Questions of faith make Pope a best-seller

Click to follow
The Independent Online
DOES the Vicar of Christ still believe in Christ? Is Christianity really the true faith? The Pope's answers to these and other searching questions are the meat of a book expected to become a best- seller after its launch today.

Crossing the Threshold of Faith is constructed around answers to 36 questions put by Vittorio Messori, an Italian journalist, and its topics include the Pope's personal relationship with God, relations between the religions, and the Pontiff's anguish over his responsibilities to the Church's 960 million members. An initial print run of 20 million copies, which goes on sale in 36 countries and in 20 languages tomorrow, reflects the confidence of the book's publishers, Arnaldo Mondadori. The Pope's age and precarious state of health lends a valedictory tone to his reflections on faith and on his pontificate. Mr Messori, a practising Roman Catholic, has an established reputation as the feisty author of works on Christ (whom he describes as a guerrilla leader) and on the secretive ultra-conservative sect Opus Dei.

The book steers clear of burning issues, such as the role of women in the Church and the Pope's uncompromising line on family planning. But the personalities of both men - the bluff author and the combative man of God - ensure that the argument never loses itself in mysticism or arcane Vatican issues. 'I told the Pope,' said Mr Messori in a recent newspaper interview, 'that I wasn't very interested in talking about pastoral missions to the gay community, about whether girls could be choirboys, or about the political unity of Catholics . . . I had an unexpected and unrepeatable opportunity to question the Vicar of Christ.'

The idea of a book was born by chance. Mr Messori was originally to have interviewed the Pope for television last year. He submitted his questions at the Pope's summer residence noting, he says with typical bluntness, a certain 'Polish atmosphere . . . the smell of boiled cabbage, a certain shabbiness' in the Pope's personal rooms.

The Pope cancelled the television interview at the last minute but replied, exhaustively in Polish, to Mr Messori's questions. A book was suggested, with all profits going to a charity of the Pope's choice. 'I think that at the last moment the Pope realised that questions such as those could not be dealt with in a TV interview. I breathed a sigh of relief . . . I was terrified of going down in history as the Catholic that had made the Pope cut a poor figure worldwide because of my inexperience in television,' Mr Messori said.