Over recent days I have been reading Austen Ivereigh’s new biography, The Great Reformer: Francis and the Making of a Radical Pope (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2014). This is a magnificent book. It is clearly the best biography we have of this man, at least so far. The work is very engaging and looks carefully at the circumstances and influences that shaped Jorge Bergoglio’s life journey. It highlights the simple truth that he has an unfailing faith in the love and mercy of Jesus Christ above everything else.

Ivereigh tells the story of a Jesuit priest who is “normal” in every way and, at the same time, clearly rooted in God’s love for all people, not just for ideas and leadership. What Ivereigh does here is depict Bergoglio as an extraordinary figure in the “normal” everyday way in which he lives a life of deep joy. This is a sensitive and adept study and one that should be read by anyone interested in understanding the “radical pope” (“radical” means here that he gets to the root of the matter) who is misunderstood by both left and right in the everyday way that people are trying to figure out this global leader we now know as Pope Francis.

Austen Ivereigh is a British writer, journalist and commentator on religious and political affairs. He is a former adviser to English cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor and holds a doctorate from Oxford University on the Church and politics in Argentina. Ivereigh is also a sought-after Catholic commentator on British media.

The finest overview that I’ve seen about Pope Francis, at least without reading the entire book, can be seen in the interview Austen Ivereigh gave in response to the release of this magnificent book. Note that there are two “legacy” markers the biographer says Pope Francis will be likely to leave. The first was expected within the conclave. The second was not, or so I believe. I am thrilled with both but the second brought tears of joy to my heart and eyes. Why? Pope Francis is clearly a “missional-ecumenist” who loves the gospel and knows and loves evangelicals. He doesn’t just love ecumenism as a formal work of the church, as did previous popes who were good men. He has done missional-ecumenism on the margins in the streets and parishes of Latin America. He clearly took this spirit to Rome. 2015 dawns as an exciting year for missional-ecumenism. I believe the Holy Spirit is on the move in new expressions of unity in Christ’s mission. I fully expect to see more and more amazing doors open for the gospel when it is rooted in deep unity in our shared fellowship.

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