Up From Televisionrnby The Reverend Ian Boydrn”/ came to cast fire upon earth; and would that it were already kindled!”rn—Luke 12:29rnCrossing the Threshold of Hopernby His Holiness ]ohn Paul 11rnNew York: Alfred A. Knopf;rn229 pp., $20.00rnIn order to mark the 15th anniversaryrnof Pope John Paul IPs election to thernPapacv, Italian Radio and Televisionrncommissioned Vittorio Messori to conductrna live television interview with thernPope. It must have seemed a good idearnat the time. Vittorio Messori is the authorrnof a number of books and articles;rnbut outside Italy, he is best known for thernRatzinger Report, a very readable accountrnof a series of conversations withrnCardinal Ratzinger. When that book appeared,rnsome of the people who admiredrnCardinal Ratzinger most expressed misgivingsrnabout his taking part in suchrna project. No doubt the opinions of thernman entrusted with safeguarding moralrnand doctrinal orthodoxy within thernCatholic Church were matters of keenrninterest to people who read journalism,rnbut was it reallv wise for the Head of thernHol’ Office to share his private thoughtsrnwith the world? He was the spokesmanrnfor a tradition. Did not the verv formatrnof an interview, with its emphasis on personality,rnencourage the false notion thatrnhis pronouncements somehow dependedrnon his own background and personalrnidiosyncrasies? Nevertheless, the bookrnwas full of good things, and it deserved tornbe an international best-seller.rnTen years later, it would certainly havernbeen a coup if Signor Messori had beenrnable to repeat his success by interviewingrnnot a distinguished Curial Cardinal,rnbut the Pope himself. At first, everythingrnseemed to favor the project. Dr. JoaquinrnNavarro-Vails, the Vatican Press Secretaryrnand Opus Dei notable, was said to bernone of its staunchest supporters. Admittedly,rnthe program would not be quiternwhat it seemed. Questions were pre-rnThe Reverend Ian Boyd is editor of thernChesterton Review.rnpared and sent to the Pope, so that hernwould have an opportunity to considerrnwhat he would say before the live interviewrntook place.rnIn the end, however, there was no interview.rnAccording to Messori’s ownrnsomewhat vague explanation, the Pope’srn”many obligations” prevented his participationrnin the interview. It looks asrnthough someone had second thoughtsrnabout the television program. At thisrnpoint, an alternative arrangement wasrnsuggested. Unable or unwilling to respondrnto the journalist in person, thernPope offered to send him written answersrnto his questions, answers which he wouldrnwrite during the brief moments when hernwas free from the obligations of whatrnmust truly be a busy schedule. Crossingrnthe Threshold of Hope is the record of thernPope’s answers to the journalist’s questions,rnthe written word substituted forrnthe television word.rnEverything disappointing about thernbook can be blamed on what it owes tornthe format of the failed TV program.rnThe questions, for the most part, arernunctuous and vague, and it is difficult torndiscover any logical order to the topicsrnthat thev raise. Beginning with questionsrnabout the meaning of the Papacyrnand some standard questions aboutrnproofs for the existence of Cod, the centralityrnof salvation, and the meaning ofrnevil, the questions then veer towardsrnsuch topics as “Why are there so manyrnreligions?” and the Pope’s views aboutrnBuddhism, Islam, and Judaism, only tornend, in the final and most interestingrnpart of the book, with a hodgepodge ofrnquestions about everything from the fallrnof communism to the reality of hell.rnFrom the nature of the book, there isrnof course no opportunity to develop arnline of thought beyond the original answersrnthat the Pope provides, since therernare no follow-up questions. On the otherrnhand, in the preface, Messori admitsrnto having added questions to the finalrntext of the book. Since these additionalrnquestions are never identified, the readerrncan only guess whether a particular questionrnthat the Pope seems to be answeringrnis one that he has ever been asked. In arnsense, it does not really matter. Much ofrnwhat is best about the book comes fromrnthe Pope’s efforts to transcend the formatrnimposed on him by the stilted questions.rnLike the university lecturer hernonce was, he will correct a clumsy questionrnor challenge the assumptions onrnwhich a question is based, or even anticipaternthe sort of question that a slow studentrnmight not have the courage to ask.rnIt is appropriate, therefore, that some ofrnthe banal questions he answers shouldrnturn out never to have been asked. Tryingrnto guess which ones they are adds anrnelement of fun to an interview that,rnunderstandably, is not notable for itsrnhumor.rnBut if there is little humor in thisrnbook, there is a good deal of cheerfulness.rnOne of the themes runningrnthrough the Pope’s reflections, like arngolden thread, is a strong affirmation ofrnthe reality of joy. He describes his firstrnEncyclical letter Redemptor HominisrnDECEMBER 1995/31rnrnrn