“Arise, Let us be going,” the latest book by Pope John Paul II, was released today to coincide with the Pope’s 84th birthday. It contains reflections on his life as a bishop and on the ministry of every bishop. John Paul II was ordained a bishop on September 28, 1958.
The book is 178 pages long, has an introduction, six chapters, notes, a list of quotations from the Bible and the Magisterium, and an index.
The Holy Father begins his book by recalling the day when he received a letter "ordering him to report to Warsaw."
The pope was on vacation at the time with a group of young companions (who called him “uncle” rather than “father” in order to prevent him from being discovered by the communist regime). He recounts how that day he made his way to the station, via rowboat and a truck loaded with bags of flour, so as to catch the next train to Warsaw.
Having learned of his nomination to the episcopacy by the Primate of Poland, the then Father Wojtyla communicated the news to his archbishop, prayed the Stations of the Cross and then returned to the Masuri Lake District where he had been rowing with his friends. The pope thought that it would be his last time to enjoy the lake country, yet he writes that he managed to return there each year until 1978.
After the chapter dedicated to his “Calling”, follow five other chapters: “The Work of a Bishop”, “Scientific and Pastoral Commitment”, the “The Fatherly Character of a Bishop” “Episcopal Collegiality” and finally “God and Courage”. The book covers his visits to parish communities, even to the ones furthest off the beaten track. He also writes about his encounters with Polish youth, especially university students and young married couples with children. The pope reflects also on the involvement of the laity and intellectuals in spreading the Gospel, how he always listened to his priests and how his door was always left wide open to talk about their problems and ideas.
John Paul II writes that he has never felt alone. He uses this personal testimony to rebut arguments of priests who say they need to marry to fill their void of solitude. The pope constantly rejects the thesis, while stating that the fatherly role of a bishop must apply even to the priests who have abandoned their vocation or gone wayward. This is so, the pope writes, because a bishop is also a “shepherd” - as in Christ’s parable of the Good Shepherd who, in caring for his flock, searches for the sheep he has lost and carries those who are tired and sick on his shoulders.
The pope refers to this parable often in his writing, reflecting that a shepherd “is there for his sheep and not the sheep for their shepherd.”
The pope concludes that a flock must be led by its shepherd in order to be helped and served. The idea of service is stressed time and again throughout the book. The Holy Father also looks critically on his years of service as a bishop, writing that he was perhaps not always “all that in charge”. He explains that this was partly due to his character, but also partly because he followed Christ’s example of a leader who serves rather than one who is served.
It was a duty of bishops to fight against communism, writes the Holy Father, especially when it restricted the religious freedom of the faithful. He writes about how he, as bishop, acted in the background, even when not reported, right up until the clash over the Church of Nova Huta. Nova Huta was built by the communists and the authorities refused to allow a church to be built in the city. Yet the faithful who worked there formed a parish, and with their bishop, Cardinal Wojtyla, celebrated Mass there every weekend even in the face of police aggression, until the authorities gave in and allowed a church to be built.
The pope, a priest from a working class family had risen to the episcopal seat of Krakow, a see traditionally occupied by prelates of noble heritage. The pope recalls his first official entrance as a priest into the castle-like Cathedral of Wawel, a place he had grown attached to since early childhood. In his book John Paul II painfully recalls seeing the Nazi flag fly above the building during the German Occupation in World War II. It was also there that the pope wanted to celebrated his first mass at the tomb of St. Leonard while filled with thoughts of his dear homeland.
The pope refers to Poland many times in his new book, not only in recollections of his past; John Paul II writes that he feels deeply and inseparable a part of his country and its history. He recalls, for example, the sanctuary where he made his retreat before being ordained bishop and where, he says, he returned as a pope to give thanks for a duty he felt he had to accept. The pope admits, “Maybe it’s not just me (who’s like this), but everyone in Poland.”
The pope recounts a few stories that predate the period to which the book is dedicated. He tells, for example, about the time when Kotlarczyk, the director of his old theater group said he was “wasting his talent” upon learning that he wanted to become a priest. The pope also tells about his love for literature as a student and young actor, when he spent hours reading Shakespeare and Molière.
He writes that he also had great fondness for philosophers such as St. Thomas Aquinas and Max Scheler when learning about metaphysics and phenomenology in his studies as a priest. Finally he tells us about his deep admiration for the Jewish convert and philosopher, Edith Stein, who later became a nun and martyr at Auschwitz, and whom he later canonized and declared patron of Europe.
At the end of his book, the pope encourages his readers to stay “strong in their faith”. He says “the greatest defect of the apostles was their fear and lack of faith in their Master.”
“Indeed,” the pope writes, “we cannot turn our back on the truth nor stop telling others about it.”
“We need to bear witness to the truth, even at the risk of death, just like Jesus himself did.” And just like, we might say, John Paul II has done.
> With the contribution of AsiaNews