Published October 1, 1999
Witness To Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II by George Weigel is as comprehensive a biography of its subject as can be hoped for while the Pope still lives. Weigel, a journalist who came to the Pope’s attention after the publication of his book, The Final Revolution: The Resistance Church and the Collapse of Communism, wrote Witness To Hope with his subject’s encouragement and assistance. Weigel had unprecedented access to the Pope’s correspondence (with, among others, world leaders including Mikhail Gorbachev). He reports lengthy conversations with many members of the Pope’s inner circle, and he occasionally reveals vivid details of the Pope’s daily life (for example, at the beginning of each day, the Pope’s advisers hear moans and groaning from John Paul’s solitary prayers in his private chapel).
A study that pays homage without degenerating into hagiography. Weigel has studied and written about Karol Wojtyla (pronounced “voy-TEE-wah”), better known as Pope John Paul II, for two decades. Here he records in detail—but, thankfully, not too much detail—the colorful events of the pope’s life. After discussing Wojtyla’s origins in Wadowice, Poland, Weigel gives an account of his work in avant-garde theater, his study in a clandestine seminary during WWII, his consecration as a bishop in 1958, his election as the first Slavic pope. In his examination of Wojtyla’s papal career, Weigel pays close attention to his role in the collapse of communism (first explored in The Final Revolution: The Resistance Church and the Collapse of Communism, 1992), his writings and teachings on sexual intimacy, his international travel. According to Weigel, John Paul II’s papacy has consisted primarily of variations on a single theme, first expressed in the pope’s inaugural encyclical Redemptor Hominis: “Christian humanism as the Church’s response to the crisis of world civilization at the end of the twentieth century.” Working with the assumption that only people in freedom can encounter God’s love, John Paul II has believed that the Church has an obligation to safeguard human freedom. Concomitant with this pledge to work for freedom runs an evangelistic streak. Drawing on Augustine’s notion that human hearts are “restless until [they] rest in” God, the pope has held throughout his career that modern anxiety, malaise, and restlessness can only be quelled through Christ, so, as John Paul II’s Church has worked for human freedom, it has also evidenced a rather Protestant-esque commitment to spreading the Gospel message. Massive in scope and length, and written with the pope’s cooperation, Weigel’s biography is sure to be the definitive work on Pope John Paul II for years to come.
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