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John Paul II: Man of the 20th Century

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George Weigel speaks from the Vatican on the upcoming canonizations.

Vatican City – George Weigel, author of Witness to Hope, the best selling biography of Blessed John Paul II, spoke from the Vatican on Friday morning, reflecting on the impending canonization of the two popes, and particularly remembering the special effect that John Paul II had on humanity in the second half of the twentieth century.

I believe the decision of Pope Francis of celebrating the canonizations together is a wise and courageous decision,” he began.  

He acknowledged that the two figures were of very different profiles and personalities, however he described them both as the “two bookends of the Second Vatican Council.”

The biographer affirmed that John XXIII was the one to start the Council off and John Paul II had the “wisdom to give it its authoritative interpretation” and thus “he recovered John XXIII’s intention of it being a new Pentecost, which defined the authority of the Council.”

“The second point I’d like to reflect upon,” Weigel continued, “is that the life of John Paul II summarised the human drama of the 20th century in a singular way,” and that the Blessed “not only lived that drama but he understood it, and he bent the curve of history of freedom rightly understood; freedom lived nobily and in solidarity.”

The third point he made was the affirmation that the soon-to-be saint was “the great teacher of our time,” particularly in the aspects of human life where there is most confusion: “love, work and suffering.”

With regards to love: “In a world deeply confused about the most intimate aspects of human life his Theology of the Body showed the world how sexual differentiation and complementarity are ordered to love and fruitfulness in the gift of self.”

With regards to work: “In a world tempted to measure and label human beings as either useful or useless and burdensome, John Paul taught the inalienable dignity and value in every human life, and how our daily work is a participation in God’s ongoing creation of the world.”

With regards to suffering: “In a broken and wounded world in which suffering and death can seem absurd, John Paul taught us that in Jesus Christ we need the Divine Mercy and in Jesus Christ we understand that our suffering is ordered to the gift of salvation.”

Furthermore Weigel emphasised that in all of this, “in his challenge as well as in his profound manifestation of compassion, John Paul II pointed the world towards a better path through the turbulence of history; in his own life and witness was a living refutation of the nihilism that threatens the human future.”

He reiterated this point by referring to a UN summit in 1995, where John Paul II “held out the prospect that a century of tears might be followed of a springtime of the human spirit.”

He continued: “My hope for this Sunday is that this Canonization revives in us – in what appears to be a dark time in the world – a hope for this possibility, and my hope is that by remembering his life and witness we may be inspired to resist the tyranny of possibility, the tyranny of low expectations both personal and political.”

When asked about the role of the Divine Mercy in John Paul II’s spirituality, he took us back to the Blessed’s youth in Krakow during World War II. “We see a young man in blue jeans and wooden shoes,” Weigel remarked, “where he spends eight hours a day carrying buckets of lime in a factory, and then he walks home each day past the convent where St. Faustina is buried.”

Weigel stated that much of the drama that characterises the 20th Century was manifested in Krakow; we see the devastation caused by both the Nazis and Communists. “The answer to that was given in the manifestation of the Divine Mercy,” he explained, “which I think he came to understand over time was not just a peculiarly Polish message given the rough patch that Poland had lived through, but a universal message.”

He asserted that the former Pope “read history through a different lense than most of us use, and I think he had a profound sense of the tapestry of humanity.” He referred to a letter of John Paul’s in 2003 in which he wrote that “‘there is a great burden of guilt…and when there is noone who can expiate that guilt, humanity is in trouble,’ and he believed the answer to that was found in the revelation of the Divine Mercy.”

Finally, when asked about the countries – particularly the Middle East – in which the people are are still living in a “time of tears,” how we can bring forth this message of John paul II, he replied by taking us back to the time of the Blessed’s shooting.

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