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.
Q. What was the research/writing process like for this book?
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.
Q. 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?
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.
Q. 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?
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.
Q. How would you like to see this book used?
I hope it will introduce readers to the great story of a city and a man who refused the 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.