The Vatican under Pope Francis

This is an updated edition of Michael Collins’ book which was first published in 2008. However, in text, captions and illustrations, account has been taken of the momentous changes over the last year. So this edition now includes details on the transition to Pope Francis.

As with all Dorling Kindersley books, The Vatican depends very much on the lavish illustrations in full colour and the magnificent design.

Fr Collins opens with a brief count of the year’s round at the Vatican, its seasons of course keyed to the events of the liturgical year. To place all that follows, he then provides a brief history of the papacy from the transition from pagan Rome to Christian empire.

But to the visitor today the impact of the Vatican depends on the magnificent architecture, the gift of the renaissance Popes. This part of the book is full of interest for the author describes many almost hidden and private areas of the city state which the ordinary visitor will not get to see, even if they are specially privileged. Having studied and lectured in Rome for many years, he knows every aspect of the Vatican intimately and shares his insights with the reader.

But the Vatican is not a museum, it is a working place. The daily life of the city revolves around the work of the Church, which is these days global in its reach – perhaps too far reaching in the eyes of some. That work depends on a wide variety of people from the Pope down, people with very varied talents, all in the service of the Church. Here again Fr Collins takes the reader behind the scenes to describe ordinary people doing vital tasks one might not have thought of at first.

But the aside from the people, what overwhelms the visitors are the accumulated treasures of the Vatican. The museums of the Vatican open to the public are described in some detail, though the equally important library and archives, entry to which is restricted, are merely glanced at, perhaps because these are only for more specialised visitors.

But there are constant reminders of the real work of the Church, as in the section devoted to the Sisters of Charity based in the city and their work among the homeless, not of the Vatican but across the city of Rome.

The reader reaching the end of the book, on the threshold many think of a new era, must ask how all this splendour, the heritage of the Holy See as a major state, can be reconciled with the active option for the poor which Pope Francis wishes to encourage. But as the book shows all through, the Vatican is dependent on the daily work of many uncelebrated people, which is in a way an image of the wider Church at work in the world. And an essential of that work is to carry out the imperatives of the Gospel.

Fr Collins never lets one forget that for long in these magnificent pages, which is only right and proper.