October 22nd marked the feast day of St. John Paul II, affectionately referred to as St. John Paul the Great. For many people of my generation, he was the only pope they knew for their entire childhood and part of the early adulthood as well. We grew up with this pope, and we felt like we knew him on a personal level. We watched his jovial nature at World Youth Days, and we saw his entire suffering and death play out in a very public way. He touched the lives of so many people without even knowing it, but there is so much we don’t know about him. One way that I have learned more about him is by reading the book Stories About Saint John Paul II.
Stories About Saint John Paul II contains interviews with various friends “co-workers,” for lack of a better word, of the late pope. Included in these interviews are well-known figures like Stanislaw Dziwisz, Pope John Paul II’s secretary, and some lesser known people, like one of his childhood friends – Stanislaw Grygiel. There was Joaquin Navarro Valls, Pope John Paul II’s spokesman, and Renato Buzzonetti, the pope’s physician.
The most interesting interview to me was the first one though, and that was by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. The fact that the author was able to get this interview on the day of Pope John Paul II’s canonization is impressive in and of itself, but what I learned about both popes was even more amazing. In this interview, we learn that even though they both contributed heavily to Vatican II, they did not meet until many years later. We learn of Ratzinger’s reluctance to take on more responsibility within the Church due to the duty he felt for his diocese. We also get to see how hand-in-hand these two worked together once Ratzinger accepted his role as the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith. Lastly, and most interestingly to me, we see the three encyclicals of Pope John Paul II’s that Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI viewed to be the most important. They are Redemptor hominis, Redemptor missio, and Veritatis splendor. But you’ll have to read the book to see why.
The most powerful sections in the book come not from the interviews with the people involved in his cause for sainthood, but in the interviews with the people who received miracles through St. John Paul II’s intercession. These were very beautiful and moving accounts to read. The book then fittingly closes with two homilies – one by Pope Benedict XVI on the occasion of Pope John Paul II’s beatification and the other by Pope Francis on the occasion of his canonization. This book is a true gem and one that I know I will read again. The interviews and stories were so authentic that it’s like Pope John Paul II was alive again. You could feel his warmth, his humor, and his love for man and God leaping off the pages. May his life continue to be an inspiration to us all, and may we all embrace the heroic path of sainthood which he lived every day.
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Copyright 2015 Stuart Dunn