More than a decade after writing “Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II,” noted Catholic author George Weigel is releasing a second book on the late Pope, continuing the story where he left off. “The End and the Beginning: Pope John Paul II – The Victory of Freedom, the Last Years, the Legacy” goes on sale today. In an interview with CNA, Weigel recently reflected on the legacy of the beloved Pope that is chronicled in his latest book.
“At my last meal with John Paul II, which was on December 15, 2004, I promised the pope that, if he didn't bury me first, I'd finish what I started in the matter of his biography,” Weigel explained. “'The End and the Beginning' is the fulfillment of that promise: it's both the completion of the story, and an amplification of 'Witness to Hope.'”
“The End and the Beginning” starts with a prologue summarizing the story told in “Witness to Hope,” which ends in 1999. Then, said Weigel, it revisits John Paul's 40-year struggle against communism, taking into account documents that had previously been considered classified and top secret.
“It's now widely recognized that John Paul II was the pivotal figure in the collapse of European communism—a proposal I was sometimes ridiculed for making when I first broached it in 1992,” Weigel pointed out. Now that opinions have changed, he continued, he felt that it was important to revisit that part of John Paul II's life with reference to the newly-available evidence.
The second part of “The End and the Beginning” recounts the last years of John Paul II, which Weigel described as “full of drama.” In this section, he covers the Great Jubilee and the Pope's pilgrimage to the Holy Land, the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, and the 2002 scandals of clerical abuse and episcopal misgovernance faced by the Church in the U.S.
In addition, Weigel covers the Pope's health struggles, which included at least one "dark night" of the soul, as well as his final months, a period Weigel refers to as “his last, and perhaps most impressive 'encyclical.'”
The final section of the book is “a lengthy analysis, appreciation and evaluation of Karol Wojtyla the man and John Paul II the pope,” Weigel told CNA.
“I think the people of the Church know that Karol Wojtyla was a man of heroic virtue, and they've already beatified and canonized him in their hearts,” Weigel remarked. “I have never believed that there was any rush about the formal canonical process of beatification and canonization, which ought to proceed according to the Church's established patterns of investigation and reflection.”
Considering the extraordinary life of the pontiff, Weigel observed that five years after his death, his legacy continues to flourish. “He was, obviously, the great Christian witness of the second half of the twentieth century. His determination to make the world look closely at the stuff of its redemption in the Great Jubilee of 2000 now seems to have been one of the great papal initiatives in history.”
“Then there is his teaching, with which the Church will be grappling for centuries to come,” Weigel asserted. “Above all, John Paul II made the Christian proposal plausible and compelling at a moment when the Church seemed out of evangelical energy. The ripple effects of his witness are still being felt throughout the world.”
Commenting on sexual abuse within the Church, Weigel called for the media to reevaluate the efforts made by John Paul throughout his pontificate. He emphasized that the late Pope spent 26 years “reforming the priesthood by inspiring men who would never abuse their priestly trust to take up the glory and the burden of ordained ministry in the Catholic Church today.”
“Then, in 2002, when it became clear to the Pope that steps had to be taken to deal with sins and crimes from the past, those steps were taken,” he continued.
Observing the incomplete picture seen by those who “believe that the abuse scandals are the all-purpose filter or lens for seeing the entirety of the Catholic Church,” Weigel added that he hopes his latest book will help “remind the media and the world that there is far more to the Catholic story than abusive clergy and the failures of bishops to deal with these betrayers.”
Calling to mind the Pope's prominent teaching on topics such as the evangelical core of the Church, the dignity of the human person, Divine Mercy and the “feminine genius,” Weigel told CNA that John Paul II's writings are especially relevant because they touch on “just about every imaginable area of human life and endeavor.”
“It will take the world Church decades to digest the rich magisterium of John Paul II,” he said.