National Catholic Register


The Philosopher Pope

In March, Pope Benedict XVI published a book paying tribute to Pope John Paul II.



April 1-7, 2007 Issue | Posted 3/27/07 at 10:00 AM


VATICAN CITY — The diocesan investigation into the life, virtues and fame of the sanctity of Pope John Paul II will be closed April 2, the second anniversary of the Holy Father’s death.

All the documentation will then be transferred to Rome. The second and last phase of his cause will see various commissions determine when John Paul can be beatified.

Some observers believe his beatification could take place as soon as next year. But speaking to reporters March 20, Msgr. Slawomir Oder, postulator of John Paul’s cause, said that it “is not possible to determine the date of his beatification, much less his canonization.”

He added that it is important, in the meantime, to become better acquainted “with the life, the teachings and the spiritual message of this Servant of God.”

The diocesan phase was concluded after officials chose the testimony of a French religious sister cured of Parkinson’s disease as one of three miracles claimed to have taken place through John Paul II’s intercession. John Paul also suffered from the disease.

Pope Benedict XVI in March published a book paying tribute to Pope John Paul II. Before he became Pope Benedict, he served as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for almost 25 years.

Titled John Paul II — My Beloved Predecessor (Giovanni Paolo II – Il mio amato predecessore), the book is “a fascinating journey in a spiritual friendship that, to a certain point, cannot be hidden any more by the protagonists’ reserve,” according to Elio Guerriero, assistant director of San Paolo Press, the book’s publisher. “This communion in faith, like that of many saints, represents a way of attraction that brings people to Christ, invites them to open themselves to him and enlarges and fulfills the life of man.”

The book, published so far only in Italian, is divided into three main sections: Pope Benedict XVI’s personal reflections and memories of John Paul II, his appraisal of his predecessor’s many encyclicals and a compilation of Benedict’s homilies and addresses since April 2005 that paid tribute to the late Pope.

Pope of the Public

Benedict begins by pointing out that in the course of his pontificate, John Paul II probably met more people personally than anyone else in the world.

“He reached out to innumerable people — to those with whom he spoke, prayed and blessed,” writes the Holy Father. “If his elevated office could create distance, his personal radiance instead created closeness. People who were simple, uncultured or poor didn’t have the impression of someone superior, irrational or timid — sentiments that often afflict those in the corridors of power, of authority. When they had personal contact with him, it was as though he’d known them a long time; he spoke as a close relative, a friend.”

Benedict then turns to John Paul, the “philosopher pope.”

He recounts his predecessor’s influences, most notably philosopher Max Scheler (1874-1928), and stresses that to understand Karol Wojtyla, it is important to realize that his central philosophical concern was man, defined by his motto: “The way of the Church is man.” Benedict singles out the encyclicals Veritatis Splendor (1993), Evangelium Vitae (1995), and Fides et Ratio (1998) as his greatest, all of which placed man in communion with God at the center.

He also defends John Paul from some of his critics.

Some, he writes, believed that as a Pole, Wojtyla only knew compassion “in the traditional, sentimental sense of his country and therefore couldn’t understand the complicated questions of the Western world.”

Benedict, however, gives a robust defense.

“There couldn’t be a more foolish observation that betrays a complete ignorance of history.” he writes. Poland, he says, is a country at the “intersections of civilizations,” and therefore dialogue arguably plays a more important part there than anywhere else. “So this Pope was a true ecumenical pope and a true missionary, also providentially prepared in such a sense to confront the subsequent questions of the Second Vatican Council,” he argues.

The mainstream press picked up on Benedict’s reservations in the book of John Paul appearing in a concert alongside pop singer Bob Dylan in 1997. But perhaps more interesting are his memories of when John Paul confounded the skeptics.

His visit to France in 1996 to commemorate the 1,500th anniversary of the baptism of King Clovis, whom John Paul controversially referred to as the founder of France, was expected to draw protests and a chilly reception. France at the time was also heavily divided over immigration.

However, Benedict remembers how the simple presence of John Paul cast the dispute aside and drew people together.

John Paul, Benedict remembers, chose words that were “completely comprehensible to people on the margins of society, on the margins of the Church, to the lost and the suffering, to those asking questions, to the discouraged and the abandoned.”

In closing, the Holy Father explains how the crisis of our time is that of a God who for many appears to have abandoned mankind.

“So the reply of the Church can only be: Always speak less of oneself and more of God. Witness to him, be a door to him,” he writes. “This is the true content of the pontificate of John Paul II that, with the passing of years, becomes ever more evident.”

My Beloved Predecessor is not a comprehensive memoir, but it does present a touching tribute from one of John Paul II’s closest — and most prominent — colleagues and friends.

Edward Pentin writes

from Rome.