From Publishers Weekly
The biographer of Pope John Paul II (Witness to Hope) chronicles the transition between John Paul's papacy and that of his successor, Pope Benedict XVI, in this blend of history, biography, analysis and forecasting. Readers familiar with John Paul's papacy will be tempted to skip over the first three chapters summarizing the late pope's life, plunging instead into what Weigel has to say about the new pontiff and how he was elected in one of the shortest conclaves in papal history. Of particular interest is Weigel's diary of the conclave, which combines his own observations with those of journalists, Vatican officials and cardinal-electors, none of whom, he attests, violated the oath of confidentiality in talking with him. His insights into Benedict are compelling and defy the caricature of the former cardinal as "God's Rottweiler." In a look toward the future church Benedict has the potential to shape, Weigel suggests the new pope is not likely to bring about revolutionary change in the area of liturgy and theological dissent, but could introduce reforms in such areas as Vatican diplomacy, the curial structure and the selection of bishops. The author's access to sources in and around the Vatican paired with his accessible writing style make this good reading for a broad audience.
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One of the foremost biographers of Pope John Paul II (Witness to Hope
, 1999) has five objectives in this exemplary book: to chronicle John Paul's last days, to assess the church as John Paul left it, to report the deliberations of the conclave that elected Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger to succeed John Paul, to sketch the new pope's career and personality, and to suggest what Benedict XVI's papacy could bring. Weigel adopts a different manner for each objective. He is a magisterial historian for John Paul's decline and death, an authoritative analyst of the state of the church, a creative journalist reporting about the conclave (literally creative: this part of the book appears in diary form), a judicious profiler in his precis on Ratzinger, and an interested counselor in his prognostications. Most impressive is the treatment of the end of John Paul's reign as a drama of reciprocal love between the pope and the church--indeed, the world--that climaxes in the cries of "Magnus
" ("great") and "Santo subito
" (roughly, "sainthood now") that interrupt the papal funeral. Only Weigel's advocational forecasting seems a little wanting. Curial reform, better-coordinated Vatican communications, reestablishing bishops' pastoral responsibilities, principled rapprochement with still-Communist China and conflict-laden Islam, and other good things are nice to encourage. But Weigel says nothing about one of the most important themes of John Paul's papacy, the church's teachings on social justice, prominently including the just wage (one sufficient for one worker to support a family and modestly save). Certainly John Paul's right-hand man for 24 years, Cardinal Ratzinger, won't ignore those teachings, though neoconservative fellow traveler Weigel may wish he would. Ray OlsonCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved