In the first book he has written since he became pope, published tomorrow (16 April 2007), Benedict XVI criticizes the world’s wealthy nations for having "plundered and sacked" Africa and other poor regions of the world.
Benedict was formerly Cardinal Josef Ratzinger, theological monitor for his predecessor John Paul II, and a one-time university scholar.
The Pope says that the exploitation of the poor by the rich is part of the "cynicism of a world without God" and he argues that Jesus’ famous parable of the Good Samaritan chastens the church to act for justice.
It is the story of a man who is beaten and robbed by thieves. A member of an ethnic group despised by the ruling elite stops to help him, when others, including a priest, had passed by on the other side of the road.
The 400 page book, 'Jesus of Nazareth', is being published to coincide with Benedict’s 80th birthday. Excerpts have already been published in a number of newspapers.
The initial print run will be in Italian, German and Polish, but it will soon be available in a range of other languages (including English) and is set to be a best seller – as might be expected when the core readership will come from among the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics.
The pope draws a direct link between the consumerism of people in the rich world and the dire conditions of people in Africa and other poor nations, challenging the neo-liberal economic paradigm which argues that these two factors are unrelated.
"We see how our lifestyle, the history that involved us, has stripped them naked and continues to strip them naked," he writes.
The pontiff, who has condemned the effects of colonialism before, says rich countries had also hurt poor countries spiritually by belittling or trying to wipe out their own cultural and spiritual traditions.
The book also contains condemnations of drug trafficking and sex tourism, claiming that they are signs of a world brimming with "people who are empty" yet living among abundant material goods.
Pope Benedict’s aim in writing the book is to give an account of the shape and grounds of belief in Jesus and the triune God of Christianity for the contemporary world.
Theologically he is regarded as a conservative, but some of his social views will come across as radical and Benedict is known to be extremely well read in both ancient thought and contemporary post-Enlightenment disciplines.