[ Table of Contents | Onward ]


In October of 1993 John Paul II would complete fifteen years of his papacy. For the occasion the Holy Father accepted Italian Radio and Television's proposal for a televised interview that would be transmitted by the major networks around the world. It would have been the first ever in the history of the papacy, a history which, over the centuries, has experienced just about everything. But never before had a successor to Peter participated in a live televised interview with a journalist whose questions were entirely of his own making.

I was told that I had been chosen to conduct the interview because of the many religious books-especially The Ratzinger Report (1985)-and articles I have written over the years, with the freedom of a layman, but also as a believer who knows that the Church is given not only to the clergy but to each of the baptized.

The Pope, however, did not take into consideration how relentless his schedule would be in September, which was the deadline for filming, and allowed enough time for the director and technicians to work on the material before the broadcast. In the end, the Pope's many obligations prevented his participation and the project fell through at the last moment.

A few months passed. Then one day another telephone call came from the Vatican-again entirely unforeseen. On the line was the Press Secretary for the Holy See, Dr. Joaquín Navarro-Valls, a very efficient, cordial, friendly Spanish psychiatrist who had gone into journalism and who had been one of the staunchest supporters of the interview. Dr. Navarro-Valls was the bearer of a message that (he assured me) had surprised even him. The Pope, he said, sent him to say: "Even if there wasn't a way to respond to you in person, I kept your questions on my desk. They interested me. I didn't think it would be wise to let them go to waste. So I thought about them and, after some time, during the brief moments when I was free from obligations, I responded to them in writing. You have asked me questions, therefore you have a right to responses....I am working on them. I will let you have them. Then do with them what you think is appropriate."

Once again John Paul II confirmed his reputation for being "the Pope of surprises"-an attribute that has characterized him from the time of his election, which upset all predictions.

One day at the end of April 1994, during a meeting in my house with Dr. Navarro-Valls, he pulled from his briefcase a big white envelope. Inside was the text I had been told about, straight from the hands of the Pope himself. He had vigorously underlined many points-which the reader will find italicized in the text, according to the instructions of the author. Likewise, the space breaks separating one paragraph from another are also preserved. The title of the book was chosen by John Paul II. He wrote it himself on the cover of the folder containing his manuscript, specifying, however, that this was only a suggestion and that he would leave it up to the editors to make the final decision on the book's title. We decided to keep his title exactly as written because we realized that it perfectly identified the heart of the message these pages convey.

A dutiful respect for a text in which every word counts obviously guided me in the editing work I was requested to do. I limited myself to the translation of Latin expressions, which appear in parentheses; to minimal readjustments in the punctuation; to the completion of proper names; to the suggestion of a synonym where a word was repeated in the same paragraph; and to the modification of some-rare-inaccuracies in the translation from the original Polish. Minutiae that in no way altered the content.

Introducing new questions into the text where needed was my most significant task. In fact, my original list of questions numbered only twenty. John

Paul II had answered them with surprising diligence, without avoiding one of them. The fact that he had taken a journalist so seriously is yet more proof-if there were ever a need-of his humility, of his generous availability to hear our voices, those of the common "Christians on the street."

The text, which will be published in Italy and simultaneously in all the major languages of the world, was examined and approved by the author himself. It is my duty to guarantee to the reader that the voice that resonates-in its humanity but also in its authority-is entirely that of the successor to Peter. It will now be the job of theologians and analysts of the papal teaching to face the problem of classifying a text that has no precedent and therefore poses new possibilities for the Church.

Above all else, the pages that follow make it clear that this is a Pope who is impatient in his apostolic zeal; a shepherd to whom the usual paths always seem insufficient; who looks for every means to spread the Good News to men; who-evangelically-wants to shout from the rooftops (today crowded with television antennae) that there is hope, that it has been confirmed, that it is offered to whoever wants to accept it. Even a conversation with a journalist is valued by this Pope as part of the tradition of Paul in the First Letter to the Corinthians: "I have become all things to all, to save at least some. All this I do for the sake of the gospel, so that I too may share in it" (1 Cor 9:22-23).

In such a climate all abstractions vanish. Dogma becomes flesh, blood, life. The theologian becomes witness and shepherd.

Vittorio Messori