Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II

Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II

by George Weigel


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Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II by George Weigel

Given unprecedented access to Pope John Paul II and the people who have known and worked with him throughout his life, George Weigel presents a groundbreaking portrait of the Pope as a man, a thinker, and a leader whose religious convictions have defined a new approach to world politics — and changed the course of history.

John Paul II has systematically addressed every major question on the world's agenda at the turn of the millennium: the human yearning for the sacred, the meaning of freedom, the glories and challenges of human sexuality, the promise of the women's movement, the quest for a new world order, the nature of good and evil, the moral challenge of prosperity, and the imperative of human solidarity in the emerging global civilization. By bringing the age-old wisdom of biblical religion into active conversation with contemporary life and thought, the Pope "from a far country" has crafted a challenging proposal for the human future that is without parallel in the modern world.

Weigel explores new information about the Pope's role in some of the recent past's most stirring events, including the fall of communism; the Vatican/Israel negotiation of 1991-92; the collapse of the Philippine, Chilean, Nicaraguan, and Paraguayan dictatorships during the 1980s; and the epic papal visit to Cuba. Weigel also includes previously unpublished papal correspondence with Leonid Brezhnev, Mikhail Gorbachev, and Deng Xiaoping, and draws on hitherto unavailable autobiographical reminiscences by the Pope.

Witness to Hope also discusses the Pope's efforts to build bridges to other Christian communities, and to Judaism, Islam, and other great world religions;presents an analysis of John Paul's proposals for strengthening democratic societies in the twenty-first century; and offers synopses of every major teaching document in the pontificate.

Rounding out the dramatic story of Pope John Paul II are fresh translations of his poetry; detailed personal anecdotes of the Pope as a young man, priest, and friend, sketched by those who knew him best; and in-depth interviews with Catholic leaders throughout the world.

A magisterial biography of one of the most important figures — some might argue, the most important figure — of the twentieth century, Witness to Hope is an extraordinary testimony to the man and his accomplishments, and a papal biography unlike any other.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780060732035
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 04/08/2005
Edition description: Updated
Pages: 1056
Sales rank: 148,744
Product dimensions: 6.12(w) x 9.12(h) x 1.72(d)

About the Author

George Weigel is one of the world's foremost authorities on the Catholic Church and the author of the New York Times bestseller Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II. He is a Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C., and a consultant on Vatican affairs for NBC News.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

The Marne, Tannenberg, and Verdun; the Battle of Britain and Midway; Stalingrad and D-Day's Omaha Beach--according to the conventional wisdom, these were the decisive battles of the twentieth century. Only Poles and professional historians remember the August 1920 Battle of the Vistula, or, as pious Poles insist, the "Miracle on the Vistula." Yet much turned on this, including the destiny of a three-month-old infant named Karol Jozef Wojtyla, born in the small provincial city of Wadowice the previous May 18.

In the summer of 1920, Polish history seemed set to repeat itself in a particularly ugly way. The Second Polish Republic, the first independent Polish state since 1795, was about to be strangled in its cradle as the Red Cavalry of General Semen Budennyi drove westward out of Ukraine, sweeping all before it. For Poles, it brought back memories of other invasions from the steppes and other preludes to national disaster. For Lenin, who wanted to "probe Europe with the bayonet of the Red Army," the infant Polish Republic was of no moral or historic consequence. It was simply the highway along which Trotsky's Red Army legions would march to Germany, triggering a revolutionary uprising across all of Europe. To make sure that any resistance would be summarily crushed, the Provisional Polish Revolutionary Committee, the puppet regime to be installed in the wake of the Red Army's inevitable victory, would be led by Feliks Dzerzhinskii, head of the Cheka, the Soviet secret police, the most feared man in Bolshevik Russia.

By August 12, as one historian has put it, "it was clear to most observers in Warsaw that the last desperate week of theresurrected Poland had arrived." The entire diplomatic corps fled, with one exception: Archbishop Achille Ratti, the Pope's representative. A Polish delegation left for Minsk, where they hoped to start negotiations for an armistice or a surrender with the Soviets. Dzerzhinskii was headed for Wyszkow, thirty miles from Warsaw, from which he expected to enter a fallen capital on August 17.

But Marshal Jozef Pilsudski, who dominated the life of the Second Polish Republic from its inception in 1918 until his death in 1935, was not prepared to concede defeat. Pilsudski's intelligence operatives had detected a gap between the two corps of Trotsky's army. In a daring move, Pilsudski pulled some of Poland's best divisions from the lines on which they were engaged and secretly redeployed them to take advantage of the gap between the Soviet forces. On August 16, the Poles attacked, and by the night of the 17th, the Red Army, which had begun its own attack on Warsaw on the 14th, had been reduced to a rabble of fleeing refugees at a cost of fewer than 200 Polish casualties.

Distracted by that year's calamitous flu epidemic and still reeling from the slaughters of the First World War, western Europe seemed unaware that, but for the Poles, the Red Army might just as easily have been camped along the English Channel as fleeing back into Great Russia. Lenin, though, understood that world history had just taken a decisive turn. In a rambling speech on September 20 to a closed meeting of communist leaders, he went into dialectical dithyrambs trying to explain why "the Polish war . . . [was] a most important turning point not only in the politics of Soviet Russia but also in world politics." Germany, he claimed, was "seething." And "the English proletariat had raised itself to an entirely new revolutionary level." It was all there, ripe for the taking. But Pilsudski and his Poles had inflicted a "gigantic, unheard-of defeat" on the cause of world revolution. At the end of his speech, Lenin swore that "we will keep shifting from a defensive to an offensive strategy over and over again until we finish them off for good." But for now, the westward thrust of Bolshevism had been rebuffed.

Among many other things, Pilsudski's stunning victory meant that Karol Wojtyla would grow up a free man in a free Poland, a member of the first generation of Poles to be born in freedom in 150 years. An experience he would never forget, it became part of the foundation on which he, too, would change the history of the twentieth century.

The Crossroads

The nation into which Karol Wojtyla was born was once the greatest power in east central Europe. The Polish-Lithuanian dynastic union, formed by the marriage in 1386 of the Polish Queen Jadwiga to the Lithuanian Duke Wladyslaw Jagiello, created a mammoth state that, by defeating the Teutonic Knights, the preeminent military power of the age, at the Battle of Gruenwald in 1410, set the stage for 200 years of Poland's growth. A decade after Columbus discovered the New World, Polish rule extended from the Black Sea in the south to the Baltic in the north, and from the German borderlands on the west almost to the gates of Moscow in the east. In those days, France alone exceeded the Polish kingdom in population among the nations of Europe. Polish power and the world-famous Polish heavy cavalry, the winged Hussars, played a decisive role in world history. In 1683, Polish troops led by King Jan III Sobieski halted the Turkish advance into Europe at the epic Battle of Vienna. Sobieski presented Pope Innocent XI with the green banner of the Prophet, captured from the Turkish grand vizier. Along with it came the message "Veni, vidi, Deus vicit [I came, I saw, God conquered]."

Poland's subsequent history was less glorious as historians typically measure national accomplishment. Memories of lost grandeur remained alive, though, in the form of an intractable conviction that Poland belonged at the European table. That conviction also had much to do with Poles' sense of their location.

Witness to Hope. Copyright © by George Weigel. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Table of Contents

A Brief Note on Pronunciationxiii
Prologue: The Disciple
1A Son of Freedom: Poland Semper Fidelis
2From the Underground: The Third Reich vs. the Kingdom of Truth
3"Call Me Wujek": To Be a Priest
4Seeing Things as They Are: The Making of a Philosopher
5A New Pentecost: Vatican II and the Crisis of Humanism
6Successor to St. Stanislaw: Living the Council in Krakow
7A Pope from a Far Country: The Election of John Paul II
8"Be Not Afraid!": A Pope for the World
9"How Many Divisions Has the Pope?": Confronting an Empire of Lies
10The Ways of Freedom: Truths Personal and Public
11Peter Among Us: The Universal Pastor as Apostolic Witness
12In the Eye of the Storm: Months of Violence and Dissent
13Liberating Liberations: The Limits of Politics and the Promise of Redemption
14Reliving the Council: Religion and the Renewal of a World Still Young
15Forward to Basics: Freedom Ordered to the Dignity of Duty
16After the Empire of Lies: Miracles and the Mandates of Justice
17To the Ends of the Earth: Reconciling an Unreconciled World
18The Threshold of Hope: Appealing to Our Better Angels
19Only One World: Human Solidarity and the Gospel of Life
20A Reasonable Faith: Beyond a Century of Delusions
Epilogue: The Third Millennium: To See the Sun Rise
Afterword: A Church for the New Millennium: The Great Jubilee of 2000865

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Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II 4.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 20 reviews.
Lisasutherland More than 1 year ago
This is an excellent book if you enjoy history and want to gain insight into the intrigue of the Catholic hierarchy and the Pope's internal dialogue with God. The book also gave a detailed understanding of Catholic teachings and the politics within the Vatican. You will gain a better understanding of the real role the Pope played in bringing down the iron curtain. Thoroughly enjoyed this book although at times it was fairly dense in terms of the theological teachings.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book inspired me to be proud of my Polish heritage. The Pope is a great man and truly one of God's own Apostles on earth. I even found a few relatives mentioned in his book. His trials and tribulations in life are surpassed by his infinite wisdom granted by God for his dedicated religous and human rights beliefs. He is truly a man of courage and faith. God Bless You sir for making the earth a better place in my humble Protestant opinion.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is massive, but unlike War and Peace, I didn't get bored over the two months it took to read it. I feel like I know John Paul II as an old friend.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This biography of the Pope cannot be overpraised. The author reveals the Christian humanistic vision which makes the Pope tick. He shows the link between the defense of human freedom (the human rights crusade) and the demand for Catholic coherence (the reassertion of church discipline), which other observers wrongly consider contradictory. No viewpoint, of course, is neutral. I don't find convincing the criticism of John Paul II's opposition to the Gulf War. The entry into war was precipitous, it only strengthened Hussein's grip, and the Pope is on the side of the angels in his longstanding call to lift the sanctions against the people of Iraq. The neo-con bias tends to sweep all before it. Still, this is the definitive portrait of the Pope.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This biography of Pope John Paul II is a very well researched and written book. Having a deep respect for the Pope, and having read other books on Pope John Paul II and also of all other previous Popes, I feel that I have a better insight into the life of Pope John Paul II. His life story and his successes are very historic & inspiring in nature, and Mr Weigel has shared this biography in a superb manner to the world. This Pope of our times is (as should be)a excellent role model to all.
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