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A Pope’s Legacy
How John Paul II kindled the fire of evangelism.


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George Weigel

LOPEZ: In meeting with John Paul II as you did, did you ever argue? Are there any insights you can share about how he approached differences?

WEIGEL: We obviously had different views of the prudence of American and British military action in Iraq when that was being debated in 2002 and 2003. Then as always, John Paul II approached differences in a thoroughly adult way: principles and prudential possibilities were explored and discussed, and, when necessary, we agreed to disagree and to continue the conversation.

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LOPEZ: How important was “Be not afraid!” on October 22, 1978, to Church history? To world history?

WEIGEL: I believe Yale’s John Lewis Gaddis, perhaps our premier historian of the Cold War, is right when he argues that the beginning of the end of European Communism came when John Paul II stepped onto the tarmac at the Warsaw Airport on June 2, 1979; that was the beginning of nine days that changed the course of history by setting in motion the human dynamics that led, ultimately, to the Revolution of 1989. And if Gaddis is right, then that clarion call to courage October 22, 1978, was the beginning of the beginning of the end for Lenin and Stalin’s empire.

As for the Church, October 2, 1978, marked the end of a period of drift and created the possibility of a truly evangelical Catholicism, confidently taking the Christian proposal to the world.


LOPEZ: What was the most significant confrontation with evil in John Paul II’s life (that we know of)?

WEIGEL: He once described his experience of the Second World War as “humiliation at the hands of evil,” and I have long believed that that was the experience that forged the unique personality of Karol Wojtyla, Pope John Paul II. That was the experience in which his decision to accept God’s offer of the priesthood was clarified; that was the experience that led him to devote his priesthood to an intellectual and pastoral defense of the dignity of the human person. So in biographical terms, that was a significant confrontation with evil.

But that the Evil One confronted John Paul II on many occasions, no one should doubt — and I offer several different kinds of examples of those confrontations in The End and the Beginning.


LOPEZ: There was recently a “Theology of the Body Congress,” largely based on the pontificate of John Paul II. How important are his writings on the human person and sexuality? Do they have wider transformational possibilities?

WEIGEL: They have changed the discussion of sexual morality in the Catholic Church, and they’re beginning to do so in the world. Believe it or not, a group of Columbia students self-organized an outdoor discussion of John Paul’s books on sexual ethics at Rockefeller Center recently. No one could have imagined any such thing happening in, say, 1978, when he was elected.



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