Review: Habemus Papam elevates manga to great reading!

Habemus Papam by Regina Doman (illustrated by Sean Lam)

Habemus Papam by Regina Doman (illustrated by Sean Lam)

Blessed Pope John Paul the Great asked all Catholics to evangelize the culture, to bring Catholicity to the people through all the many outlets available. Even comic books and manga have their place in the evangelization of youth. Habemus Papam: Pope Benedict XVI is a great example of using the modern culture’s media outlets to bring Catholicity into people’s lives.

The story, written by renowned Catholic author, Regina Doman, captures Pope Benedict’s life magnificently. Within the manga-story telling genre, Doman has captured his fears, his sacrifices, his love of family. But, most importantly, Doman has captured the Holy Father’s life-long faith and trust in God’s providence, in Divine wisdom.

The book opens with then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger at the Papal Conclave. He cannot believe anyone would want him to be Pope. He is scared of the responsibilities and his lack of skills to guide the Church during the turbulent 21st century. But his prayer, his answer to God’s call is not “no” but rather a reiteration of the Blessed Mother’s: “Thy will be done”.

Cardinal Ratzinger becomes Pope Benedict XVI

Cardinal Ratzinger becomes Pope Benedict XVI

The story then shifts to flashback: to young Joseph’s life in pre-Hitler Bavaria; his father’s work against the rising Nazi menace; the move from their home-town to get away from possible retributions as Hitler rises to power. As Joseph becomes a teen-ager, pressured to join the Hitler Youth Movement, to join-up and fight for the “Fatherland”, Joseph is again filled with fear and uncertainty. But rather than giving up or giving in, he again prays for wisdom and again accepts God’s providence and protection: “Thy will be done.”

The book continues, describing specific events that defined Benedict’s pastoral and academic life and his constant “yes”; bringing the story back to the present and World Youth days and papal activities.

But Habemus Papam is not an in-depth analysis of Pope Benedict’s life. As Doman is quick to point out, “Recognizing the limits also means recognizing why people, especially young people, read comic books: for entertainment. They read them to relax and have fun… But that doesn’t mean that a heavier subject can’t be done as manga.”

She explains that her audience is tweens and teens, readers who want to be entertained. But while being entertained, they can also learn something. So Doman avoided the deep theology and Catholic teachings prevalent in so much of Pope Benedict’s work. Instead, she focused on those parts of his life that suit the manga-style: the majestic mountains of Bavaria, the conflicts with the Nazis, the heroism of Pope Benedict’s predecessor, Blessed John Paul II. And the story she weaves is entertaining … while evangelizing and teaching.

The overshadowing theme in Doman’s story is that being a faithful follower of Christ is complicated, and that often times choosing the best thing to do in any one situation requires the grace of the Holy Spirit: wisdom. She also tries to correct many misconceptions and misrepresentations of the Holy Father.

The classic manga-style drawings are accomplished throughout this book by Sean Lam, a Singapore artist who wanted to represent the strength and faith of Pope Benedict while working within the confines of manga-artistry. The pictures become part of the story … an integral part that captures the scenes of Benedict’s life from his childhood in Bavaria to his papacy.

I highly recommend this book for all tweens and teens who want to know more about one of the greatest leaders of our time: Pope Benedict XVI. Manga Hero, the publisher, has created other manga stories of faith, stories of the good, the true, and the beautiful … with more in the works about great role models such as St. Maximilian Kolbe and Fr. Vincent Cappadano.

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