WITNESS TO HOPE the biography of Pope John Paul II

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9780002740777: WITNESS TO HOPE the biography of Pope John Paul II

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 Weigel also includes previously unpublished papal correspondence with Leonid Brezhnev, Mikhail Gorbachev, and Deng Xiaoping, and draws on hitherto unavailable autobiographical reminiscences by the Pope.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

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Review:

Witness To Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II by George Weigel is as comprehensive a biography of its subject as can be hoped for while the Pope still lives. Weigel, a journalist who came to the Pope's attention after the publication of his book, The Final Revolution: The Resistance Church and the Collapse of Communism, wrote Witness To Hope with his subject's encouragement and assistance. Weigel had unprecedented access to the Pope's correspondence (with, among others, world leaders including Mikhail Gorbachev). He reports lengthy conversations with many members of the Pope's inner circle, and he occasionally reveals vivid details of the Pope's daily life (for example, at the beginning of each day, the Pope's adviser's hear moans and groaning from John Paul's solitary prayers in his private chapel).

According to Weigel, the Pope told him that other biographies "try to understand me from outside. But I can only be understood from inside." Unfortunately, Weigel's method for understanding the Pope "from inside" depends on psychological conjecture ("It may help to begin by thinking of Karol Wojtyla as a man who grew up very fast") and is weakened by his extreme eagerness to praise his subject ("the man with arguably the most coherent and comprehensive vision of the human possibility in the world ahead"). More troubling, Weigel does not ask some of the really difficult questions about this Pope--regarding his involvement with sects such as Opus Dei, for example, or the relationship between his innovative "theology of the body" and his conservative stance on homosexuality, or even the vicissitudes of prayer life. Witness To Hope is a valuable book because it reports many facts that others have not reported. But for incisive analysis of this Pope's theological and political significance, or for insight into his spiritual life, readers will have to wait until the principals in his life story are free to speak more frankly with some future biographer. --Michael Joseph Gross

About the Author:

George Weigel is one of the world's foremost authorities on the Catholic Church and the author of the New York Times bestseller Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II. He is a Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C., and a consultant on Vatican affairs for NBC News.

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