The publisher has generously offered to give away a copy of Pope John Paul II: An Intimate Life by French journalist Caroline Pigozzi to a reader of this blog.
If you would like to be entered into a drawing to receive a free copy, please leave your name in the comments section of this blog post or send me an email [melanie (at) thewinedarksea (dot) com] by midnight on Tuesday September 30.
Next Wednesday, October 1, I will write each of the names on a slip of paper and Bella will draw a winner.
I don’t usually read biographies and memoirs; but I received a review copy and I am very interested in our beloved Holy Father, with whom Isabella shares a birthday, so I figured why not. And I did enjoy the book much more than I’d have anticipated.
I must confess that initially I was quite put off by the author’s approach. The first chapter “A Former Dominican Pupil Sets Her Sights on the Vatican” details her background and explains how she came to be in a position to know Pope John Paul II. The chaplain of the Dominican school she attended in Rome as a girl, who was also her confidant, later went on to become president of the Pontifical Council for Culture under JPII and was able to give her an opportunity to get a foot in the door. I kept thinking, enough about “me, me, me”! I picked up this book expecting to read about the pope. But once I accepted that this book was more personal memoir than biography, it moved along much more smoothly. In fact, as she details her first attempts to infiltrate the innermost sanctuaries of the Vatican, I found myself swept along with the adventure and challenge, tiptoeing in her footsteps as it were and peering over her shoulder.
In later chapters she takes on a much more impersonal tone as she describes the Polish history of the man Karol Wojtyla, describes the pope’s private apartments, his daily life—including a detailed account of his daily schedule—and the community of Poles with which he surrounded himself. I was particularly fascinated by the chapter “Around the World 29 Times: Inside Secrets of the Traveling Pope” with all the interesting facts about the logistics of the pope’s many journeys.
The book has many detours into history: history of the papacy and the Vatican, history of Poland and Russia (in the chapter about JPII’s wish for a reunification with the Orthodox church). There is not so much about John Paul’s spirituality, except a bit about his Marian devotion, especially in connection with the assassination attempt and his belief in Mary’s intervention to save his life and the connection to the third secret of Fatima.
We dive back into the personal when she describes taking her daughters to meet Pope John Paul II and have little peeks into her methods of obtaining her information as when she describes staying on the plane to get a peek at the pope’s private suite.
Above all, this book is obviously a labor of love by a woman whose enthusiasm for her subject bubbles over. If she delves into the personal, it is only to show how much the Pope touched her heart. She says in her conclusion:
The main reason I wrote this book was to share the feelings that John Paul II, a veritable saint, inspired in me. Until I made his acquaintance, religious figures were just terrifying symbols of religious history to me. John Paul II fascinated me well before I ever met him personally. . . .
. . . I wanted to understand how this luminous man in white, who seemed to live outside time, could be a mystic, a great politician, a media star, and an intellectual all in the same day. His ability to easily move from one role to another always amazed me. When I followed the Holy Father, I never cared about theology, the celibacy of priests or birth control. Nor did I take any interest in Vatican rumors, scandals and intrigue, or in that tiny state that mints euro coins, issues postage stamps and strikes gold and silver medals with images of the Pope on them. Others have already covered that ground, sometimes in a fictionalized way and with wit and talent. The man, Karol Wojtyla, and his singular personality are what fascinated me. . . .
. . . Because I was a woman and, according to the Vatican’s centuries-old rules, seemed unclassifiable, but especially because I managed to make him laugh, the Pope almost irrationally opened the doors of the world’s most secret place to me. He probably thought that this mysterious celestial enclave would seem less intimidating to the faithful if they could see it through my eyes. My testimonial is therefore meant as a respectful epitaph to the memory of John Paul II and his role in history. . . .