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John Paul II’s legacy will last for centuries, says papal biographer

By on Thursday, 28 April 2011

Workers in St Peter's Square prepare for Sunday's beatification (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Workers in St Peter's Square prepare for Sunday's beatification (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope John Paul II deeply influenced generations of Catholics who knew him in life, but his most enduring legacy – his teaching – is something that will have an impact on the Church for centuries, a US biographer of the late pope has said.

George Weigel, author of the papal biographies Witness to Hope and The End and the Beginning, said: “It’s going to be several hundred years before the Church really takes on board the breadth and depth of this man’s explication of the Gospel, and in that sense we’re going to be thinking, and arguing, about John Paul II for hundreds of years.”

Mr Weigel said that six years after the pope’s death his connection with young people continued to bear fruit in many ways: in priesthood vocations over the last decade, in women’s religious orders inspired by Pope John Paul and in renewal movements.

“I look at my own parish in suburban Washington and see young couples raising Catholic families, who all took some form of inspiration from John Paul II. And I suspect this is replicated all over the world,” he said.

Mr Weigel, who spoke four days before the beatification of Pope John Paul, said he had devoted some 15 years of his life to researching his two major biographies of the Polish pontiff. What impressed him, he said, was that the pope was an “utterly normal human being” who made himself completely open to the work of the Holy Spirit.

In that sense, he said, the holiness that is being recognised at his beatification is something accessible to all Christians. Throughout his life, he said, Pope John Paul was trying to figure out what God was doing in his life and in the world, and to respond accordingly.

“I think everything he did, as a literary man, as a philosopher, as a priest, a bishop, a statesman, a pope, grew out of his radical Christian discipleship,” he said.

“Very few of the billion Catholics in the world are going to have the range of talents that Karol Wojtyla had. Every baptised person has the opportunity to live a life of radical discipleship. And that’s our connection to him,” he said.

Mr Weigel noted that being a saint was not about perfection.

“It’s about living one’s life with the intention to do the right thing and making decisions based on one’s best judgment, without fear or favor. No pope gets everything right. John Paul II didn’t get everything right, he would be the first to admit it,” he said.

Some have questioned Pope John Paul’s beatification, saying he responded inadequately to priestly sex abuse cases that came to light late in his pontificate. Mr Weigel said that criticism was off the mark.

“The way to think about John Paul II and the priesthood is to recognise that he was a great reformer of the priesthood. The priesthood was in terrible shape in 1978 when he became pope; it was in remarkably better shape 26 years later. That’s the context,” he said.

“The pope, like frankly the rest of the Vatican, took too long in 2002 to find out what was really going on in the United States. But once he found out, he acted in a decisive way,” Mr Weigel said.

  • DBMcGinnity

    “The Singer not the Song”
    The last voice I hear most nights and first thing in the morning is Pope John Paul II reciting the Traditional 15 mystery Rosary of the Blessed Virgin in Latin. I frequently play his 1978 Christmas Mass: “LA MESSE DE MINUIT EN LATIN” . It is wonderful and he has a lovely singing voice. He still is a great inspiration to me even though I reject much of the Traditional Catholic doctrine as contaminated with conjecture and hyperbole.

    It is a bit like “The Singer not the Song” by Audrey Erskine Lindop. The man is everything, the song is essentially tuneless. Pope John Paul was a tangible Pope who really understood things and people as they were, because he knew about suffering and not through “Rose Coloured Spectacles”. like many of his well meaning, but, sanctimonious predecessors. (I do not include John XXIII, Paul VI or John Paul I).

    I was informed by a reliable source that Mrs Thatcher phoned him frequently whenever she needed to find out the truth about some world issue. Many other world politicians did likewise, because he always spoke the truth, and his opinion was trusted. I am presently reading “The Popes, A History” by John Julius Norwich which has much to say about the history of the Vatican. If previous popes had been like “The Blessed” John Paul II, this would be a better world.

  • Oconnor17

    Indeed he will be remembered… As the author says….. In the counties with catholic history and heritage..

    “in priesthood vocations over the last decade, in women’s religious orders inspired by Pope John Paul”

    In the educated world the number of men wishing to join the priesthood is near zero, while the number of devout women unwilling to be treated as second class citizens has soared.

    “see young couples raising Catholic families, who all took some form of inspiration from John Paul II.”

    Most surveys show that 80-90% of catholics just ignore church teachings on moral issues such contraception. co-habiting, abortion, stem cell research and gay rights. It could be said that they see the church as a building where they meet their family to be “Hatched, matched or dispatched”. There is no view of a “church’s teachings or morals”.

    “The pope, like frankly the rest of the Vatican, took too long in 2002 to find out what was really going on in the United States. But once he found out, he acted in a decisive way,” Mr Weigel said.

    He sure did! He had priests moved, hid documents and hired lawyers to delay legal and just process. So well was it done that I’ve read estimates that the legal fees accrued are now about four times more than the compensation claims would ever have been. So much so that a second order in the US has just filed bankruptcy. (Jesuits and now christian brothers).

    Despite all this I bear him no ill will, in fact I do think he was timely. I hope he will be the start of the fall of the downward hierarchy of the church. If lessons can be learned is that the church has to start working from the people up, not the vatican down. There is no use sitting on a horse reading old books and charging at windmills, whilst about you people starve for lack of a plough-horse.

  • aisake

    He is indeed a very true follower of Christ, he has show us the commandments our Lord has given us during the Holy Thursday during the Last Supper of the Lord which is Love One Another as You love Yourself and he follow the footprints of our Lord as a good leader is a leader that serve his flocks but not to be serve. He has protrary to us a very faithful, dedicating and loving followers of Christ. we continue to pray that through the intercession of Blessed John Paul may the Lord grant his mercy for us faithful Catholics and also on those of the world. Allelulia the Lord has Risen and may the Blessed John Paul give us assurance of eternal salvation.

  • Bwaj

    The Holy Father received much criticism because of his friendliness towards the Jewish people, however, anyone who criticizes the Holy Father because of this forgets H.H. Pope Pius XI in his condemnation of Hitler and the Nazis stated those who reject the Old Testament or the Jewish people are not only anti-Semitic but are not Catholics: ‘MIT BRENNENDER SORGE’(14 March 1937) http://www.papalencyclicals.net/Pius11/P11BRENN.HTM

  • Mario Chavez

    Learn what really happened to the Catholic Church after Vatican II and the truth about John Paul II by visiting http://www.mostholyfamilymonastery.com/, or http://www.youtube.com/user/mhfm1.

  • AJ

    Another looney who thinks he is the real authority to decide of who got it right and wrong, why do you guys even listen to these lies by the leaders of sedevacantists?

    To SSPX people just look at this guy who is a Sede (look at their link websites), this will happen to you if you insist and start believing in your human capacity to have interpretive authority of Scripture and sacred Tradition and not the Magisterium of the Catholic Church.

  • Pdudek

    we would like to inform you, that the famous polish bestseller
    “He liked Tuesdays best. The story of everyday life of John Paul II”
    is now available in english version on the bookstore Amazon.com and website
    http://jp2books.com