Learn the History of One City, through One Special Life
By George Weigel, author of City of Saints: A Pilgrimage To John Paul II’s KRAKóW (Image, October 2015)
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There are many ways to learn a city, but learning it through the life of one of its greatest sons may be as good an introduction as any. Especially when the city is historic, beautiful Kraków, and the son is Karol Wojtyła, who would become Pope St. John Paul II.
Wojtyła spent exactly forty years in Krakow, as student, priest, university lecturer and chaplain, and archbishop. Between 1938 and 1978, the drama of the city he called “my beloved Kraków” worked its way into the texture of his mind and soul: Kraków’s love of freedom; Kraków’s tolerance and civility; Kraków’s life as an artistic and intellectual center; Kraków as a city of saints. When he was called from Kraków to Rome by the conclave that elected him pope, Wojtyła took that Cracovian experience with him. And then, as Pope John Paul II, he used the best of Kraków’s history and culture to bend the curve of the future in a more humane direction, using distinctively Cracovian themes and tools to lead the revolution of conscience that would eventually breach the Berlin Wall and end the division of Europe.
Kraków experienced the worst of the twentieth century in a singular way: five years of a draconian Nazi occupation (during which the horrors recorded in Schindler’s List took place in the city), followed by the communist attempt to remake Poland through Stalinist terror. Living under both totalitarian systems, Karol Wojtyła learned how to be a different kind of resistance fighter: someone who fought lies with truth, and evil with good, by creating zones of freedom in which his people could live. He also learned that the answer to the awfulness of the twentieth century, which Kraków had experienced in such a painful way, had been given in his city, in the visions of divine mercy experienced by an obscure Polish nun in the late 1930s. And as Pope John Paul II, he carried that message of God’s mercy as the cure for the wounds of a shattered world around the globe.
I invite you to introduce your students to the dramatic history and majestic culture of Kraków, through the life of one of the most beloved and interesting religious figures of the 20th Century.
GEORGE WEIGEL, Distinguished Senior Fellow of Washington’s Ethics and Public Policy Center, is a Catholic theologian and one of America’s foremost commentators on issues of religion and public life. A Newsweek contributor and Vatican analyst for NBC News, Weigel is the author of fifteen books, including the New York Times bestseller Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II. His work has been translated into more than a dozen languages.