A man who embraced the world

Pope John Paul II by Hugh Costello (History Press, €8.50/£6.99)

In advance of the canonisation of Blessed John XXIII and Blessed John Paul II, this brief biography of the Polish Pontiff charts his rise from obscurity through years of difficult struggle in Poland to become an influential global statesman, who had the longest papal reign in history.

As Pope John Paul II he revolutionised the office, galvanising the faithful, fighting totalitarianism and inspiring millions. In the process, he dismayed many, but delighted others, with his autocratic style and inflexible stance on issues such as contraception and women priests.

He was a man who had a truly universal impact. His ebullient warmth won him the hearts and minds of individual believers, yet he was a man who embraced the world. 

Journalist and dramatist Hugh Costello explores what it was that made John Paul such an important figure: the importance of his Polish background, his métier as an actor rather than an intellectual, his immediate contact with people. He was aware always that a man in the office he held must always be acting out the role of Pontiff if he is to be at all effective. 

He forced changes upon the Church, yet in other ways was seen as wisely conservative. The attempt on his life had a profound effect on his outlook and interior life. In those last years his very public battle with Parkinson’s disease did not seem to diminish his authority. Yet perhaps his constant travels meant that others at Rome were able to act as they wish, a factor in the concealment of the rising scandal of clerical child abuse.