Cover image for Witness to hope : the biography of Pope John Paul II
Witness to hope : the biography of Pope John Paul II
Weigel, George.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Cliff Street Books, 1999.
Physical Description:
xiv, 992 pages ; 24 cm
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BX1378.5 .W45 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Biography
BX1378.5 .W45 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
BX1378.5 .W45 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Biography
BX1378.5 .W45 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Biography
BX1378.5 .W45 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
BX1378.5 .W45 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Being fixed/mended
BX1378.5 .W45 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Biography
BX1378.5 .W45 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Biography

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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 Weigel also includes previously unpublished papal correspondence with Leonid Brezhnev, Mikhail Gorbachev, and Deng Xiaoping, and draws on hitherto unavailable autobiographical reminiscences by the Pope.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.

Author Notes

George Weigel is a Catholic theologian.

Weigel was educated at St. Mary's Seminary College in Baltimore, Maryland and at the University of St. Michael's College in Toronto, Canada.

Weigel moved to Seattle where he was Assistant Professor of Theology and Assistant (later Acting) Dean of Studies at the St. Thomas Seminary School of Theology in Kenmore. In 1977, he became Scholar-in-Residence at the World Without War Council of Greater Seattle. In 1984-85 he was a fellow of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.

Weigel is the author or editor of a number of books including Tranquillitas Ordinis: The Present Failure and Future Promise of American Catholic Thought on War and Peace (Oxford University Press, 1987); The Final Revolution: The Resistance Church and the Collapse of Communism (Oxford, 1992); The Truth of Catholicism: Ten Controversies Explored (HarperCollins, 2001); The Courage To Be Catholic: Crisis, Reform, and the Future of the Church (Basic Books, 2002); God's Choice: Pope Benedict XVI and the Future of the Catholic Church (HarperCollins, 2005); Faith, Reason, and the War Against Jihadism (Doubleday, 2007); and Against the Grain: Christianity and Democracy, War and Peace (Crossroad, 2008). His scholarly work and his journalism are regularly translated into the major European languages.

Weigel has been awarded ten honorary doctorates, the papal cross Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice, and the Gloria Artis Gold Medal by the Republic of Poland.

George Weigel and his wife live in North Bethesda, Maryland.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Thanks to smaller body type and more crowded pages, Weigel's papal biography is considerably longer than Jonathan Kwitny's impressive and engaging Man of the Century (1997). It is also more distanced from the man Karol Wojtyla and more attentive to the pope John Paul II. Weigel furnishes fewer of the humanizing details about Wojtyla's childhood, adolescence, and early priesthood than Kwitny did, instead providing much more and deeper cultural context for Wojtyla as a Polish writer and intellectual and fuller, more theologically and philosophically oriented discussion of Wojtyla's thought and actions as a churchman, especially after he became John Paul II. Although nowhere in his book is Weigel as forthright about his personal admiration for the pope as Kwitny is in his, Weigel's biography is equally friendly. Indeed, it is basically authorized. Weigel had the pope's full cooperation and, as a respected lay Catholic scholar at the conservative Ethics and Public Policy Center in Manhattan, Weigel was predisposed to be sympathetic. Weigel is not about to differ from Kwitny's opinion that John Paul II is the person most responsible for the fall of totalitarian communism in Europe, but he stresses even more the pope's role as the premier evangelist of Christianity in our time, tirelessly seeking, in his dealings with the world's politicians, to assure the welfare of any Christians anywhere who are enduring persecution and other hardships and, in his colloquies with religious leaders, to unify the Christian church and to pacify and warm relations between Christianity and other religions. Whether in or out of school, students of this remarkable man ideally should read both Kwitny's and Weigel's accounts of him. --Ray Olson

Publisher's Weekly Review

Weigel's massive work aspires to be definitive: it is subtitled "the," not "a," biography of John Paul II. Weigel, a Catholic layman and a fellow at the conservative Ethics and Public Policy Institute in Washington, D.C., enjoyed the cooperation of the pope and access to top Vatican officials, so the book is rich in new detail. Determined to explain this papacy from the "inside out," Weigel successfully focuses on John Paul's trademark ideas: Christian humanism, the inner connection between freedom and truth, and culture as the driving force of history. As a guide to the pope's thought, Witness to Hope is invaluable. Yet as biography, it is often defective. Weigel frequently dismisses John Paul's critics rather than debating their ideas. The author's strong pro-Americanism leads him to misrepresent the pope as opposing a "third way" between capitalism and socialism and to treat his criticism of the Gulf War as a rare misjudgment. Though John Paul is a towering 20th-century figure, the assertion that his papacy is the most important since the Counter Reformation seems overblown. The book is well written (if somewhat repetitive, perhaps inevitably so with more than 900 pages) and Weigel's command of the material is impressive, but Witness to Hope reads more like a valedictory hagiography than a sober work of journalism. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



Witness to Hope The Biography of Pope John Paul II 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 the resurrected 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 The Biography of Pope John Paul II . Copyright © by George Weigel. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold. Excerpted from Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II by George Weigel All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

A Brief Note on Pronunciationp. xiii
Prologue: The Disciple
The drama of Karol Wojtyla's life
A paradox and a sign of contradiction
The more excellent way
The broadness of a guage
The subject and the authorp. 1
1 A Son of Freedom: Poland Semper Fidelis
Karol Wojtyla's national, cultural, religious, and family roots
His childhood, his elementary and secondary education, the loss of his mother and brother
The influence of his father on his education and piety
His interests in Polish Romantic literature and in drama
His first undergraduate year at Krakow's Jagiellonian Universityp. 16
2 From the Underground: The Third Reich vs. the Kingdom of Truth
The Nazi Occupation of Poland
Karol Wojtyla and clandestine cultural resistance
His introduction to Carmelite spirituality and manual labor
The death of his father and the unfolding of a priestly vocation
The underground seminary
An "unbroken prince," Archbishop Adam Stefan Sapieha
Karol Wojtyla's ordination and graduate studies in theology in Romep. 44
3 "Call Me Wujek": To Be a Priest
Country curate
Father Karol Wojtyla's pioneering student chaplaincy in Krakow
His first essays and poems
The temptation of revolutionary violence and Wojtyla's first mature play
An outdoorsman and a model confessor
The beauty of human lovep. 88
4 Seeing Things as They Are: The Making of a Philosopher
A second doctorate, a new philosophical interest, and a new career
Karol Wojtyla at the Catholic University of Lublin
The Lublin challenge to modern skepticism
A book on love and sexuality that raises a few eyebrowsp. 122
5 A New Pentecost: Vatican II and the Crisis of Humanism
The youngest bishop in Poland
The Second Vatican Council
Karol Wojtyla is named Archbishop of Krakow
Setting Vatican II's defense of freedom on a firm philosophical foundationp. 145
6 Successor to St. Stanislaw: Living the Council in Krakow
A cardinal at age forty-seven
Wojtyla's quest for religious freedom in Krakow
An extensive local implementation of Vatican II
The mature essayist, poet, and playwright
A distinctive style and a unique set of friends
Testing the world stagep. 181
7 A Pope from a Far Country: The Election of John Paul II
The Church at the death of Pope Paul VI
The "September Papacy" of Pope John Paul I
The election of Karol Jozef Wojtyla as the first Slavic Pope in history and the first non-Italian in 455 years, to the surprise of many, but not all, concernedp. 235
8 "Be Not Afraid!": A Pope for the World
An earthquake in the papacy and the Vatican
Redefining the public ministry of the Bishop of Rome
An alternative theology of liberation
Program notes for a pontificate
Preventing a war in Latin America
Consternation in the Kremlinp. 259
9 "How Many Divisions Has the Pope?": Confronting an Empire of Lies
The cultural power of the politically powerless
An epic pilgrimage to Poland
Nine days that bent the curve of modern history
A revolution of consciencep. 291
10 The Ways of Freedom: Truths Personal and Public
Marital intimacy as an icon of the inner life of God
Denouncing sectarian violence in Ireland
The Pope at the United Nations
Religious freedom as the first human right
Teenagers in a frenzy at Madison Square Garden
Galileo reconsidered
An appeal to Orthodoxyp. 326
11 Peter Among Us: The Universal Pastor as Apostolic Witness
The pilgrim Pope in Africa, France, Brazil, West Germany, and Asia
Collegiality and crisis management
In defense of the family
A bold appointment in Paris
The mysteries of fatherhood and mercy, divine and humanp. 363
12 In the Eye of the Storm: Months of Violence and Dissent
The birth of Solidarity
An unprecedented letter to Leonid Brezhnev
The assassination attempt
Shock therapy for the Jesuits
The "Gospel of work"
Martial law in Poland
The Falklands/Malvinas Warp. 396
13 Liberating Liberations The Limits of Politics and the Promise of Redemption
Revising Church law
Canonizing a martyr of Auschwitz
Confrontation in Nicaragua
To recognize the saints God has made
Restoring hope in Poland
A seminar with agnostics and atheists
A prison visit to a would-be papal assassin
Suffering as a path to lovep. 437
14 Reliving the Council: Religion and the Renewal of a World Still Young
Securing the legacy of Vatican II
The "People Power" revolution in the Philippines
Hosting world religious leaders in Assisi
The first papal visit to the Synagogue of Rome
The irrevocable Catholic commitment to Christian unity
Addressing young Muslims in Casablanca
A letter to the youth of the world
Revamping the Vatican's press officep. 481
15 Forward to Basics: Freedom Ordered to the Dignity of Duty
Tear gas and the quest for democracy in Chile
The beatification of Edith Stein
A preview of communism's demise
Hiking in the Dolomites
The Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople in Rome
Opening a dialogue with Mikhail Gorbachev
The excommunication of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre
A distinctive feminism
Starting a homeless shelter in the Vatican
Counselor to Andrei Sakharovp. 527
16 After the Empire of Lies: Miracles and the Mandates of Justice
John Paul II in Scandinavia
The communist crack-up
A letter to Deng Xiaoping
Gorbachev in the Vatican
Defining the meaning of the "Revolution of 1989"
Challenging democracies to live freedom nobly
The Gulf War
The Catholic identity of Catholic universitiesp. 582
17 To the Ends of the Earth: Reconciling an Unreconciled World
The Church is a mission
A storm of controversy with Orthodoxy
The re-evangelization of Europe
Priests for a new millennium
Colon surgery
The Catechism of the Catholic Church
Rejecting clericalism in Poland
Defending persecuted Christians in Sudan
Taking on the Mafia in Sicilyp. 628
18 The Threshold of Hope: Appealing to Our Better Angels
A surprise in Denver
The renewal of moral theology
Diplomatic relations with Israel
Confronting the U.S. government at the Cairo World Population Conference
More health problems
A convent for contemplative nuns in the Vatican
The debate on women and the priesthood
An international bestsellerp. 678
19 Only One World: Human Solidarity and the Gospel of Life
The Great Jubilee of 2000
The largest crowd in human history
Another assassination attempt
The "Gospel of life"
The Vatican and the World Conference on Women in Beijing
Asking Orthodox and Protestant Christians to help devise a papacy that could serve them
A "witness to hope" addresses the United Nations again
Singing in New York's Central Park
The golden jubileep. 740
20 A Reasonable Faith: Beyond a Century of Delusions
Revising the rules for papal elections
France and Poland
Sarajevo, Lebanon, and Cuba
The longest-serving pope of the twentieth century
Catholic renewal movements in St. Peter's Square
John Paul II's twentieth anniversary
The Church in defense of human reasonp. 789
Epilogue The Third Millennium: To See the Sun Rise
The critiques of John Paul II are evaluated, his accomplishments are assayed, and a suggestion as to the nature of his greatness is offeredp. 843
Notesp. 865
Bibliographyp. 947
Acknowledgmentsp. 957
Indexp. 961