Slowly though I have come to know more personally the man behind the words and have only grown to love him more over time. Though seeing the Pope on a more personal level is difficult since may of the books that address him cover mainly his career with some basic details of his life before going to Rome. I was quite happy to receive Benedict of Bavaria An Intimate Portrait of the Pope and His Homeland recently and figured there was no better time to read it than during the Papal visit. This was exactly the book that I hoped it would be from its title.
The author Brennan Pursell is a convert to the faith and covers his own conversion in the first chapter of his book and his subsequent interest in Josef Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI. While the author is an American his wife is German and the book shows that he was quite able to give a perspective of the Pope and his connection to Bavaria to give you a fuller understanding of the man.
The majority of the book covers the time from Josef Ratzinger’s birth to his time at Regensburg before going to rome to head the CDF. I am really glad that he spent so much time on this part of the Pope’s life since this is the part that I am quite interested in since I have already read plenty on the later chapters of his life. The book is loaded with details and insights into how Catholic Bavaria influenced the Ratzinger family and the connection and pull it had on his life. It is no secret that the Pope desired to go back home and retire with his brother and had requested to retire a couple of times while acting as prefect of the CDF. Seeing the Pope through the lens of Bavaria is quite useful and I felt necessary in coming to a deeper understanding of the man of him as a person.
There were plenty of details I had not seen in print before and though while the book relies on what the Pope has written himself in Milestones and other places there is a good amount the author found through other sources. The book calls itself an intimate portrait and I found that to be true in showing the Pope’s family life and his later life with his brother and sister. There are some great stories in this book and I especially loved details like the nicknames given to the two brothers while in seminary. The German nicknames translate roughly to Organ-Ratz and Book-Ratz and it doesn’t take too much imagination to determine which of the brothers is Book-Ratz.
The last chapters of the book cover his years in the CDF and then finally as Pope while giving a good overview of the major milestones in what will shortly be three years of his pontificate. Again though what I enjoyed most was the little details that more showed Josef the man and it really it quite amazing that a person with such a great intellect has the humility to match it. It seems to me that these qualities are rarely matched in the same proportions. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn more about the Pope than a more sterile biography would give.