John Paul II Doesn't Dwell on the Past, Says Aide

«A Very Realistic Man,» Insists Navarro Valls

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MADRID, Spain, MAY 27, 2004 ( John Paul II’s latest book shows that his «interest is not focused on the past but on the future,» says a Vatican spokesman.

Joaquín Navarro Valls, director of the Vatican press office, gave that assessment Wednesday during the presentation of the Pope’s book, «Arise! Let Us Go!»

The presentation took place in the Apostolic Nunciature, attended by Archbishop Manuel Monteiro de Castro, papal nuncio in Spain, who said that when reading the book «we feel a vibrating testimony of Christ’s love for every man.»

The book is a collection of memories and reflections, recounted since Karol Wojtyla’s episcopal ordination in 1958. Navarro Valls believes that «the Pope uses memories to elaborate a reflection that might serve for the present and the future.»

The Vatican spokesman added that «perhaps the word autobiography is not the most appropriate» to describe the literary genre of this book.

Although «the biographical content is of extraordinary interest,» it would seem, rather, that the Pope uses some biographical events «as a pretext to reflect,» Navarro Valls said.

Asked by a journalist about the risk of «pope-idolatry,» the Vatican spokesman replied: «The Pope does not want to be the protagonist, he wants the topics to be so.» He added that the Holy Father does all he can to avoid being the center of attention.

«In this book we recognize the important topics which we are already familiar with in his pontificate, especially those related to the value of the person,» Navarro Valls said. «The book helps to discover values that, if they have validity for the author, may be objectified and transmitted to others.»

The book is «tremendously optimistic, although not naive,» he added. «It stems from the conviction that the human being is far superior to all the hypotheses given by culture.»

In this connection, Navarro Valls made his «own exegesis» of the book’s title.

In «the cultural moment in which we are living, language has lost its unanimous meaning, and one no longer knows the meaning of words like human love or family because the value of the concepts has been lost,» the spokesman said. Yet, the Pope seems to say: «‘All right, I am aware of all those deficiencies, now, ‘Arise, Let Us Go!'»

Navarro Valls highlighted the Pope’s concern for each person. Once John Paul II has met a person, «I pray for him,» he says in the book.

The spokesman said that virtually no corrections had to be made to the first draft of the book. This ability of the Holy Father has to do with the «prior work» of reflection that precedes his books, enabling him to write them in one go.

«The Pope has written much and will continue to write,» Navarro Valls added. «I think I can say that this will not be his last book.»

Asked about the Pontiff’s health, the director of the Vatican press office said: «He is better than he was last year.»

«Neither we nor the Pope try to hide his physical limitations,» Navarro Valls added. «He does not think about tomorrow. He is, philosophically and existentially, a very realistic man.»

John Paul II maintains a full agenda. Every day he holds eight to 10 audiences in the morning alone, in which he is constantly changing languages, the Vatican spokesman observed.

In addition to his trip next month to Switzerland, the Pope is planning a trip to Lourdes to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, and to the Shrine of Loreto in Italy in September.

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