George Weigel

To Sanctify the World: The Vital Legacy of Vatican II

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John Paul II
Knowing Suffering from Inside

Imagine yourself as a twenty-year-old Polish worker living in a dingy apartment in Dębniki, a working-class neighborhood of Kraków, in early 1941. After a brilliant beginning to your university career, your higher studies have been abruptly ended by the brutal Nazi occupation that followed the dismemberment of your country in September 1939 by two totalitarian powers. You’ve spent a year and a half at back-breaking manual labor, scratching out a living for yourself and your widower father, who has already lose one child, your beloved older brother. You live in a violent, lawless environment — “Gestapoland,” as one historian would later dub it — where the question posed to you every day is nor “Will I be alive on my next birthday?” but “Will I be alive tomorrow?” 

You come home one wintry night and find your father dead in his bed. Kneeling in prayer beside his mortal remains, you later recall, was an experience of the most profound solitude, even abandonment: “I never felt so alone.” Three and a half more years of life under Nazi awfulness lie before you, during which you will be struck down by a German military truck and left for dead in a ditch, only to be rescued by a passerby; and more of your friends will die, including Jews murdered in the Holocaust. By the end of the war, 20 percent of your countrymen who were alive in 1939 will be dead. You ask yourself, time and again, “So many young people of my own age are losing their lives; why not me?” 

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