Reviewed by Eileen Quinn Knight, Ph.D.
John Paul II told the United Nations in 1995 that it must “safeguard the fundamental right to freedom of religion and freedom of conscience.” These were the very ‘cornerstones’ of human rights and a genuinely free society. “No one” he told the United Nations, “is permitted to suppress those rights by using coercive power to impose an answer to the mystery of man.” Every American living today should read those words, even if far too many refuse to listen. Beginning this list of 100 ways John Paul II changed the world with religious liberty is therefore fitting and essential. It signals the timeliness, if not timelessness, of this list, which tackles head-on hot button issues ranging from Islam to homosexuality, abortion, and much more. After starting with religious freedom, the list goes to the topic of dying with dignity which is a wonderful choice of the author, before addressing subjects and individuals such as the Shroud of Turin, Padre Pio, Fulton Sheen, theatre, Fatima, surviving assignation, Ronald Reagan, Mother Teresa, Our Lady of Guadalupe, liberation theology, socialism, angels, the Jesuits, Galileo, Cuba, Italy, women, suffering, sex abuse,. The Eucharist, the Culture of Life, and finishing with the New Evangelization, which is what this compilation by the author accomplished. This book evangelizes in a new way by featuring the very words and works of the man who urged a New Evangelization.
In this book, the author quotes John Paul II from over three decades ago in 1988, one of numerous occasions where in retrospect it seems like the man had a crystal ball: “The present day phenomenon of secularism is truly serious, not simply as regards the individual, but in some ways it regards whole communities, as the Council has already indicated: “Great numbers of people are abandoning religion in practice”. John Paul II’s level of productivity was extraordinary. The man produced a breathtaking theological legacy from numerous encyclicals and an updated Catechism and Rosary to approving a huge number of saints. What this pope accomplished is stunning to behold, and not easy to capture, even with a list of a hundred examples. In this time of the pandemic, the reader would be wise to borrow from the author’s list when St. John Paul II gave advice to us all: be not afraid.
I chose two ways that John Paul II changed the world: first, the sacrament of the Eucharist. He drew strength from Jesus’ true presence in the Blessed Sacrament, the source and summit of the Faith. He regularly lay prostrate before the tabernacle with his arms stretched out to the side so that his body formed a cross. He groaned as he prayed, often in a mystical, trance like state. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, he taught unites heaven and earth. At the beginning of the 2004-2005 year of the Eucharist, he said, “The Eucharist is a great mystery! And it is one which above all must be set at the center of the Christian life and celebrated in a dignified manner by every community. He consistently urged the faithful particularly priests, to learn to know Jesus better by spending time with Him in the Blessed Sacrament, particularly after Mass. “From this moment on, live the Eucharist fully, be persons for whom the Holy Mass, Communion and Eucharistic adoration are the center and summit of their whole life. The second way John Paul II changed the world is through devotion to Mary. He had an intense devotion to the Blessed Mother. His school teacher noted that sixteen-year-old Wojtula would write “To Jesus through Mary” or “Jesus Mary and Joseph” at the top of every page he submitted. His papal motto: Totus tuus expressed his devotion to Jesus’ Mother. John Paul’s papal teaching on Our Lady contains dozens of speeches and documents, including the encyclical Redemptoris Mater and a letter on the Rosary. He acknowledged Our Lady’s unique role in salvation history and her unique intercessory ability.
When a pope says with unwavering conviction that the church must commit all of her energies to an initiative, the faithful must sit up and take note. If the Catholic Church wee a corporation, evangelization would be core to its mission statement. Without doing the work of bringing souls to Christ, the Church is lost. Without doing the work of evangelization, Christians are lost. After all, faith without works is dead. The Holy Father put his emphasis on personal holiness and evangelization every day of his life. We are called to do the same. This book is an excellent way to get to know the many facets of St. John Paul II and the kinds of issues he brought in order that we would get to know this holy saint and imitate many of his outstanding qualities.