The story behind the defining biography of John Paul II (1920-2005).
Vatican expert Weigel (Evangelical Catholicism: Deep Reform in the 21st-Century Church, 2013, etc.) tells the tale behind the writing of his most influential book. In 1999, the author published Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II. Though not technically an authorized biography, Weigel received the written permission of the pontiff to write the book as well as the assistance of the Curia in researching it. The book changed Weigel’s life, but only partly through its publication. The process of researching and writing it was also life-changing, and that is the story the author conveys here. He takes readers back in time to the closing years of the Cold War, chronicling how he rose up the ranks of Catholic scholars and writers as the Catholic Church pivoted, with difficulty, toward a new worldview in terms of communism and its own future. As his story passes into the 1990s, the author describes a pope of immense moral stature who was often at odds with the church bureaucracy that often fought, or ignored, John Paul’s agenda in a changing world, as well as many of the problems besetting the church as the 20th century closed. Weigel interviewed these bureaucrats, among many others, to piece together the story of John Paul’s papacy. In the end, the author completed his acclaimed biography and received his greatest remuneration: the gratitude of the pope himself. Weigel brings out an astounding collection of names, and the work could easily sound like a continued exercise in name-dropping were it not for his skill as a storyteller. Though the language is occasionally overly forma, the author’s standing as a thinker and writer keeps his work from seeming arrogant.
A page-turner for fans of John Paul II, devotees of papal history, or those who simply enjoy a good and literate personal story.