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He Knew Pope John Paul II the Best


A LIFE WITH KAROL: My Forty-Year Friendship With the Man Who Became Pope
WE DARE TO SAY: An Adventure in Journaling
SPEAKING OF FAITH: Why Religion Matters—and How to Talk About It
Vocations Today

A LIFE WITH KAROL: My Forty-Year Friendship With the Man Who Became Pope, by Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, in Conversation With Gian Franco Svideroschi, translated from the Italian by Adrian J. Walker. Doubleday. 260 pp. $22.95.

Reviewed by PAT McCLOSKEY, O.F.M., editor of this publication. From 1986 to 1992, he worked at the international headquarters of the Order of Friars Minor and was present for a couple of the public events described in this book.

FROM OCTOBER 8, 1966, until April 2, 2005, Father Stanislaw Dziwisz was the private secretary of Karol Wojtyla, archbishop of Kraków and later Pope John Paul II. No one else knew the adult Wojtyla as well as Dziwisz did.

In this volume, Gian Franco Svideroschi, a veteran staff member of L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican’s daily newspaper, serves as the narrator/interviewer. His contributions are printed in italics.

Dziwisz met Wojtyla at the Kraków seminary in 1957, was ordained by him in 1963, served as an assistant pastor for two years and was assigned to higher studies in 1966. Later, Dziwisz became Archbishop Wojtyla’s private secretary.

In 35 chapters (10 before the 1978 papal election and 25 chapters after it), Dziwisz provides the “back story” to what can be found in the excellent biographies written by George Weigel and Tad Szulc. Readers of the present volume probably need the overall framework that a biography provides.

Wojtyla was one of the few Polish bishops permitted by their government to attend Vatican II. After the student protests of 1968, “Wojtyla didn’t oppose the regime head-on, but rather deflated it from the inside, by showing how it differed from the reality of man, from the truth about man himself,” writes the author.

Dziwisz details the pope’s first incognito skiing trip (to Ovindoli on January 2, 1981); the pope made about 100 private trips outside the Vatican. Less than two months after being elected, he visited San Francesco Saverio Parish in Rome’s Garbatella region; he had assisted there during his studies in Rome after World War II.

On the return flight from the pope’s 1984 pastoral visit to Thailand, a journalist said to the pope, “You raised the political issue of the refugees.” The pope replied, Dziwisz remembers, with something like ire in his voice: “It’s a human issue—human! It’s not about politics. Reducing this to politics is all wrong. The basic human issue is morality.”

Cardinal Dziwisz details that during the pope’s 1983 visit to Mehmet Ali Agca in Rome’s Rebibbia prison, the would-be assassin asked John Paul II, “So why aren’t you dead?” but never sought forgiveness.

Dziwisz describes the World Day of Prayer for Peace, celebrated in Assisi on October 27, 1986, as “a kind of watershed in the history of interreligious relations.” He acknowledges that some of the Holy See’s staff members were not enthusiastic about this day, but he offers no names.

After noting that John Paul II considered resigning, consulted several other people and then chose not to, Dziwisz writes, “At the same time, John Paul II did work out a procedure for resigning should he no longer be able to carry out his papal mission.” Many readers may be interested in more detail about this point than the cardinal provides or has been made public elsewhere.

Dziwisz is probably at his best in describing Pope John Paul II’s actions regarding Poland and other countries behind the Iron Curtain.

The situation in Latin America is probably less understood. Many Church leaders and theologians there could echo the politics/human-rights viewpoint quoted above—without coming to the same conclusions that John Paul II did.

This volume has a single photo (the pope ordaining Dziwisz a bishop) but no index.

Dziwisz received a doctorate in theology from the Pontifical Faculty of Theology of Kraków in 1981, became a titular bishop in 1998 and a titular archbishop in 2003, was appointed archbishop of Kraków in 2005 and became a cardinal a year later. This volume provides none of that information.

A Life With Karol offers a unique viewpoint and is an engaging read.

You can order A LIFE WITH KAROL: My Forty-Year Friendship With the Man Who Became Pope from St. Francis Bookshop.


A STUPID, UNJUST, AND CRIMINAL WAR: Iraq 2001-2007, by Andrew Greeley. Orbis Books. 215 p. $19.

Reviewed by the REV. LAWRENCE M. VENTLINE, D.Min., a Catholic priest for three decades and founding director of Cura Animarum (Care of the Soul), a special counseling assignment for the Archdiocese of Detroit. A nationally certified personal trainer, spiritual director, and wellness and nutrition consultant, Father Ventline has authored seven books.

THIS SIX-YEAR HISTORY and commentary of the war in Iraq from 2001 to 2007 comes from the prolific pen of priest-author-sociologist Andrew Greeley. He is a research associate with the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at the University of Chicago and a professor of sociology at the University of Arizona. He is also a popular novelist.

In a dismal culture enveloped in terror and fear, Greeley reminds readers of the battle for the world’s resources, while raising concerns about morality and the just-war theory criteria he contends are unmet in the case of the Iraq war.

By way of an ethical and political examination of conscience, Greeley stretches the reader’s understanding of this war and pushes for an end to all war.

Standing with the late Pope John Paul II and now Pope Benedict XVI, Greeley has opposed the war from its inception. Here he details his objections to it with the same stubbornness of the popes. Like them, Greeley argues in his Introduction that the war in Iraq falls far short of the Catholic criteria for a just war: 1) The cause must be just; 2) All peaceful solutions must have been exhausted; 3) The means used must be proportionate; 4) The bad effects of the war must not exceed the good; and 5) There should be a reasonable hope of victory.

By his own admission, the author says he is “not an ideological pacifist,” confessing that he “supported the Afghan war” and laments “only that the Administration became too involved in Iraq to finish it.

“The American people would have resisted the Iraq war if it were not for the climate of anger and fear generated by the attack on the World Trade Center,” Greeley contends. American officials were in favor of an attack on Iraq long before the terrorist attack that ignited their support to invade Iraq without sufficient proof of weapons of mass destruction.

In this timely tome, Greeley wonders about his right as a Catholic priest to criticize the president. He further questions his place particularly after the pedophile mess, yet reminds clergy of their right and responsibility—let alone obligation—to condemn a war if they think it unjust and immoral.

Pained by the escalating loss of young soldiers and innocent bystanders, Greeley asks, “Why?” and “What for?” My own unhealed wound of the war in Vietnam and the demise of my oldest brother there 40 years ago last February, along with so many other Vietnamese and Americans killed back then, prompts me still to ask of that war, “Why?”

Urging his brother priests to speak out against the war in Iraq, Greeley concludes that if “we remain silent, the very stones will cry out.”

May other voices join the side of the Prince of Peace.

You can order A STUPID, UNJUST, AND CRIMINAL WAR: Iraq 2001-2007 from St. Francis Bookshop.


WE DARE TO SAY: An Adventure in Journaling, text by Kenneth Trainor, welcome by William Burke. ACTA Publications. 224 pp. $14.95.

Reviewed by BARBARA BECKWITH, book review editor of this publication.

INTIMIDATED BY A BLANK PAGE when you go to start journaling? Many spiritual directors advise keeping a journal of your thoughts so that you can see your dilemmas, patterns and God’s contributions to the conversation. Kenneth Trainor provides inspirational prompts and striking lines from Scripture to prime the pump. The bulk of the book is composed of empty lines for you to fill from your life and heart.

Trainor is a journalist who lives in Oak Park, Illinois. In the dedication, this layman cites a Trappist monk from New Melleray Abbey, Iowa, where he goes on retreat. He says Father Jim O’Connor “taught me most of what I know about the contemplative life.”

In the “Welcome,” Father William Burke, in residence at St. Julie’s Catholic Church in Tinley Park, Illinois, refers to Trainor’s book as “an adventure called meditation with a pen.” Trainor is his parishioner.

Trainor provides chapter headings like “Original Sin-tax,” “Wonder,” “Proverbs,” “Re-visions,” “Comparisons,” “Love Letters,” “Death Sentences” and “Life Sentences.” Meditation starters include gems like, “Wisdom is the ultimate one-liner, the punch line without the laughter,” “Speak your fears. Call their bluff,” “It’s time to let the Earth go fallow” and “I have studied the stars too long to fear the night.”

This is not a book to work through logically, but to skip around in, depending on your mood and what’s going on in your life on that day. I’m not fond of self-destructive books that can only be used by one person, so I started writing responses to some of these prompts in my own notebook. (That way I can recycle this book to someone else.)

But the book proved valuable in unblocking something that the God within was trying to tell me. And it helps deal with the big questions in life, like happiness, calling and destiny, life and death.

My only complaint is the cover, which features a Waterman fountain pen. That illustration could make it look as if a person needs expensive equipment to get going. Someone with a Bic pen can produce just as profound thoughts as anyone writing with a Waterman.

The publisher recommends this as a gift book for “graduates of any stripe.” It can spark a spiritual quest to know yourself and to get closer to God through writing.

You can order WE DARE TO SAY: An Adventure in Journaling from St. Francis Bookshop.


SPEAKING OF FAITH: Why Religion Matters—and How to Talk About It, by Krista Tippett. Viking Press. 240 pp. $23.95.

Reviewed by MARK M. WILKINS, a teacher at St. Xavier High School in Cincinnati, Ohio.

SEVERAL MONTHS AGO, a national poll indicated that belief in God was a key factor voters would use in assessing candidates for president in the election of 2008.

The important question for thoughtful readers would be whether it is candidates’ faith experience, their doctrinal stands or their religious practices that are being watched.

Krista Tippett, host of public radio’s Speaking of Faith series, starts her book of the same name with a reflection on faith, spirituality and religion. Her text is geared toward a more constructive path of conversation about religion, politics and culture than many hear on talk radio.

While acknowledging that religious zeal has brought about division and distrust, the author believes that the spiritual energy of our time can counter any religious excesses of any denomination or tradition.

While most of the thinking of the 1960s and 1970s was promoting secularization and the diminishing role of religious practices, we have discovered that other disciplines don’t raise the ultimate questions of morality and that a privatized religion is a failing religion.

Listeners often ask her how she frames the questions she asks her guests and how she has been affected by her listening. Her response is to build upon the idea that all of us who are believers are “walking-around theologians,” to borrow a phrase. We build upon the stuff of our lives, as well as the foundations of the traditions that we choose to follow, in our quest for greater understanding of who we are and who God has created us to be.

By exploring the intellectual and spiritual content of our time, Tippett says in Chapter 3, we get the opportunity to reframe the truths spoken by our religious traditions. The answers we get are as much shaped by the way we frame the question as they are by the resources and texts we use to articulate a response.

Narrative theology is the heart of the fourth chapter as the author starts with the first-person approach to religious speech. This essentially humanizes doctrine and bars abstractions about how God touches our lives. She makes the point that the nature of God is revealed not only in doctrine, dogma, ritual and tradition but also in our lives which we use to construct our own sense of meaning and purpose. People know that someone can disagree with another’s opinions or doctrines, but not with their lived experience.

The final two chapters offer thoughts on virtue and mystery, and delve into the spiritual ideas and practices that address our deepest cultural and personal confusions. Her reflections are offered in contrast to the sometimes harsh words that are ofttimes used to state correct positions that promote certainty rather than reverence and humility.

The author was born the night that John Kennedy was elected president. Politics seemed to be his primary arena, rather than religion. Tippett too was charged by the possibilities of political solutions to world conflict. She spent her 20s as a journalist and as a diplomat in Berlin.

When her questions started being more about life’s meaning, she returned to America and enrolled in divinity school. In the 1990s, she recognized that in-depth religious discourse was generally absent from journalism. She wanted to offer more than sound bites which fit neatly on placards and bumper stickers.

Speaking of Faith was begun on American Public Media to add depth and interfaith perspective to the discussion of religious ideas. She came up with the idea while consulting for the Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural Research at St. John’s Abbey and University in Collegeville, Minnesota. The radio program began as an occasional feature in 2000, then became a national weekly program in 2003.

Reading this book has gotten me to be a more regular listener to her program on Sunday evenings. The book has also exposed me to a wider array of teachers, authors, writers and activists to help me understand for myself and to explain to my friends and students what it is I believe and why I believe it.

My one nit-picking complaint is that a list of the works written by the people to whom she refers would have helped me. The book left me wanting more. I guess I’ll keep tuning in.

You can order SPEAKING OF FAITH: Why Religion Matters—and How to Talk About It from St. Francis Bookshop.


Vocations Today

Vocation means a calling from God. Nowadays, that can refer to more than just the priesthood and religious life.

DIVERSITY OF VOCATIONS, by Marie Dennis (Orbis Books, 142 pp., $10), is the first in the Orbis/Benziger series on Catholic spirituality for adults. Dennis is a mother and a founding member of Washington, D.C.’s Assisi Community, a small lay community of families inspired by the ideals of Sts. Francis and Clare. She writes about how a person’s vocation can change over the years and how everyone is called to discipleship and happiness.

FARMER TO FATHER: Finding God in People, Places and Events, by Father Louis Studer, O.M.I. (Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, 183 pp., $12). This is the memoir of an Iowa boy who never liked farm chores and somehow discerned that he had a vocation to a religious order and the priesthood. Father Studer recently completed 10 years as director of the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows, St. Anthony Messenger’s longtime back-cover advertiser.

AS WE KNEW HIM: Reflections on M. Basil Pennington, compiled and edited by Michael Moran and Ann Overton (Paraclete Press, 207 pp., $29.95). Twice I met Trappist Father Pennington, one of the key promoters of the Centering Prayer movement. Here, 29 people who knew him well try to give some sense of this deep man of faith who died three years ago.


Books can be obtained through St. Francis Bookshop on the Web or at 8621 Winton Road, Cincinnati, OH 45231, phone 1-800-241-6392. All orders must be prepaid. Add $4 for postage and handling, $2 more for each additional book. Ohio residents should also add 6.5 percent for sales tax. The Bookshop offers a free catalog.

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