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


George Weigel

LOPEZ: Why was the 2000 Jubilee year so important? Did it go beyond the Catholic Church?

WEIGEL: John Paul was determined, in the Great Jubilee of 2000, to make the world and the Church confront the fact that Christianity is based on the witness of transformed lives, real lives, lived at a certain moment in history and at defined places — places we can still touch. Jesus of Nazareth transformed lives in ways that led those lives to transform the world: That’s not a pious myth; that’s not a happy bedtime story; that’s a matter of fact. How else would the bones of an obscure and probably illiterate fisherman from the far edges of the Roman Empire end up buried on Vatican Hill? Bringing the world and the Church to grips with the historicity of the Christian claim was the primary purpose of the Great Jubilee of 2000.

LOPEZ: Why was evangelization so important to him?

WEIGEL: Because he believed — really believed — that the Christian Gospel reveals the truth about the human person, and he was a man passionate about the human person.

LOPEZ: What did you find most striking about John Paull II’s “last encyclical,” his very public death? Did he do it consciously? Because we needed to see it? Because he felt called to do it?

WEIGEL: He lived out the last years and months of his life the way he did because he was a Catholic priest who believed that the entire purpose of the priesthood is to invite others into a profound experience of the mystery of the death and resurrection of Christ.

LOPEZ: What is the “new humanism” you write of, and how is John Paul II its prophet?

WEIGEL: Unlike the “atheistic humanism” of Comte, Feuerbach, Marx, and Nietzsche, the new humanism of John Paul II takes full account of the human capacity for transcendence, morally and intellectually. Moreover, John Paul’s new humanism understands that the God of the Bible came into human history as a liberator. To take man seriously is to take the question of God seriously; and to take the question of God seriously is to enter into the depths of the mystery of human freedom.

LOPEZ: During these final years, what was his dark night? And what is a dark night — we tend to misunderstand that, I think?

WEIGEL: A “dark night” is a period of spiritual dryness, a “desert experience,” and many great saints (as well as many ordinary saints, whose lives are all around us) experience such periods of struggle. I think John Paul II went through one such experience in the summer and fall of 2003, and came through it with an even greater determination to turn his suffering into a window into the mysteries of God’s redemptive purposes, made plain in the death and resurrection of the Son of God.