This story continues a Denver Catholic Register summer reading series on Catholic-themed books with a Colorado connection.
An Amazon search for “biography of Pope John Paul II” revealed more than 1,200 items. In the course of studying John Paul II the last 20 years, author Jason Evert has read some 50 biographies of the now-sainted pontiff.
Because of his holiness and magnetic presence during a 27-year pontificate, the story of the Holy Father’s life has been told many times. In a new book “Saint John Paul the Great: His Five Loves,” Evert took a different approach: he relayed personal stories of the pope as told to him firsthand by some of the people who knew him best.
“As I’ve traveled around the world the last 15 years or so speaking, I’ve met so many bishops and cardinals that knew John Paul very intimately,” explained Evert, an international chastity speaker who has delivered talks to more than 1 million people on six continents. “Whenever I met such individuals, I asked them countless questions about John Paul.”
Some would talk for hours, he said, sharing special stories such as a camping trip, or describing the time he led their high school retreat while serving as a cardinal in Poland.
“I began compiling them,” Evert said of the hours of interviews. “The challenge was choosing which ones to include because remarkable stories kept coming.”
Sources included Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, the pope’s longtime personal secretary; Cardinal Justin Rigali, who accompanied John Paul II on more than three dozen pilgrimages to English-speaking countries; Father Michael White, who helped organize his trip to the Archdiocese of Baltimore in 1995; as well as priests and bishops of his native Poland.
“When I interviewed these members of the clergy, they shared personal details of the Holy Father’s life that Catholics have never heard before,” he said.
According to Evert, the reason he chose this heartfelt approach is best explained by French writer Arsène Houssay who wrote: “Tell me whom you love, and I will tell you who you are.”
“What a perfect way to learn who John Paul II was, by looking into his heart,” Evert said. “What was it that captivated him? What was it that he loved?”
Five themes continually came to the surface in the course of his research: young people, human love, the Blessed Sacrament, the Virgin Mary and the Cross. Each has a dedicated chapter in the book.
“My goal is not just help readers love John Paul, but to help them love ‘who’ and ‘what’ he loved,” Evert said. “To enkindle a deeper love for these things in their hearts.”
Since its release, a month before St. John Paul II’s April 27 canonization, the book has sold 180,000 copies.
“I want people to use the book to evangelize others, to catechize others, to reenergize them in their faith,” he said. “Because if you read how much John Paul loved the Eucharist, and why, then all the sudden you’ll realize: ‘Maybe it should be more important in my life too.'”
Evert’s book was fact-checked by George Weigel, distinguished senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, syndicated columnist for the Denver Catholic Register and author of the authoritative biography of John Paul II “Witness to Hope”—as well as by Cardinal Dziwisz. It can be purchased for as little as $2 (bulk orders) at www.JP2book.com and in Catholic bookstores. Evert lives in Lakewood with his wife Crystalina and their five children.
“Saint John Paul the Great: His Five Loves”
Author: Jason Evert
Purchase: www.JP2book.com or Catholic bookstores
Orders or questions: Call 888-865-5839
Price: $2 bulk-rate paperback, $21.95 hardcover, $18.77 Kindle