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What Francis thinks of John Paul II: New book-interview on “John Paul the Great”

San Giovanni Paolo Magno

Pope Francis (with Luigi Maria Epicoco) | San Paolo

Giovanni Marcotullio - published on 02/19/20

Pope Francis also speaks out about gender ideology as one of the evils of the day.

Out now in Italian bookstores (and translations already underway) is the most recent book by Pope Francis, dedicated to his Polish predecessor, titled “Saint John Paul the Great” (“San Giovanni Paolo Magno”). To be precise, it’s a book-interview collaboration with a young Italian priest (also a professor and author), Fr. Luigi Maria Epicoco.

We spoke with the author:

Aleteia: When and how did the idea of the book come about?

Fr. Luigi Maria Epicoco: The idea was born during a conversation with the pope in June of last year: I told him about my project of a short spiritual biography for the 100th anniversary of the birth of Pope Wojtyła. At that point, the pope told me some personal anecdotes related to his predecessor, and from there came the idea of collecting his testimony and including it in this book. From then until Christmas we met periodically to organize and put together this shared project.

Aleteia: Between John Paul II and Francis … is there room for Benedict XVI?

Fr. Luigi Maria Epicoco: One could not think of the first two without the third: Benedict remains the true bridge between the end of an important pontificate like that of John Paul II and another important pontificate, which would never have existed without the choices and intuitions of Pope Benedict.

Several times, moreover, in the course of conversations, Pope Francis reiterated that, in his opinion, in 2005 the only person who could take up the legacy of John Paul II was Cardinal Ratzinger.

Aleteia: Which section of this book is dearest to you?

Fr. Luigi Maria Epicoco: In the chapter “The Priest” I asked the Holy Father for a word about spiritual direction, given that in Christus Vivit he also invited young people to be accompanied in their growth and that John Paul II himself had several exceptional companions, among them the lay saint Jan Tyranowski. The pope has repeatedly stressed that the ministry of spiritual direction should not be thought of primarily as something that the Church can or should codify, in the manner of established ministries: :

… basically spiritual direction is a charisma. It is not so much a function, but a paternity, a brotherhood that finds its ultimate root not in our organization but in the life of the Spirit. Certainly it’s inherent in the priest’s duty to offer direction, but I reiterate the basic idea that spiritual direction is a charism, which in some cases is strongly manifested and in others is more difficult to recognize, and that it is not only something given to priests but also to lay people and consecrated women, because it is a charism of the baptized. Pope Francis (with Luigi Maria Epicoco), St. John Paul the Great, 76-77

Aleteia: And which section of this book do you think is dearest to the Pope?

Fr. Luigi Maria Epicoco: It’s difficult to say if he has a favorite part. The Holy Father wanted to review the drafts with care, and I had the joy of personally handing him two copies of the printed volume, which he received with enthusiasm. I don’t think I’m wronging anyone if I reveal that, in the revision phases, his attention was once again focused on his answer to a question of mine about more specific ways in which evil is present and active at this precise historical juncture. The pope gave a very clear answer indicating that “one of these” ways is “gender theory,” and adding some important clarifications that even in the (sometimes virulent) current debate one would do well to take into account.

Given the delicacy of the theme and the importance of the nuances, with the permission of the publisher, we give a preview of this response of the pope, which is our own translation.

In every historical epoch, evil has manifested itself in different ways. In your opinion, at this historical moment, what is the most specific way in which evil is present and active? One of these is gender theory. However, I want to make it clear at once that by saying this I am not referring to those who have a homosexual orientation. On the contrary, the Catechism of the Catholic Church invites us to accompany and take pastoral care of these brothers and sisters. My reference is broader and concerns a dangerous cultural root. It implicitly proposes to destroy at its root that project of creation which God has willed for each of us: diversity, distinction. [It aims] to make everything homogeneous, neutral. It’s an attack on difference, on the creativity of God, on man and woman. If I say this clearly, it is not to discriminate against anyone, but simply to warn everyone against the temptation to fall into what was the insane project of the inhabitants of Babel: to annul diversity in order to seek in this annulment a single language, a single form, a single people. This apparent uniformity has led them to self-destruction because it is an ideological project that does not take into account reality, the true diversity of people, the uniqueness of each person, the difference of each person. It is not the annulment of difference that will make us closer, but it is the acceptance of the other in his difference, in the discovery of richness in difference. It is the fruitfulness present in difference that makes us human beings in the image and likeness of God, but above all capable of welcoming others for what they are and not for what we want to transform them into. Christianity has always given priority to facts more than to ideas. In gender theory, we see how an idea wants to impose itself on reality, and this in a devious way. It wants to undermine humanity in all areas and in all possible areas of education, and it is becoming a cultural imposition which, more than being born from below, is imposed from above by some states themselves as the only possible cultural path to which we must adapt. Ibid, p. 103-105


Pope Francis also speaks about the “harmony” in his views of the priesthood and those of John Paul II. For example, speaking of celibacy, he says:

I am convinced that celibacy is a gift, a grace, and following in the footsteps of Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI, I strongly feel an obligation to think of celibacy as a decisive grace that characterizes the Latin Catholic Church. I repeat: It is a grace.

Pope Francis and Luigi Maria Epicoco, St. John Paul the Great (“San Giovanni Paolo Magno”), St. Paul, 128 pages, 12 euros

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