Poland honors papal biographer George Weigel with republic’s Order of Merit

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George Weigel
Polish President Andrzej Duda poses with St. John Paul II's American biographer, George Weigel, after he was awarded the Commander's Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland at the Presidential Palace in Warsaw May 13, 2024. (OSV News photo/Marek Borawski, courtesy Chancellery of the President of Poland)

KRAKOW, Poland (OSV News) — St. John Paul II’s American biographer, George Weigel, was awarded the Commander’s Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland by President Andrzej Duda at the Presidential Palace in Warsaw May 13.

Distinguished senior fellow at Washington’s Ethics and Public Policy Center, Weigel received the Polish state honor for “outstanding contributions for creating a positive image of Poland in the world,” the Chancellery of the President of Poland said.

Acknowledgment of Weigel’s contributions

The author of The New York Times bestselling biography of Pope John Paul, “Witness to Hope,” published in 1999 and its sequel, “The End and the Beginning,” “demonstrated the key role of the Polish Pope in the overthrow of communism,” the office of the Polish president said.

Thanking the Polish head of state, Weigel said that through him, he thanked the people of Poland for “this great honor.”

“Poland and its people have been a significant part of my life for over 30 years, and whatever I have managed to give Poland has been modest compensation for what Poland has given me,” he said at the ceremony.

He said that Poles, inspired by Pope John Paul were “determined to ‘live in the truth'” and managed to inspire a “new birth of freedom” in Europe. “All of us in the West remain in your debt for that,” he added.

The West, he said, “needs aroused consciences, living in the truth, especially the truth about the dignity of the human person, about which John Paul II taught us so much, and of which he gave such a magnificent example.”

Polish edition of ‘Witness to Hope’

Weigel came to Poland to promote a new Polish edition of “Witness to Hope,” first published in Poland in 2000. He kicked off meeting readers with a gathering in Warsaw May 13, to be followed by Poznan May 15 and Krakow May 17.

Dominican Father Tomasz Grabowski, director of “W drodze” publishing house, which is responsible for the new edition, said during a May 14 press conference in Warsaw’s headquarters of KAI, the Polish Catholic Information Agency, that repeating the success of the first editions of Pope John Paul’s biographies, with 250,000 copies published worldwide, is not the main goal of the new edition. “The purpose of the reissues is more missionary than commercial,” he said.

“Witness to Hope,” translated into more than a dozen languages, is needed anew now, especially for the young, Father Grabowski said.

“How (Pope John Paul) is perceived … depends on whether there is access to sources,” and not only those that get the facts right, Father Grabowski said, but those that will show the pope “internally.”

Weigel recalled during the press conference that at the beginning of his work on the biography, he asked one of the Polish historians he was interviewing: Isn’t it strange that it is an American researcher who is writing the pope’s biography? He said the historian told him “no, because Poles have too emotional a bond with John Paul II and what he accomplished.”

Looking forward with John Paul II’s vision

“That time is over,” said Weigel. “The time has come for Polish Catholics to stop looking back at this great man and start looking ahead with John Paul II’s eyes. It is necessary to take seriously John Paul II’s call for a new evangelization, in which everyone should see themselves as disciple-missionaries and carry out this missionary task in their own territory.”

When asked if Pope John Paul’s teaching will be relevant in 50 years, the American theologian expressed his belief that it will be relevant in a few hundred years as well, giving hope to millions.

“In America, I also see these signs of hope among young priests who decided to enter the priesthood already after the sexual abuse scandals and know that they are undertaking a missionary ministry that will not be easy,” Weigel said, acknowledging that Pope John Paul is still the model for these priests.

“They want to give the laity today the tools to go and convert in the world.”

Paulina Guzik

Paulina Guzik is international editor for OSV News. Follow her on Twitter @Guzik_Paulina.