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insightful but not comprehensive
on 19 October 2009
This is most of the tale of the route to and papacy of John Paul II. 'Most of' as it was written before he died, and so lacks the end of this remarkable life story. And it does not start at the start, but later on in his life.
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.