Memory & Identity: Personal Reflections

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 03 April, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 03 April, 2005, 12:00am

Memory & Identity: Personal Reflections


by Pope John Paul II


Weidenfeld & Nicolson $201


To read these words from Pope John Paul must be of interest to many. To Catholics, because the pope is head of the Catholic Church. To Protestants and members of other churches seeking to follow the example of Jesus Christ, because of his Christian leadership. To non-Christians, because of the loyalty he owns among millions of people. And to others, irrespective of religion, at least because of his years of deep study and thought, privileged experience and world-wide influence.


The book is based on the main themes of conversations that took place in 1993 in Castel Gandolfo, the pope's summer residence, at the suggestion of two Polish philosophers, Jozef Tischner and Krzysztof Michalski, founders of the Vienna-based Institute for Human Sciences. The conversations were recorded and transcribed. In this book, the pope's ideas retain their early conversational format. Each chapter is introduced by a question, posed by the unnamed editor of the book, with the pope's discussion presented as a reply. The final chapter describes, for the first time, the assassination attempt on the pontiff's life on May 13, 1981. It tells us how astonished the assassin was that his bullet did not do its work and his resulting groping after the thought that a higher power may have intervened.


Although written simply, the range of subjects is vast: politics and society as much as religion, church history and spirituality. The ideas are complex, considering and deriving from modern European history, theology and philosophy. The pope refers explicitly to the totalitarian regimes of national socialism and Marxist communism. Very striking is his assertion that the evil of the 20th century - 'an evil which availed itself of state structures in order to accomplish its wicked work' - derived a philosophical basis from the thought of the European Enlightenment.


Those who acknowledge a spiritual sickness in the world may take up the challenge to engage with what the pope has written. Some, not only Christians, may find explanations that satisfy a need - particularly perhaps in his views about freedom, suffering, patriotism, the coexistence of good and evil and the transcendent dimension of history. 'It is not only we who write our history: God writes it with us.'


All will surely understand the humanity of this man of intellectual breadth and scholarship when they see his understanding of the divide between North and South, between rich and poor, his concern for a new economic order and social justice; and when they read his assertion that care for the needy is 'incomparably more important than polemics and denunciations'.


The final pages respond to the September 11 terrorist attacks, the Madrid bombing in March last year and the siege of Beslan in September.


The book offers newly translated extracts from two of his remarkable published poems. It reveals the pope's loyalty to his Polish origins and presents a coherent view of Polish history.


Personal Reflections reminds us of the mental and moral strength behind the body's frailty. Reading this, we see a man of faith and his spiritual testimony of the value of human life in all its forms and stages.


 

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