Friday, August 19, 2016

Witness to Hope

Mild Spoilers Ahead
Witness to Hope is a very comprehensive biography of Pope John Paul II written by George Weigel and published by HarperCollins.  It features over 900 pages of information on Karol Wojtyla, his childhood and pontificate.  Also included in some copies are gloss pages with high quality photos of the Pope both before his election to the papacy and during.

Table of Contents:

  • Preface
  • A Brief Note on Pronunciation
  • Prologue (The Disciple)
    • The drama of Karol Wojtyla's life
    • A paradox and a sign of contradiction
    • The more excellent way
    • The broadness of a gauge
    • The subject and the author
  • A Son of Freedom (Poland Semper Fidelis)
    • Karol Wojtyla's national, cultural, religious, and family roots
    • His childhood, his elementary and secondary education, the loss of his mother and brother
    • The influence of his father on his education and piety
    • His interests in Polish Romantic literature and in drama
    • His first undergraduate year at Krakow's Jagielloninan University
  • From the Underground (The Third Reich vs. the Kingdom of Truth)
    • The Nazi occupation of Poland
    • Karol Wojtyla and clandestine cultural resistance
    • His introduction to Carmelite spirituality and manual labor
    • The death of his father and the unfolding of a priestly vocation
    • The underground seminary 
    • An "unbroken prince," Archbishop Adam Stefan Sapieha
    • Karol Wojtyla's ordination and graduate studies in theology in Rome
  • "Call me Wujek" (To be a Priest)
    • Country curate
    • Father Karol Wojtyla's pioneering student chaplaincy in Krakow
    • His first essays and poems
    • The temptation of revolutionary violence and Woytyla's first mature play
    • An outdoorsman and a model confessor
    • The beauty of human love
  • Seeing Things as they Are (The Making of a Philosopher)
    • A second doctorate, a new philosophical interest, and a new career
    • Karol Wojtyla at the Catholic University of Lublin
    • The Lublin challenge to modern skepticism
    • A book on love and sexuality that raises a few eyebrows
  • A New Pentecost (Vatican II and the Crisis of Humanism)
    • The youngest bishop in Poland
    • The Second Vatican Council
    • Karol Wojtyla is named Archbishop of Krakow
    • Setting Vatican II's defense of freedom on a firm philosophical foundation
  • Successor to St. Stanislaw (Living the Council in Krakow)
    • A cardinal at age forty-seven
    • Wojtyla's quest for religious freedom in Krakow
    • An extensive local implementation of Vatican II
    • The mature essayist, poet, and playwright
    • A distinctive style and a unique set of friends
    • Testing the world stage
  • A Pope from a Far Country (The Election of John Paul II)
    • The Church at the death of Pope Paul VI
    • The "September Papacy" of Pope John Paul I
    • The election of Karol Jozef Wojtyla as the first Slavic Pope in history and the first non-Italian in 455 years, to the surprise of many, but not all, concerned
  • "Be Not Afraid!" (A Pope for the World)
    • An earthquake in the papacy and the Vatican
    • Redefining the public ministry of the Bishop of Rome
    • An alternative theology of liberation
    • Program notes for a pontificate
    • Preventing a war in Latin America
    • Consternation in the Kremlin
  • "How Many Divisions Has the Pope?" (Confronting an Empire of Lies)
    • The cultural power of the politically powerless
    • An epic pilgrimage to Poland
    • Nine days that bent the curve of modern history
    • A revolution of conscience
  • The Ways of Freedom (Truths Personal and Public)
    • Marital intimacy as an icon of the inner life of God
    • Denouncing sectarian violence in Ireland
    • The Pope at the United Nations
    • Religious freedom as the first human right
    • Teenagers in a frenzy at Madison Square Garden
    • Galileo reconsidered
    • An appeal to Orthodoxy
  • Peter Among Us (The Universal Pastor as Apostolic Witness)
    • The pilgrim Pope in Africa, France, Brazil, West Germany, and Asia
    • Collegiality and crisis management
    • In defense of the family
    • A bold appointment in Paris
    • The mysteries of fatherhood and mercy, divine and human
  • In the Eye of the Storm (Months of Violence and Dissent)
    • The birth of Solidarity
    • An unprecedented letter to Leonid Brezhnev
    • The assassination attempt
    • Shock therapy fort he Jesuits
    • The "Gospel of work"
    • Martial law in Poland
    • The Falklands/Malvinas War
  • Liberating Liberations (The Limits of Politics and the Promise of Redemption)
    • Revising Church law
    • Canonizing a martyr of Auschwitz
    • Confrontation in Nicaragua
    • To recognize the saints God has made
    • Restoring hope in Poland
    • A seminar with agnostics and atheists
    • A prison visit to a would-be papal assassin
    • Suffering as a path to love
  • Reliving the Council (Religion and the Renewal of a World Still Young)
    • Securing the legacy of Vatican II
    • The "People Power" revolution in the Philippines
    • Hosting world religious leaders in Assisi
    • The first papal visit to the Synagogue of Rome
    • The irrevocable Catholic commitment to Christian unity
    • Addressing young Muslims in Casablanca
    • A letter to the youth of the world
    • Revamping the Vatican's press office
  • Forward to Basics (Freedom Ordered to the Dignity of Duty)
    • Tear gas and the quest for democracy in Chile
    • The beatification of Edith Stein
    • A preview of communism's demise
    • Hiking in the Dolomites 
    • The Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople in Rome
    • Opening a dialogue with Mikhail Gorbachev
    • The excommunication of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre
    • A distinctive feminism
    • Starting a homeless shelter in the Vatican
    • Counselor to Andrei Sakharov
  • After the Empire of Lies (Miracles and the Mandates of Justice)
    • John Paul II in Scandinavia
    • The communist crack-up
    • A letter to Deng Xiaoping
    • Gorbachev in the Vatican
    • Defining the meaning of the "Revolution of 1989"
    • Challenging democracies to live freedom nobly
    • The Gulf war
    • The Catholic identity of Catholic universities
  • To the Ends of the Earth (Reconciling an Unreconciled World)
    • The Church is a mission
    • A storm of controversy with Orthodoxy
    • The re-evangelization of Europe
    • Priests for a new millennium
    • Colon surgery
    • The Catechism of the Catholic Church
    • Rejecting clericalism in Poland
    • Defending persecuted Christians in Sudan
    • Taking on the Mafia in Sicily
  • The Threshold of Hope (Appealing to Our Better Angels)
    • A surprise in Denver
    • The renewal of moral theology
    • Diplomatic relations with Israel
    • Confronting the U.S. government at the Cairo World Population Converence
    • More health problems
    • A convent for the contemplative nuns in the Vatican
    • The debate on women and the priesthood
    • An international bestseller
  • Only One World (Human Solidarity and the Gospel of Life)
    • The Great Jubilee of 2000
    • The largest crowd in human history
    • Another assassination attempt
    • The "Gospel of Life"
    • The Vatican and the World Conference on Women in Beijing
    • Asking Orthodox and Protestant Christians to help devise a papacy that could serve them
    • A "witness to hope" addresses the United Nations again
    • Singing in New York's Central Park
    • The golden jubilee
  • A Reasonable Faith (beyond a Century of Delusions)
    • Revising the rules for papal elections
    • France and Poland
    • Sarajevo, Lebanon, and Cuba
    • The longest-serving pope of the twentieth century
    • Catholic renewal movements in St. Peter's Square
    • John Paul II's twentieth anniversary
    • The Church in defense of human reason
  • Epilogue - The Third Millennium (To See the Sun Rise)
    • The critiques of John Paul II are evaluated, his accomplishments are assayed, and a suggestion as to the nature of his greatness is offered
  • Afterword - A Church for the New Millennium
    • The Great Jubilee of 2000
    • Notes
    • Bibliography
    • Acknowledgments
    • Index
    • About the Author
    • Praise
    • Also by George Weigel
    • Credits
    • Cover Copyright
    • About the Publisher
Have you ever seen those commercials about "the most interesting man in the world"?

Well I submit to you that John Paul II is "the most interesting man in the world".

He fled the Nazis, got through the deaths of  his mother, father and brother all at a young age, was shot twice, was manipulated by state media, sabotaged by governments, played a powerful role in the downfall of Communism, and oh, did I mention?  He was also the longest serving pope of the twentieth century.

John Paul II was undoubtedly an extremely interesting man, and this biography does a great job of going through his life in a logical way.  

At some points throughout the story I got a bit bored, but I would say 90% of the time it was an engaging read.  The writing style is so concise and authoritative--I particularly like the vocabulary.

I would definitely recommend this book. It's a long read, but a good one.

Have you read Witness to Hope?  What was your favorite chapter?
Are you going to read Witness to Hope?  What made you decide to read it?


  1. Hi Ellen,

    I accidentally deleted your comment, but I'm putting it here below:

    I haven't read this book yet, but I'm planning to. It's already been on my to-read list for quite a while, so I think I'll get to it sooner rather than later. I'm glad to hear it's worth the length!

    I decided to read it because St. John Paul II has become one of my favorite saints, and I have a few personal connections with him as well. First, he visited my archdiocese! I was too young to appreciate it at the time, but my dad was a Communion usher at his Mass. Since then, I've stood in the very spot where he prayed in our cathedral. Second, I'm very close to a priest who met him once (during the 1980s, I think). This priest has a picture taken during the occasion on his office wall. Finally, he canonized my Confirmation saint!

    My library has a sequel to "Witness to Hope," called "The End and the Beginning: Pope John Paul II - The Victory of Freedom, the Last Years, and the Legacy." I also plan to read that eventually.

    - Ellen Gianna

    And now my response:

    Wow that's incredible that he visited your archdiocese! That's really amazing. Oh, I've never read that one but it sounds interesting. Thanks for commenting (and sorry I originally deleted it!!)

    1. Don't worry, that's okay:). Incidentally, I hope it's all right to comment as anonymous. I have a WordPress account, but I haven't figured out how to use it to comment on non-WordPress sites.

      I only wish I had been old enough to remember more about his visit... I was only five, so I don't think I realized that it was a once-in-a-lifetime event. I've done my best to make up for it by tracking down pictures and homily/speech transcripts.

      - Ellen Gianna

    2. Commenting anonymously is perfectly fine--especially when you sign your name at the end anyway.

      It's too bad you missed it, but it's nice that a lot of his work is still available to read.

  2. Okay, I'm not Catholic (I think you knew that), but this book does look interesting.

    And what's with the sudden swamp of book reviews?! I went to my blogger feed and WHAM! there were TONS of them!

    1. I think it's a great book for any Christian--at it's deepest level it's really a story about a good Christian man who did his best to serve God.

      Haha, sorry about that! I've been making a lot of changes around the blog. From now on, instead of doing isolated book reviews only for the book nook page, I'm just going to write reviews like regular daily posts, post them, and then link them to the book nook page. I wanted all of them to match, so I took the already existing book reviews and put them into post form.

    2. :)

      Ah! I see!!! I haven't read all of them yet, but I will!

    3. Great! Let me know what you think of them :)