THE SECRET LIFE OF JOHN PAUL II
By Lino Zani
200 pages, $21.95
Saint Benedict Press, 2012
To order: saintbenedictpress.com
Ever since Blessed John Paul II’s death in 2005, many books have reported their authors’ encounters with the late Pope. The latest is a book of reflections by John Paul’s ski instructor.
The title contains a double meaning. On the one hand, Zani shares a largely unknown page of papal history: John Paul’s efforts to escape and enjoy his old sport, along with how those efforts bloomed into a friendship with a young skier and mountaineer.
But Zani also gives his interpretation of the spiritual significance behind John Paul’s 1984 trip to Italy’s Alps, an encounter that he believes is tied to the Third Secret of Our Lady at Fatima.
Briefly, circa 1970, Zani’s family began managing a ski lodge in the Adamello, an area where Italian and Austrian forces battled in World War I. Growing up there, Zani fell in love with the mountains, but he also discovered their dark secrets — he would sometimes find bones of dead soldiers.
According to Zani, the location was selected as a papal ski getaway in 1984. Consequently, Zani’s family hosted the Pope for two days on the slopes.
During those days, the Pope also encountered the remains of the mountain corps’ barracks, praying for the men who died there, and saw the Cresta Croce, a wooden cross erected around 1900 that looks like it was made of cork.
On the first day, Zani witnessed the Pope at prayer: "I … helped him to sit down [on a mountain outcrop]. His head was bowed, and he was absorbed in prayer, totally immobile, without even the slightest movement. It was a sort of trance, or, rather, I would dare say ecstasy, which he was modestly hiding from us who were behind him.
"I had the very clear sensation that I was observing a being endowed with a spiritual power that was no longer human, someone who no longer belonged to this world, but was living those minutes in complete communion with God. ... The unreal sparkle of the snow all around seemed to emphasize this impression. A complete silence had descended. Everything was motionless, as if a state of contemplation had taken hold of every element of nature."
Zani is convinced that, from that first day, John Paul connected that place with the Third Secret of Fatima, which speaks of "an immense light that is God [light on snow?]" — with people "going up a steep mountain at the top of which was a big cross of rough-hewn trunks, as of a cork tree. ... Before reaching it, the Holy Father passed through a big city, half in ruins [the barrack ruins?] [where] he prayed for the souls of the corpses he met on his way [the dead soldiers?]."
Zani holds that, together with the Pope’s conviction that Our Lady saved him from assassination, the Adamello experience made the Pope realize his place in the Fatima prophecies, galvanizing him even more to accept his place in Providence’s plan.
This is good reading for the month of the Rosary and the 34th anniversary of John Paul’s election.
John M. Grondelski writes from Perth Amboy, New Jersey.