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Kerry WeberJuly 26, 2010

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."

Coday writes: 

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?

Kerry Weber

Updated 7/27/10

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Stephen Sanchez
13 years 12 months ago
Wow.  How big is the chip on your shoulder?  Even Christ calls his Apsotles friends at the last supper.  Your agenda is getting in the way of a reasonable reaction to reality.
13 years 12 months ago
It is clear to me that the Holy Father-or his editor-chose the word friends so as not to intimidate the youngsters who might read the book.  And it seems reasonable to me to think Jesus called his Apostles friends on other occasions besides the Last Supper, even if such occasions were not recorded.  Please, lighten up!
Peter Lakeonovich
13 years 12 months ago
Yes, Kerry.  And perhaps the book could include friendly aspects Jesus's relationship with Mary, his Mother, and Joseph, his father.  And also a mention of how he still loves Martha despite the fact that Mary had chosen more wisely.  And maybe also a brief mention of how he asks the women of Jerusalem not to cry for Him but for their children.  Speaking of children, the book should include a discussion of Christ's admonition again scandalizing the children and how we are to become like children if we are to enter the Kingdom.  On second thought, maybe the book should include all aspects of Jesus's life and maybe the title should be broader, maybe just Jesus of Nazareth.  And if that's too much to cover in one book, maybe the Pope can write a series of books on the topic.

Kerry, not all books have to include all nuances all of the time, despite their title.
David Nickol
13 years 12 months ago
I agree with Kerry Weber and disagree with the anonymous Stephen.
Dale Rodrigue
13 years 12 months ago
Hmm, the title should be ''fairweather friends'' of Jesus.
The apostles abandoned Jesus but it was the women, Mary and Mary, the mother of Jesus who never abandoned Him.  They were His true friends.
13 years 12 months ago
At the foot of the Cross were the Theotokos, Mary M and an apostle. 

The rest of the apostles fled - as we ALL would have fled - in the face of the scandal and cycle of human sacrifice that Christ came to destroy by His resurrection.  This cowardice and panic in face of the crowd demanding sacrifice is a human failing/cycle, not one assigned to a gender.

Dale would do well to remember that the apostles all returned to Christ upon his resurrection and all died as martyrs proclaiming the gospel of Christ.  (read Rene Girard for the importance of this topic)

In any case, why even try to use the event of a children's book by pope Benedict to air ideological greivences or to push political agendas in the Church...?
David Nickol
13 years 12 months ago
"Dale would do well to remember that the apostles all returned to Christ upon his resurrection and all died as martyrs proclaiming the gospel of Christ."

Brett Joyce: 

You seem to be forgetting Judas. 

Also, how reliable is Christian tradition about the fate of the Apostles? I believe the New Testament tells us the fate of only one of them.
13 years 12 months ago
"Also, how reliable is Christian tradition about the fate of the Apostles? I believe the New Testament tells us the fate of only one of them."

Sure, David, the radical skeptic of basic history, I am sure they all wound up on the beach in Greece somewhere drinking mahi tahis and living to a ripe old age.

Get real, buddy.
Dale Rodrigue
13 years 12 months ago
Matthew, Mark and Luke  report only women dared stand at the foot of the cross.
John mentions women at the foot of the cross but  the disciple that Christ loved, ''stood nearby''.
The others were cowards except the women.
The women are the ones who remained loyal friends to Jesus, even at the foot of the cross, but they are nowhere mentioned in Benedict's tome about the ''friends of Jesus''. That's the point. Brett would do well to remember that.

13 years 12 months ago
David, considering all but one (+ Judas) of the 12 were killed in public (including five crucified) - many being killed by various local or imperial governments such as the execution of Peter in Rome by the authorities and recorded in public record of the time - I would consider this more than Christian tradition, it is also part of objective history.

Those who look to attack the Church look first to attack the reality and recorded human history...or so it seems.

All should be "deconstructed" and torn apart to find a "reality" that suits their ideological needs.

Dale, it is obvious you dislike pope Benedict so you use your hysterics against him discussing a child's book.  Very sad and uncharitable...
Dale Rodrigue
13 years 12 months ago
Typical supercilious Brett.

Where did I attack Pope Benedict?
I posted #6 and 16, so come on now, show me where?
You can't because I didn't.

Again, fast and loose with the facts.

I pointed out that the only faithful loyal friends Jesus had, who were unafraid and followed Him to the foot of the cross were women and they were left out of the book.

These women followed Jesus to calvary, were there when He died, buried Him, and according to scripture, were the ones that knew where He was buried, and they were the first ones Jesus appeared to. 

Then Brett accuses me of ''hysterics''.  Interesting choice of words.  Hysterical, a word originally defined as a neurotic condition peculiar to women and thought to be caused by a dysfunction of the uterus.  Later used to offend or demean women.

Brett, you need to chill out.

Robert Killoren
13 years 12 months ago
The Apostles were Jesus' friends, even Judas was his friend. So there's nothing wrong with the Pope writing this story with that title. The issue isn't with what he wrote but what he failed to mention. I agree we shouldn't use today's standards to judge a society of 2,000 years ago - BUT this was an excellent opportunity for the Holy Father to mention the women in Jesus' life that were just as important as the men.

There was a four-part Italian TV miniseries from 2001 of the same name, ''Gli Amici di Gesu.'' Each one focused on one specific person, but involved many others as well. One dealt with Joseph of Nazareth, another with Mary Magdelen, then Judas, and finally Thomas. If you are going to talk about the friends of Jesus (FOJs) then don't talk about the apostles only. And it wasn't only women who were left out of the list of FOJs... there was Joseph of Arimathea, Lazarus, and the beloved disciple (whose identity is unknown).

I feel sorry for Benedict because he does seem to get slammed so many times in the press, but a lot of it is his own fault by showing insensitivity and an inability to understand the complexities of today's culture - unlike his predecessor John Paul II who all through his early years as Pope was able to really read the people so well and empathized with what was troubling them. For example, Benedict got off on the wrong foot with his talk about Islam which he intended to be a scholarly paper in which he cited the opinions of someone centuries ago who did see Islam as a political and military threat, but it turned into sounding like it was his belief, which was a great insult to moderate Muslims who do not see their religion as being based on warfare anymore than we think the Catholic Church of today is represented by the Crusaders of the past who were warmongers. He stepped on the toes of Jews when he let an antisemitic bishop from the Pius X movement back into the fold without appropriate background checks on the man. Maybe the media is out for him, but he sure keeps making himself a great target.

And the reaction from Rome? It is disgrace to see the Curia try to blame the problems on the press for the anger leveled against the church's hierarchy for their mismanagement of the clergy abuse scandal for the past 30 years. Then it was ''the devil made me do it'' excuse that the abuse story came out during the year for the priests at the instigation of the devil. And each time a Curial spokesperson puts a foot in his mouth the Vatican has to issue followup statements of ''that's not what was meant,'' and ''we are sorry if some people felt offended,'' etc.

I think this case is overblown. Many are reading way too much into the release of a kid's book about the Apostles. On the other hand, the reaction from many women in the Church is justified, especially those who feel this is just another slam against them. I think their sensitivity to the way women are left out is completely understandable because the Church has treated them so poorly, and FOJs shouldn't do that to one another.
13 years 12 months ago
OK, Dale, maybe you are not commenting on Benedict; however, the general tone of the comments here, and the original quote from NCR, attempt to impune.

In any case, the point is not that the apostles fled (a human response)...it is that they returned and died for Christ after the scandal and Resurrection.  Their initial weakness and frail human friendship ultimately proves the truth and glory of God in relation to a fallen humanity. 

13 years 11 months ago
I'd count Lazarus, Martha, and Mary as Jesus' friends too  (John  11:5), and he did say "You are my friends if you do what I command you."  (John 15:14) which would seem to include many other people in his friendship.  Speaking of John the apostle, he's thought to have died a natural death, not killed for his faith.

13 years 12 months ago
I agree with Kerry too.  Hard enough trying to be a friend of Jesus in this church when you're a woman.
13 years 12 months ago
Let's be honest, here; the anti-authority posters here would find any reason to attack the Pope, even for something as innocent as substituting the word ''apostle'' with ''friend.''

Even if the book was titled, ''The Apostles of Jesus,'' we'd have the whiners complaining that the Apostles deserve no special attention; how dare the Pope corrupt the minds of children with such a perspective.  I'm sure there is a Protestant sect that espouses that view.
David Nickol
13 years 12 months ago

While we're being honest here, let's acknowledge that there are those who would leap to the defense of the pope no matter how justified or how minor a criticism of him was, accusing those who made it of being anti-authority.

The following was widely reported when Jesus of Nazareth was published:

In the foreword, he states that the book is ''absolutely not'' a work of Catholic doctrine, but rather the ''expression of my personal research''. He adds: ''Consequently, everyone is free to contradict me. I only ask the readers that they read with sympathy, without which there will be no comprehension.'' 

Likewise, when the pope writes a children's book, he is not speaking with papal authority, although no doubt there are going to be some who will argue that The Friends of Jesus is infallible.
David Nickol
13 years 12 months ago
Sure, David, the radical skeptic of basic history, I am sure they all wound up on the beach in Greece somewhere drinking mahi tahis and living to a ripe old age.

I wouldn't call the fate of the Apostles ''basic history.'' Christian tradition (with a lowercase t) is not history, although that does not mean that just because something is a part of Christian tradition, it is false. 

Were there three wise men named Gaspar, Balthasar, and Melchior who visited the baby Jesus? That is Christian tradition, not history.  
13 years 12 months ago
I am not going to get into an argument with you Dale because this is getting absurd.

You are obvious trying to imply that Benedict is somehow slighting women who were followers - indeed the mother - of Christ and the pope is doing no such thing.  This is obvious a book about the 12 apostles.

You do not attack, you indirectly impune in a passive aggressive manner.  Same with the snarky review by the writer cited for NCR (no suprise there).

Benedict adores the Theotokos and all followers of Christ (male and female) - this just happens to be a book about the 12 apostles...

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