John Paul II and the City of Saints: An Interview with George Weigel
Few people know St. John Paul II better than George Weigel. He wrote the definitive English-language biography on the saint, titled Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II, along with the best-selling sequel, The End and the Beginning: Pope John Paul II—The Victory of Freedom, the Last Years, the Legacy
Today marks the release of Weigel’s newest book on John Paul II, titled City of Saints: A Pilgrimage to John Paul II’s Kraków (Image, 2015).
In this beautiful new book, Weigel explores how the stories of Karol Wojtyła, St. John Paul II, and the city of Kraków are interwoven, showing those connections through a chronological pilgrimage. Weigel brings us into the streets and colorful places of Kraków, Poland, unveiling its dramatic history and majestic culture where a boy grew into a man, a priest, a bishop—and eventually an apostle to the world.
Today I sit down with George to discuss St. John Paul II and his new book. Enjoy!
BRANDON VOGT: What made you decide to write City of Saints?
GEORGE WEIGEL: Kraków is one of the world’s great cities; but it’s not as well known as Prague, among the east central European cities, and I thought something should be done about that. More importantly, Kraków is also one of the pivot-points of modern history—the place where the twentieth century happened, in a unique way. Revisiting that drama through the life of Karol Wojtyła, who came from Krakow, became Pope John Paul II, and changed the course of modern history seemed a good idea.
BRANDON VOGT: What was the research/writing process like for this book?
GEORGE WEIGEL: Add it all up, and I’ve probably spent more than a year and a half in Kraków since 1991, so I knew a lot of the story, and what I didn’t know was ably filled in by Carrie Gress, who did the historical notes for the book. The writing was a pleasure: it’s always fun to tell the story of a place and a man you love, so that others may love them, too.
BRANDON VOGT: You’ve spent a significant amount of time in Kraków researching your books, teaching, and speaking at academic symposiums. Of all the locales mentioned in the book, do you have a favorite?
GEORGE WEIGEL: It’s hard to pick out one, although the Main Market Square is certainly a favorite – a crossroads of culture and conversation where an enormous mix of humanity…well, mixes. Wawel Cathedral is thick with history, and I never tire of going back there.
BRANDON VOGT: World Youth Day 2016 will take place in Kraków, the longtime home of its founder St. John Paul II. Can you talk a bit about the significance of this event particularly as it relates to your book?
GEORGE WEIGEL: I thought the participants of World Youth Day-2016 deserved a book that was something more than the usual guidebook: something that got you into the texture of the city through the rich texture of John Paul II’s remarkable life. That’s what I’ve tried to provide. The book also serves, in a way I hadn’t anticipated when I first thought of it, as a kind of introduction to my two-volume biography of John Paul II, Witness to Hope and The End and the Beginning.
BRANDON VOGT: How would you like to see this book used?
GEORGE WEIGEL: I hope it will introduce readers to the great story of a city and a man who refused to accept the tyranny of the possible, and by standing firm for truth helped bend the curve of history in a more human direction. There are lessons in that for all of us.