Book Review: New Bio of John Paul II

The End and the Beginning:  Pope John Paul II – The Victory of Freedom, the Last Years, the Legacy (Doubleday, $32.50) is George Weigel’s sequel to his 1999 bestseller Witness to Hope which was a biography of Venerable Pope John Paul II.  This book is not a reprint of his earlier biography, but a new biography based on new materials from the Communist police and intelligence agencies of Poland, the Soviet Union and other Eastern European communists.

Although this new book is a complete life of this holy pope from Poland, time is still needed to assess how his life and influence have impacted the Church and the world since it has only been five years since his death.  This book can serve as the beginning of that process, though and could also help with the pope’s canonization process that is moving forward.  Many people think the process is going too slowly, given that many at his funeral wanted him canonized at once.

Weigel reveals Pope John Paul II as one of the major forces in taking down the communists.  His election was the beginning of the end for the communist nations in Eastern Europe and other places.  He knew how to deal with the communists since he had been doing that in his native Poland before he was elected pope.  Weigel does not spare us from the sad fact that  the communists had infiltrated the Church at various levels as spies and as informers — not only in the communist countries, but even at the Vatican.  It would seem that the pope knew this and kept his own confidence with those in his inner circle, because the  communists knew how to use some churchmen against others — even at the Vatican.  This reveal how far the communists had gotten in influenced things.

Weigel examines John Paul’s works: his encyclicals, his trips, his apostolic constitutions, his speeches, his philosophy, and his teachings.  These  – in addition to his fight against communism — rightly form the basis for Venerable John Paul II to be honored with the title “the Great.”  His influence will be felt for many years to come.  Even in death he is a force to be reckoned with.  He truly led the Church into the Third Millennium.

This reviewer found it hard to put this book down, although first part is the more interesting.  The second part seems a bit loose, probably because it is dealing with material and the time period that is not too far in the past.  Still it is good and eye-opening — especially about the opposition from some high ranking churchmen to the Great Jubilee Year 2000 celebrations.  They thought it would be a horrible failure, but they were proven wrong by the great number of pilgrims to Rome and the activities throughout the world to celebrate that Holy Year.  Young people showed that the Church was very much alive.

Weigel presents the events of the September 11th attacks and how they changed the world.  The pope had hoped for a more peaceful and life-giving century compared to the horrible 20th century of wars and death.  Then the 2002 sexual abuse scandal hit the Church in the United States.  Weigel examines why the Church was slow in reacting to this horrible situation.  Weigel explores the last years of the pope whose life was slowly ending.  Many people kept waiting for him to die, but he soldiered on; even though his body was slowing him down, his mind never lost its brilliance.  His pilgrimage to death and new life was an example of how to suffer and meet Christ.

Weigel provides many black and white and color photos.  There are endnotes, a bibliography, and an index.  Both the scholar and general reader will enjoy this very inspiring book that shows again whythe pope deserves the title “the Great”.  (For many people JPII is “the pope” even though we have our beloved Pope Benedict, because for many young people and middle aged people he was the only pope we knew.)  His influence will be noticed for a very long time!  This book is highly recommended to those interesting in Venerable John Paul II the Great and Church history during his long and amazing pontificate.

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