met Pope Benedict in April 1976 and has had interviews with him on and off over the years. Fischer begins with a summary biography of the Pope’s early life then goes more in depth regarding the Pope’s involvement with the Second Vatican Council. Pope Paul VI took notice of Ratzinger in 1977 while he was still a priest and made him Archbishop of Munich and Freising, skipping the ordinary progression through the position of bishop. Also in 1977, Pope Paul named him a cardinal. In 1981 Pope John Paul II recognized him as well and made him his Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, a position he held until the death of John Paul II. In 2002 he had been made the dean of the College of Cardinals. Then on April 19, 2005, he was elected the 265th Pope.

Fischer discusses Ratzinger’s role as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith during which some came to dislike or even hate him. Some thought he was doing things on his own, but John Paul II was involved. Those involved with Liberation Theology who started mixing Marxist ideas with their theology came into conflict with him and the Pope. Leonardo Boff is one of those mentioned in this book. Ratzinger had to do some correcting of things that were in conflict with Catholicism and the teachings of Jesus Christ.

Fischer discusses the events of the death and funeral of Pope John Paul II. In the appendix Ratzinger’s sermon at the Requiem of John Paul II is given. After discussing the death of John Paul he talks about when the cardinals began to gather and meet under Ratzinger’s leadership as dean. He talks about the discussions the cardinals had or may have had on the future of the Church and who the next Pope would be. Some revelations about the conclave are given that may or may not be true. It makes for a good story. After talking about the election of Benedict XVI Fischer shows what the new Pope has done since. He discusses the Pope’s coat of arms and how it is different from previous popes. He shows what was said by the Pope and what he did at his inaugural Mass. Some of them being his longer pallium and larger ring, and other things the Pope had done in his first days as Pope.

Fischer has several appendixes which are a list of the electors of Pope Benedict, list of the popes, short biography of St. Benedict, and a chronology of Pope Benedict’s life. There are three sets of plates of photographs with most being in color. There are some typographical errors in the text of the book which can cause some trouble in reading the book, but that is the only major problem with this book. It is different from Matthew Bunson’s book, We have a Pope! Benedict XVI recently published by Our Sunday Visitor, in that it goes a bit more in depth into Benedict’s biography. It is recommended for those interested in knowing more about our new Pope.

Br. Benet Exton, O.S.B., writes from St. Gregory’s University, Shawnee, Oklahoma.

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