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Archived Online Discussion
Topic: The End and The Beginning: Pope John Paul II The Victory of Freedom, the Last Years, the Legacy
Date: 5-6 pm (ET)
on Monday, February 28, 2011
George Weigel
Discussion Moderator:

Tonight, the Knights of Columbus is pleased to welcome one of America's leading public intellectuals, Dr. George Weigel, author of the best-selling biography of Pope John Paul II "Witness to Hope," and distinguished Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center.
This evening, he will be answering questions on the newly released second volume of his John Paul II biography, "The End and The Beginning: Pope John Paul II --The Victory of Freedom, the Last Years, the Legacy." We'd like to begin the discussion by encouraging you to submit your questions for Dr. Weigel if you haven't done so already.

Robert Camilleri
Honolulu, Hawaii USA
Could you please address the impact of Pope John Paul II's meeting with Fidel Castro in Cuba. What effect do you think this meeting has had on the Catholic Church in Cuba? I enjoy your books and commentary very much.
George Weigel:

Thanks for your question Robert.

There's often a mistaken comparison made between John Paul's first visit to Poland in 1979 and his visit to Cuba in 1998. The situations are really quite different, not least because the situation of the Church in the two countries is quite different. I think John Paul's 1998 visit to Cuba lifted up the hearts of faithful Cuban Catholics and, over time, his example has been important for the priests and bishops of Cuba. Needless to say, there is still a long way to go on that troubled island, but things may start moving quickly in the next months. 

Sean Murphy
Manchester, New Hampshire
In a recent interview with Michael Miller you noted that you can see the positive results of the pontificate of John Paul II on the New Evangelization largely in the United States but not in "Old Europe." Why do you feel that it hasn't taken hold there?
George Weigel:

Thanks Sean.

The Church in "Old Europe" is thoroughly tied up in the ropes of ecclesiastical bureaucracy, which is an impediment to the New Evangelization, whereas Americans are more "entrepreneurial," even in matters Catholic. There is also a deep, deep cynicism in Europe that is not the case in the United States.  

James Michaud
Niagara Falls, NY
Some of Pope John Paul II's predecessors, particularly Pope Paul VI, tried to get their input heard about not surrendering the principles and concepts of true Catholicism to the culture of modern times. What do you feel John Paul II did differently from his predecessors to get the message onto a respected level so it could be widely appreciated and set the tone for broader acceptance?
George Weigel:
James, I think his personalism resonated with late-twentieth century audiences, who found in his vocabulary a reflection of their own noblest aspirations. John Paul II was the first modern pope, in the sense of a pope who instinctively thought in modern, not classical categories.  

J. Brandencourt
Vancouver, Wa
In Pope John Paul II we recognize the greatness of his pontificate because of the ultimate fruits of his leadership. He touched many hearts because of his ability to relate on a one-to-one basis with his fellow man, with the leaders of the world's varied religions and sects as well as through the witness of his close relationship with Jesus and His Mother. Given his incredible legacy, do you think it's possible that he may one day be given the title "the Great"?
George Weigel:
I think a lot of the people of the Church already refer to him that way, and as that's the way these things happen -- there is no official designation of a pope as "the Great" -- it seems not unlikely.  

Why does the secular media seem to downplay the Pope's role in history?
George Weigel:
Actually Jeremy, I think they're getting better, at least insofar as recognizing his role in the collapse of communism. The current media obsession with sexually abusive clergy warps everything, of course.  

George H
Pine Plains, New York
Dear Dr. Weigel,

I would like to ask you about your thoughts on Pope John Paul II's human failings. Obviously, despite the fact that he will soon be beatified, he was still an imperfect man. What would you say was John Paul's greatest weakness and the biggest regret of his papacy? Thank you.
George Weigel:

Thanks George.

In his memoir, "Rise, Let Us Be On Our Way!", the Pope himself reflected that his greatest weakness as a diocesan bishop (and perhaps as pope) had been a failure to take strong disciplinary action at times. In the second volume of my John Paul II biography, "The End and the Beginning," I reflect at some length on the effects of this disinclination (in, for example, unreformed religious orders). You'd of course have to ask him about his biggest regret, but on a different plane, I know he deeply regretted his inability to get to Russia and China.  

David Klein
Thief River Falls, MN, USA
What made you decide to write a supplemental book to "Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II"?
George Weigel:
David, I wouldn't call it a supplement. It's the essential conclusion, the completion of the story. "Witness to Hope" only takes us up through 1998; there are six more years to go at that point! At my last dinner with John Paul II in December 2004, I promised him that, if he didn't bury me, I'd finish what I started. "The End and the Beginning" is the fulfillment of that promise. 

Maureen Forrestor
Bethlehem, New Hampshire, United States
What did you find specifically inspiring about Pope John Paul II's struggle against Communism? If you had to pick a specific time in that struggle as the turning point, what would it be?
George Weigel:
The turning point, as I make clear in "The End and the Beginning," was his first visit to Poland, June 2-10 1979. What was inspiring about his efforts were that he deployed the spiritual and cultural weapons of truth against a foe that had a monopoly on material power -- and the truth won. 

Devon Phillips
Ocala, Florida, U.S.A.
In regards to the reflective portion of your book, what would you say Pope John Paul II will most be remembered for?
George Weigel:
He made Christianity interesting and compelling in a world that thought it had "outgrown" its "need" for religion.  

Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Thank you for this book, which is a beautiful gift to the Church. Did you encounter many obstacles to your research, particularly with respect to Soviet intelligence operations?
George Weigel:
No Michael, it was actually easier to get materials out of old Warsaw Pact archives than it was to get some materials out of the Vatican.  

Burbank, CA
100 years from now, what do you think the major legacy of John Paul II will be?
George Weigel:
From the world's point of view, his pivotal role in the collapse of European communism. From the Church's point of view, his authoritative interpretation of the Second Vatican Council and his insistence, with the Council, that the Church is a mission. 

Washington, DC
You have described the Theology of the Body as a "kind of theological time bomb set to go off with dramatic consequences, sometime in the third millennium of the Church." Two questions. 1) Has the bomb gone off yet is it still ticking? 2) What do you think is the most likely consequence of this explosion?
George Weigel:
Thanks for your question Jack. It's clearly gone off, in that there are Theology of the Body groups on campuses from sea to shining sea, and alert dioceses have already incorporated this material into their marriage preparation programs. The Theology of the Body is also important culturally, in that it's a profound challenge to the regnant gnosticism of the age, in which everything is plastic, malleable, changeable. Finally, I would hope that the Theology of the Body helps Catholic theology rediscover the theme of sacramentality, which was a major theme in the theological renaissance of the mid-twentieth century, but which seems to have gotten somewhat lost again.    

Washington, D.C.
Pope John Paul II had a huge influence on the situation in the Church in Poland. Even though he was in Rome, he still was making many decisions, of course unofficially. You have been involved in the Tertio Millennio Seminar and are in Poland almost every year during the summer. From your observation as an American who visits Poland very often - how was the Church in Poland influenced or changed after John Paul II passed away and there is bishop in Poland who could be the leader now, after JPII?
George Weigel:
Thanks for your question Peter. The Church in Poland will, naturally, be looking backwards, so to speak, at the beatification: backwards in thanksgiving for such a great life, and such a great Polish life. But on May 2, it's time to start looking forward, not backwards. One possible leader in that process may be Cardinal Kazimierz Nycz of Warsaw. 


Melissa K
Burlington, ONT
You knew John Paul II in a way that so few have had the opportunity to experience. Are there any aspects of his personality, his likes, anecdotes, etc. that would perhaps be less known by the greater public that you could share with us?
George Weigel:
There's been a lot of nonsense written about how the pope was out-of-touch in the last years of his life. On the contrary, I found him a remarkably curious man up to the last weeks of his life -- always wanting to know what was happening, always eager to get news of friends and colleagues. He also remained a pastor to the end. My father died in October 2004 and the first thing the pope said to me when we met in mid-december of that year was "How is your mother?"  

Nate Pascale
Marlboro, New York
Dr. Weigel, can you share some personal highlights of your time with Pope John Paul II?
George Weigel:
I could Nate, but I think I'll save that for a book somewhere down the line.  

David F.
Middletown, CT
I have heard that John Paul II had a deep personal admiration for you. Was it hard not to get "your head up in the clouds" (so to speak) dealing with the adulation of such a famous and revered individual?
George Weigel:

I wouldn't call it "adulation." The late pope and I shared what I think was a deep mutual respect and affection; we also shared some difficult experiences and some sorrows. I'm sure there were aspects of his thought and action that I interpreted in ways with which he disagreed (how could it be otherwise?). But I think he respected the effort I put into getting inside his mind and heart, and I certainly was grateful for the ways in which he opened his life to me. 
I do remember the late pope telling me once -- it must have been 2002 or 2003 -- that he had read "Witness to Hope" three times, once in English and twice in Polish. When I asked him why on earth he had done that, since he obviously knew the story better than I did, he said that my book helped him reflect back on things he otherwise wouldn't have had the opportunity to think about. If I performed that kind of service for such a deeply reflective man, I'm happy to have done so. 

Discussion Moderator:

The Knights of Columbus would like to thank you for participating in this online discussion.  We hope you've enjoyed the conversation. We extend our heartfelt thanks to Dr. George Weigel for offering further insight into the man that was John Paul II and the much anticipated 2nd volume of his biography.

Please join us again on March 31st at noon (EST) for a discussion of Father Peter John Cameron's new book, Mysteries of the Virgin Mary: Living Our Lady Graces.  We are looking forward to a thought-provoking discussion of the major Marian "mysteries" to learn how they can bring us into a closer spiritual relationship with the Mother of God.

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