VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI’s eagerly awaited third volume of his book Jesus of Nazareth probably won’t be published until next year, and a possible papal encyclical on faith, to coincide with the upcoming Year of Faith, is currently not part of the Holy Father’s plans, according to the Vatican.

Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said he was “not aware the Pope has finished the third part” of the book, which the Holy Father began writing during his summer break at Castel Gandolfo in 2010. The third and final volume will focus on the Gospel passages relating to Jesus’ childhood.

“I find it hard to believe it will be finished before the summer,” Father Lombardi told the Register May 1.

The Vatican spokesman was responding to an April 28 report in the Italian daily newspaper Italia Oggi, which claimed that the Holy Father’s busy schedule had forced him to postpone the publication date for the final volume.

Benedict XVI’s recent schedule has included his six-day trip to Cuba and Mexico, visits to Italian cities and Easter celebrations.

The Italian report stated that the Holy Father had hoped to publish the volume on April 16, the date of his 85th birthday (the previous two volumes were also published around the same time of year), but that a publication date had been pushed back to October.

Regarding a fall timeline, Father Lombardi said, “If, then, there is a wish in this case to release it in different languages at the same time, then I doubt it will come out in October. Therefore, it’s better to sit and wait patiently.”

In a foreword to the second volume, Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week: From the Entrance Into Jerusalem to the Resurrection, the Pope wrote that his intention was to help the reader understand Jesus’ words and his actions, and, thus, it was “clear that the infancy narratives would not fall directly” within its scope.

“I will try, however, to keep the promise that I made in part one and to prepare a small monograph on this subject, if I am given the strength,” he added.

Both the second and the first volume (From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration) sought to restore Jesus’ true identity, as discovered in the Gospels. However, the forthcoming volume will be based only on the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, since John and Mark do not contain any passages on the birth of Jesus.

The Holy Father has written that his overall hope for this three-volume book is that it grants an “insight into the figure of Our Lord that can be helpful to all readers who seek to encounter Jesus and to believe in him.”

Judging by the publication timeline of the previous volume, if the final part is completed over the summer, revisions and translations should be completed by early the following year, with a publication date probable in the spring of 2013.This book is likely to be shorter than the previous two, so it may come out sooner.

The Italia Oggi report also said that there is currently no encyclical on faith in the works. Such an idea remains “in the mind of God,” the newspaper said, adding that the Holy Father is preparing texts in the run-up to the Year of Faith.

The celebration, announced by Pope Benedict XVI in his apostolic letter Porta Fidei, will commence Oct. 11, coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council and the 20th anniversary of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

It is intended to contribute to “a renewed conversion to the Lord Jesus and to the rediscovery of faith, so that the members of the Church will be credible and joy-filled witnesses to the risen Lord, capable of leading those many people who are seeking it to the door of faith.”

Father Lombardi said an encyclical on faith “has only ever been a hypothesis (acceptable, but a hypothesis),” noting that the previous two, Deus Caritas Est (God Is Love, 2005) and Spe Salvi (Saved in Hope, 2007), have addressed the other two theological virtues, hope and charity. He added that it’s “not a precise plan that the Pope has spoken about.”

Last summer, the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano revealed that the Pope was working on a “reflection on faith” that would form part of the 50th anniversary of the opening of Vatican II, proceedings he took part in from the beginning. He was an expert adviser to Cardinal Josef Frings of Cologne, Germany.

Some have speculated that the Holy Father may publish that reflection as part of a memoir of his experiences at the Council to celebrate the anniversary.

Edward Pentin is the Register's Rome correspondent.