John Paul II One Year Later
at least 1.1 billion members, Catholicism is the world’s
largest religious denomination, and its spiritual leader is one
of the most influential people today. Presidents and prime ministers
go out of their way to court the pope’s opinion and approval.
Therefore it’s quite amazing how quickly the beloved John
Paul II seems to have faded from public memory. Less than a year
after his death (on April 2, 2005), it is difficult to find people
talking about his ministry, life, and legacy.
current pope is another matter altogether. There have been
hundreds of books
published about Pope Benedict XVI, the former
Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. Worldwide media attention has centered
on discovering and speculating about the ideas and intentions
of the new pope, and how he will or will not be similar to
John Paul II. On the whole, however, publishers have been disappointed
with the sales of these quickly published pope books. Perhaps
readers have been looking for something deeper.
XVI himself has already published an encyclical (on Love),
his publishers around the world have wisely reissued
many of his theology books with new covers to reflect the
name change of the author. More importantly, Benedict XVI has
couple of new books that are coming soon: meatier tomes that
the questions of both Catholics and more general spiritual
seekers. Look for Compendium of the Catechism of the
a series of 598 questions and answers, at the end of this
month, and What It Means to Be Christian, only 100 pages but
to a central question facing billions of people today.
latter title should be especially interesting to both Catholics
non-Catholics alike since it will undoubtedly set forth
conception of Catholics’ role in the societies in
which they live. Given their influence in American politics
all precedent, the Republican candidate took more Catholic
votes than the Democrat in the last presidential election),
could affect all our lives, regardless of our religious
What It Means to Be Christian is to be published
at the end of July.
a major retrospective about the legacy of John Paul
II has yet to be published, there have been many repackaged
of his spiritual reflections. I, for one, look forward
with real trepidation to the publication this September
for Dummies and The Life of Pope John Paul II
in Comics (I’m
couple of made-for-television movies about the former leader
of the world’s Catholics have
also appeared, one of which starred
Academy-award winner Jon Voight as John Paul (see
"I'm Not a Pope—But I Play One On T.V.").
in Rome—there are many devout
Catholics working on the primary source material
for those future major books about John Paul II.
time being, material
focuses on the former pope’s beatification,
which appears to hinge on the recovery from Parkinson’s
disease of a young nun in France.
Associate Press reported on March 13 that “The sudden
recovery of a young French nun suffering from Parkinson’s
disease is at the heart of the sainthood case for
Pope John Paul II.” According to how saints
are declared in the Catholic Church, one miracle
must be confirmed for beatification (to be
called “Blessed”) and then another
to be canonized (“Saint”). These miracles
almost always come about as result of prayers made
to the candidate after his or her death.
If a healing or some other special result happens,
it is said that the candidate has interceded to
God in heaven for the favorable
young French nun who made it known that she prayed to Pope
John Paul II for intercession
has now inexplicably
been healed. The nun (as well as many of the
sisters in her religious community) prayed to John Paul
with symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, an
ailment that the former pope suffered from for
are good that we will soon be acknowledging “Blessed” John
Paul II, and then eventually, John Paul “the
Great” or “Saint” John
Paul. His beatification, notwithstanding, the
more consequential decisions for us today revolve
around how John Paul’s legacy
will be interpreted in the near future, and what
priorities the world’s largest religious
denomination will set next.
Jon Sweeney is an author and editor living
in Vermont. He is the author of several books, including BORN
AGAIN AND AGAIN: THE SURPRISING GIFTS OF A FUNDAMENTALIST CHILDHOOD.
by Jon Sweeney.