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The Great Reformer: Francis and the Making of a Radical Pope    by Austen Ivereigh order for
Great Reformer
by Austen Ivereigh
Order:  USA  Can
Picador, 2015 (2015)
Hardcover, Softcover, CD, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Bob Walch

As the hoopla for the late September visit of Pope Francis to the U.S. begins to build, both Catholics and non-Catholics might like to do a little reading to learn more about the man who leads the Catholic Church.

The Great Reformer: Francis and the Making of a Radical Pope takes a detailed look at the life of Jorge Mario Bergoglio, a boy who came from a middle class family in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Obviously the emphasis here will be on the journey that began when, as a teenager, Jorge decided to enter the priesthood. Based on interviews with many individuals who knew him in his native land, Bergoglio's story unfolds as Argentina undergoes some major political upheavals and changes. Events during the Peron era were as important in the development of the future pope's character as the training he received with the Jesuits.

After taking his final vows, the young priest went from becoming a leader in his own order, the Jesuits, to becoming the Archbishop of Buenos Aires, and then Pope John Paul II made him a cardinal in 2001. When Pope Benedict XVI made the unprecedented decision to step down, Cardinal Bergoglio became Pope Francis in 2013.

This biography naturally focuses on the years leading up to Bergoglio being named pope and the bulk of the story unfolds in Argentina and other countries in South America. The reader who is not familiar with the politics of the region will get a short lesson in the difficult times that the people of this major South American country faced and the role Archbishop Bergoglio played in providing spiritual leadership for his flock.

The book features an expanded epilogue that addresses what has occurred in the time since Pope Francis became the Catholic Church's leader. Quite honestly, the core of this biography is rather a slow read which may deter the casual reader. On the other hand, those who persevere will have some solid insights into the man who is presently the leader of over one billion Catholics around the world.

In late September when Pope Francis' visit will be making headlines on all the news networks and media outlets, those who have read this biography will have a little more insight into the man behind the smiling face that fills the television screen. Also, those who have read this book won't be surprised to hear Pope Francis underscore migration and jobs when he addresses the American public and political leaders.

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