Pope John Paul II prays during a Mass in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican in 2003. CNS photo by Alessia Giuliani, Catholic Press Photo
It's the stuff editorial dreams are made of -- a newly discovered, previously unpublished, readable book on a relevant topic written by a famous, beloved, holy, (and deceased) author. I wouldn't think editing a book like that was even remotely possible for anyone, let alone me. And yet, by God's grace, "Teachings for an Unbelieving World: Newly Discovered Reflections on Paul's Sermon at the Areopagus," by Pope St. John Paul II, will be published in English in March, 2020, by Ave Maria Press.
It's exciting to be part of a historic publication, but more than proud, I'm grateful for the privilege. That's because a project like this starts with being in the right place at the right time. In this instance, that was the 2019 Los Angeles Religious Education Congress, a massive Catholic expo I've attended for work for the past few years. I go to conferences and events to scout for new authors and watch for upcoming interests and trends. But I also meet with peers and other publishers who may be working on things I ought to know about. To that end, I always set aside time to meet with the Vatican publishing house.
As I listened to information about the books they were preparing to release, I was told that this manuscript -- handwritten by Archbishop Karol Wojtyla in Polish -- had literally been found in a drawer. More importantly, English language rights were available. That's when I went into high gear; doing everything I could to expedite the famously slow process of editorial acquisitions. Honestly, I haven't experienced a competitive rush like that in years. But the work of getting a big enough sample of the Polish and Italian text translated into English quickly turned into a deeply personal and spiritual encounter with the author.
I received a PDF of the Polish edition, complete with photographs of the handwritten pages, at 3 a.m. Pacific Time. I'm not sure why I woke up, or why I listened to that little nudge to check my email in the middle of the night. But when I opened the attachment and saw that first handwritten page, I felt as if the Holy Father was right there in my hotel room. As I typed the table of contents and the first few paragraphs into an online translator, the words resonated with John Paul's voice. There he was, speaking to the Church once again, and there I was, one of the first English speakers to read this strangely timely work.
Probably written in 1966, just after the close of the Second Vatican Council, Wojtyla opens up the Scriptures in a series of 13 brief catecheses on Acts 17. Although it would be another 12 years before a conclave would elect him pope, the book reads like a preamble to his entire pontificate. Truth, freedom, responsibility, new evangelization, the spousal and redemptive nature of human love -- all the familiar hallmarks of John Paul's thought are there, like the first rays of sunlight on the horizon of history that was yet to unfold.
The joy of being able to bring this work to publication in English is augmented by the fact that this year, 2020, is the centenary of St. John Paul II's birth. On Feb. 9, I will begin a 100-day countdown to that anniversary by tweeting and posting a daily quote from St. John Paul's numerous works, including a few from "Teachings for an Unbelieving World."
There are times when the value of the work we do every day is clear to us. I am certain that for me, it will never be clearer than the day this last word of St. John Paul II is published -- with a foreword by George Weigel and an introduction by Scott Hahn -- in English.
- Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a Catholic convert, wife, and mother of eight. Inspired by the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales, she is an author, speaker, and musician, and serves as a senior editor at Ave Maria Press. Find Jaymie on Facebook or follow her on Twitter @YouFeedThem.