Those who never got around to reading Jesus of Nazareth might have a better chance of getting through Pope Benedict XVI's latest work: a children's book. The 48-page book is called The Friends of Jesus and is based on texts from the pope's Wednesday general audiences. The cover illustration by an Italian artist gives the book an inviting feel. But as Dennis Coday wrote last week, over at NCR, the book raises the question of who, exactly, Jesus might have called "friend."
Was this notice timed to coincide with the Feast of Saint Mary Magdalene?
The Vatican press office announced today that Pope Benedict XVI has written a children's book called, The Friends of Jesus. His friends were 12 men, acccording to the book.
The prologue, by Spanish Fr. Julian Carron, president of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, begins: ""One upon a time there was a small group of men who, one day two thousand years ago, met a young man who walked the roads of Galilee . Each had his own job and family but, in an instant, their lives changed. They were called Andrew and John, Peter, Matthew, Thomas, etc. They were twelve and we know them today as the 'Apostles'. ... In Jerusalem at that time everyone knew that they were Jesus' 'friends'. ... Later they were joined by St. Paul ..."
Carron writes that Benedict XVI "takes us by the hand and accompanies us as we discover who Jesus' first companions were, how they met him and were conquered by him to the point that they never abandoned Him." [What about that "three times you will deny me" bit and who went to the grave first on that first Easter?]
Having not read the book (English and Spanish versions have not yet been released), my knowledge of the story comes from the press release, which states that the book "recounts the story of the twelve Apostles and St. Paul." No doubt a great topic to introduce to young children. I'm also guessing that in using the word "friends" rather than Apostles, the editor's intent was to help children more easily relate to the life of Jesus. That makes sense: Lots of children have friends, very few have apostles. Still, I think it does some disservice to the young reader if the book uses the word "friend" only for the Apostles. Christ certainly called the Apostles his friends, but I wonder if others could fit into that category, as well. Does a book about Jesus' "friends" have a responsibility to take a broader scope? Perhaps children could learn valuable lessons from Jesus' willingness to befriend a diverse group of men and women, many of whom weren't exactly the most popular folks in town. Perhaps this book will incorporate that lesson. Or perhaps a sequel is in order?