Next to London’s Westminster Cathedral is a large bookshop, run by St Paul’s Publishing. And it was here that a very happy gathering took place this week, marking the publication of a new book for children, “Blessed John Paul the Great”, written by your EWTN London correspondent. The launch was timed to link with the feast-day of Blessed John Paul.
I loved working on this book. In the small book-lined room where I sit at my computer every day, a photograph on the shelf depicts my husband being greeted by Pope John Paul. Jamie is handing him a brochure and a t-shirt – these were from the big International Congress for the Family which we organised in Britain in the summer of 1990. We don’t know whether Pope John Paul ever wore the t-shirt, but he did sign a Bible which Jamie also handed him, and this Bible, one of my most treasured possessions, is right next to my desk and is much used.
I felt that today’s children needed an up-to-date book about the great John Paul. It is six years since he died – for a ten-year-old, he seems to belong already to history. What an extraordinary life he had! The years of the German occupation of Poland in World War II, working in a quarry, training secretly for the priesthood, taking part in meetings of an underground theatre group presenting plays and poetry, evading round-ups and imprisonment. Then the years as a young priest and a Bishop in a Poland ruled by a Communist government where the Church was the voice for freedom and for human dignity. And then that conclave in Rome that elected John Paul I, who reigned as Pope for just 33 days – and then the election of a Polish Pope and the opening of a whole new chapter of history.
Blessed John Paul’s life is an adventure story – the assassination attempt in 1981, the great missionary journeys around the world, the foundation of World Youth Day, the meetings with heads of state and with leaders of all the world’s religions. It is also a story of faith and prayer – the hours spent before the Blessed Sacrament, the daily Office, the rosaries prayed in so many places, the centrality of the Mass. It is a story of great personal courage – he suffered badly after the first assassination attempt (and there was a later one in which a priest from a schismatic group lunged at him and drew blood) and later he had a stomach tumour, the removal of his appendix, a painful hip operation, and, of course, the Parkinson’s Disease which eventually immobilised him. It is a story of wisdom – the great encyclicals on Divine Mercy, on the Spendour of Truth, on Christ as the Redeemer of Man.
Writing about Blessed John Paul for children was a joy – an opportunity to communicate great and good things. And I worked with a great illustrator, Kati Teague, whose charming pictures bring the whole story alive.
The launch party was fun – lots of talk, delicious snacks and wine, a celebration chocolate cake, a festive mood and sense of celebrating a landmark. Blessed John Paul actually visited Westminster Cathedral – during his wonderful visit to Britain in 1982. We mark the 30th anniversary of that visit next year. I am thrilled to have written a book about Blessed John Paul in the year of his Beatification.
For information: you can find out more about the book at: http://www.stpauls.org.uk/default/blessed-john-paul-the-great.html