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Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II Hardcover – 20 Feb 2003
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George Weigel, author of Witness to Hope, will be giving a series of lectures in Oxford, London, Manchester, and Birmingham in mid-February. The definitive, authoritative biography of Pope John Paul II, with unprecedented co-operation from the Pope, including access to the Holy Father's papers. A groundbreaking portrait of the Pope as a man, philosopher, religious leader and political figure destined to become a classic. The authoritative biography of one of the singular figures --some might even argue, the singular figure of the twentieth century. John Paul II's life is filled with drama; his life is also replete with challenging ideas, whose power comes in part from the sensational character of Wojtyla's life and the integrity with which he has lived it. Even his critics concede that John Paul II occupies a unique place on the world stage at the end of this bloody century, and that he has put down markers that no one can ignore or avoid as humanity turns into a new millennium fraught with both possibility and danger. This book includes previously unpublished primary-source documentation of an historic quality.The Pope is a man of prodigious energy, and has played a crucial, yet heretofore unknown role, in this century's most momentous events, including the fall of communism, the Holy Sea/Israel negotiation of 1991-92, the disintegration of the Nicaraguan, Chilean, and Paraguayan regimes during the 1980s, and the unprecedented papal visit to Cuba. This biography explains how it is that this "man from a far country," as he describes himself to the Roman crowds on the night of his election, had done all of that, and what his accomplishments might portend for the future of both the Church and the world. Tues 18th Feb - The Chaplaincy (sp?), Oxford Wed 19th Feb - Westminster Cathedral Thur 20th Feb - Manchester University Fri 21st Feb - Oratory, Birmingham
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Having said that, it is a good academic treatise on a significant life story, perhaps the most significant of the twentieth century. You see the young man who rejected natural marriage and potential fatherhood, for a life of service to friends and community, who rose to unexpected heights, but remained as modest and simple a life as can be imagined. A man who wielded immense power, but who gave away even his clothing and died owning nothing but a simple crucifix.
It is a tale of a very different life from that of our secular world leaders, and most religious ones too. But, for me the real insight is that it is a book of a life of two halves: before and after the papacy. I don't know if it was the writer's intention, but we see first a man of great energy and activity: the Polish priest and bishop who challenged and defeated secular atheist communism. This, the first part of the book, is truly exciting and even riveting. The second half of the book, as the role of Pope becomes his job, becomes turgid and administrative.
It is difficult not to see a contrast between a Polish evangelical priest whose life was self/God-directed and capable of amazing feats. Against this the book shows a life increasingly tied up in the administrivia of Vatican life. You see a man who lives a deeply spiritual life still, but in an atmosphere that is less so than he is.
This is not an anti-Catholic criticism by this protestant critic per se. It is what the book, or its writer, shows evidence of. Whether it was a reality only John Paul II knew, and he is no longer with us.
So, a useful piece of work on the life of an amazing man and a very significant role in a world-leading organisation. Read it, but be prepared to battle through to the end.
First lay aside any prejudice, especially religious, Catholic or otherwise. Indirectly, a powerful apologetic for Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular, this is a must read for any serious student: of church history of the 20th C or of history or sociology or politics; any serious theologian; and no doubt many more, including his fans! For this man has definitely made his mark on world history and on the lives of countless individuals.
It is not the easiest book to read! It is a vast subject: a man, a priest, a bishop, the longest serving Pope of the 20th century. To get an idea of the vast statistics of his life, and a brief resume of much of his papacy, it is worth reading the last chapter first.
This book will repay the effort to read, even skim read. For the more serious, it will definitely repay more serious study. Get reading!