Washington D.C., Oct 28, 2015 / 17:08 pm
St. John Paul II had just celebrated the closing Mass of his historic trip to his home country of Poland in 1979 when he turned to survey the crowd of more than a million Poles.
"And so, before I leave you, I wish to give one more look at Krakow, this Krakow in which every stone and every brick is dear to me," the future saint said.
"And I look once more on my Poland."
Once more at the Debniki apartment, where he first wrestled with the mystery of suffering after the death of his father. Once more at Jagiellonian University, the seedbed of his understanding of the relationship between faith and reason. Once more at St. Florian's and St. Catherine's parishes, where he gave the world a model of pastoral accompaniment through his "Srodowisko" community with some 200 young Catholics.
It's no secret that St. John Paul II was indelibly marked by his Polish heritage. His life has made the country a place of pilgrimage. And next year's World Youth Day in Krakow offers millions of Catholic youth the opportunity to walk the path of this beloved Polish Pope.
Papal biographer George Weigel hopes to add to that experience through his new biographical guidebook City of Saints: A Pilgrimage to John Paul II's Krakow.
"The book is both a series of meditations on vocation and other basic themes of Christian discipleship, and a guidebook that introduces readers to the history and culture of Krakow," Weigel told CNA in an email interview. "There's really nothing else quite like it, and I hope the combination of catechetics and guide helps WYD 2016 pilgrims have a richer, more deeply reflective and prayerful experience."
Part biography, part guidebook, Weigel's City of Saints effortlessly details through vivid color photographs and detailed descriptions the Polish churches, shrines and landmarks that shaped the pontificate of St. John Paul II, while simultaneously exploring the future saint's growth as a philosopher, human rights advocate, and spiritual leader.
"We never get to universal truths and goods in the abstract; they always come to us through the particular," Weigel told CNA in an email interview. "I don't learn to love baseball in general; I learn to love a team, and through it I learn to love the game."
"Similarly, Karol Wojtyla didn't come to embrace Christian discipleship in general; he became a radically converted Christian disciple in a specific time and place – and then learned to see and love a broader landscape of discipleship through that experience."
Fans of Weigel's biographies of St. John Paul II can expect the same attention to detail in City of Saints. Weigel said his previous projects and frequent travels to Krakow inspired him to pen the new book.
He said he desired "to share with the world – and especially the pilgrims to World Youth Day 2016 – my affection for a great city and its unique place in the history of the modern world."
For Weigel, next year's World Youth Day will be a coming home of sorts.
"World Youth Day may have begun formally in the mid-1980's, but it began as an idea – a new approach to youth ministry – in the late 1940s and early 1950s with Fr. Karol Wojtyla's remarkable campus ministry in Krakow."