Two women writers in Britain have teamed up for a special project this year to produce a book and a TV programme about Saint John Paul, focussing on his prayer life. “St John Paul – The Spiritual Life of a Saint”, by Clare Anderson and Joanna Bogle, was published to mark his canonisation, and the authors have also made a programme for EWTN about the saint’s life. They both discuss the project in this May 21 interview with ZENIT.
ZENIT: How did this project come about?
Joanna Bogle: We’ve worked together a bit over the years: I edited a small Catholic magazine for which Clare was a regular contributor and so on. And we’d meet for occasional chatty lunches, catching up on news. The book idea grew out of a couple of conversations about John Paul and about the message that he had for us all.
ZENIT: Was it a difficult project?
Joanna Bogle: Yes and no. It really has been a wonderful experience, and a joyful one. Of course there was plenty of reading and studying to do, but both if us had done a great deal of reading material by and about John Paul before we even thought of this project. We just had to get a lot more serious about putting it all together.
ZENIT: You visited Poland to research the book and to make a TV programme. Were there any special moments in the visits? Special memories you will always carry?
Clare Anderson: It’s hard to single out any specific memories as everything was so incredible. Visiting Wadowice, the Pope’s birthplace, seeing the church where he was baptised and which is virtually a shrine to him and sharing a Wojtyla pizza with Joanna for lunch! Then there was meeting Cardinal [Stanislaw] Dziwisz [John Paul II’s former personal secretary], who was so open and welcoming, ‘call me Father Stanislaus’. Almost everywhere you turn in Poland, there is a statue or a picture of St John Paul. At Czestochowa there is a huge statue of Jerzy Popielusko, a reminder of the suffering church which St John Paul was so instrumental in liberating. Then too, who could forget the Divine Mercy sanctuary, with its message of God’s mercy to a broken world? I have come to love Poland for its own sake, especially Krakow, a city of stunning beauty.
ZENIT: Was it a challenge to write a book with some one else? How did you operate as a team?
Joanna Bogle: We actually found it a lot easier than we imagined it would be. We each took different aspects of St John Paul’s life and message – for example, I took the theme of Poland, and also his Marian theology, and his teaching on freedom, while Clare tackled his childhood, mystical prayer, and the influence of Jan Tyranowski. We sent the various chapters to one another by email, and each worked on them. It all went very smoothly: in fact the only bit we found difficult was checking on the fine details of the footnotes, the page numbers, the correct way of putting the publishers’ names and so forth. We’ve dedicated the book to our husbands: we feel they deserved our special love and thanks for their support and encouragement throughout.
ZENIT: Have you found the example of St. John Paul important in your own life? Has he become a saint to whom you pray?
Clare Anderson: I believe there are specific saints for people, and it’s important for every Catholic to find their own heavenly patrons. At first, I thought John Paul would be a particular saint for Poles and young people, and this disqualifies me on both counts! I’m glad to say I was completely wrong. Though at his death I felt there was an outpouring of grace that was for everyone, whether Catholic or not. However, his influence on me personally has been immense, although it has grown slowly. With all the burdens of being Pope he managed to remain in a state of constant prayer, something that challenges all of us to go more deeply in our relationship with God. I certainly do pray to him, he and St. Benedict are my ‘go-to’ saints. I believe my growing closeness to Our Lady is also a fruit of his help.
Joanna Bogle: That goes for me, too. I had simply seen him as a great man, an exciting and dynamic Pope, someone I admired. But as we worked on the book, and visited places in Poland where he lived and worked, I came to understand his deep holiness. I now often invoke his intercession in prayer. He is a saint for today, a saint who feels very close to us. I went, with my husband Jamie, to the canonisation, and I was struck again and again by the atmosphere of prayer, the reverence at the canonsation Mass celebrated by Pope Francis, the huge numbers of young people praying at night in the candlelit churches. John Paul is still bringing people closer to God.
St John Paul: The Spiritual Life of a Saint, by Clare Anderson and Joanna Bogle, is published by Gracewing Books, Leominster, England.