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Pope Francis: Equivocal or just shy?

When the name "Bergoglio" was announced from the Vatican balcony, it was greeted with a moment's stunned silence. Who was this man, now head of 1.2 billion Catholics? What was known about him? Argentines and professional Vatican watchers immediately caught on. The rest of the world was a beat behind.

Presses have turned quickly since then. Editor and Vatican analyst Robert Moynihan has been quicker than most, barely six weeks passing between "Habemus Papam" and the publication of Pray For Me. Billed as the "ultimate introduction" to the life and spiritual views of Pope Francis and written in just two weeks, Pray For Me favours short sentences and punchy paragraphs.

This is Moynihan as the Vatican's anti-Dan Brown: "Restaurants emptied, and the people of Rome hurried to see who the new pope was. It was dark now, and cool, and there was a slight drizzle . . . He stood silently for a while, gazing out over the crowd of some 200,000. He did not speak." Heavy on description, light on analysis, Moynihan approaches his subject as a journalist keen to give a soft focus. There are anecdotes about the papal penchant for public transport, and much kissing of babies.

The reader does get some new information: there's a potted biography and a chapter on Pope Francis's spiritual guides and influences but Pray For Me is largely given over to events immediately after the papal election, allowing Moynihan to sidestep areas needing greater attention. The controversy surrounding Bergoglio's time as a Jesuit superior during Argentina's "dirty war" gets a mention if only to reiterate the unknowns.

Where Pray For Me is written in the first flush of love for Pope Francis, wanting others to feel the love too, On Heaven and Earth deepens what Catholics outside the Spanish speaking world can know about the man himself. Published as Sobre el cielo y la tierra in Argentina in 2010, its translation into English offers an insight into what Catholics can expect from their new leader.

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