A new book on St. John Paul II examines the relationship of the Polish pope with Central and Eastern European countries during the Cold War.
“Blood of your Blood, Bone of your Bone: The Pontificate of John Paul II (1978-2005) and the Churches in Central and Eastern Europe” is a 1,510-page volume with contributions from more than 50 authors.
At a virtual book launch Nov. 17, Archbishop Marek Jędraszewski of Kraków pointed out that the book’s title comes from the words that John Paul II spoke during his first apostolic journey to Poland in June 1979.
“Thus, dear fellow-countrymen, will this pope, blood of your blood, bone of your bone, sing with you, and with you he will exclaim: ‘May the glory of the Lord last forever,’” he said at the end of his Pentecost homily in Gniezno.
John Paul II was the first pope to visit a country in the Communist Bloc, the book’s editor, Fr. Jan Mikrut, said at the virtual launch, hosted by the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, which followed the book’s publication in October.
“John Paul II radically modified the traditional Vatican ‘Ostpolitik’ led by Archbishop Agostino Casaroli and oriented towards compromise with the communist governments. From the beginning of his pontificate he began a tougher line towards the communist governments,” Mikrut said.
“Gorbachev himself attested to John Paul II a decisive contribution in the fall of communism in Europe and on Nov. 9, 1989, to the fall of the Berlin Wall. The end of the Eastern Bloc and the Soviet regime came.”
Mitruk is the founder and director of the History of the Church in Central-Eastern Europe series, which has published five volumes dedicated to Church history in the region.
He said that Pope John Paul II was convinced that Europe should “breathe with two lungs,” with the unity of East and West.
Archbishop Jędraszewski noted that John Paul II felt a special responsibility for the countries of Central and Eastern Europe from the beginning of his pontificate in 1978.
“This is why in the 1980 apostolic letter ‘Egregiae Virtutis’ he made Saints Cyril and Methodius, alongside St. Benedict, the main patrons of Europe,” he said.
“Then, in the encyclical ‘Slavorum Apostoli’ published in 1985 ‘in memory of the evangelizing work of Saints Cyril and Methodius after 11 centuries,’ he underlined the fact that these holy brothers of Thessaloniki ‘are like the connecting links, or as a spiritual bridge between the Eastern tradition and the Western tradition, which both converge in the one great Tradition of the universal Church.’”
Archbishop Tomo Vukšić, coadjutor archbishop of Sarajevo, recalled that John Paul II was among the first world leaders to speak out about the violence in Bosnia and Herzegovina in the 1990s.
“John Paul II’s struggle for peace was continuous,” Vukšić said. “The wars of the 1990s in the Balkans did not initially arouse any particular interest and concern either from international public opinion or from world authorities who could perhaps have prevented or perhaps stopped them soon.”
“Unlike them, seeing the impending danger, John Paul II was among the first to raise his voice vigorously. Several times in general audiences, he had warned of the dangers and inevitable tragic consequences of the war, and when it had already broken out he spoke many times of the horrors and suffering it had caused.”
He continued: “The pope often mentioned these tragic events in his speeches to the faithful gathered in St. Peter’s Square for the Angelus prayer. He spoke of the war and the suffering it caused in private and general audiences, to the participants of various political and other conferences in Rome, then to individual statesmen and delegations, to diplomats and other important people.”
“He drew international attention to the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina also in the usual meetings with the members of the diplomatic corps, accredited to the Holy See, for the presentation of New Year’s greetings, but also in the traditional Christmas and Easter messages.”
The archbishop of Kraków also highlighted an example of the pope’s concern for Poland when addressing the issue of abortion in the country.
“While speaking against abortion in Kielce on June 3, 1991, with great emotion he justified his raised, truly prophetic voice: ‘Maybe that’s why I speak like this, because this is my mother, this land! This is my Mother, this Country! These are my brothers and sisters! And understand, all of you who take these things recklessly, you have to understand that these things cannot be irrelevant to me, they cannot fail to cause me pain. They should hurt you too.’”
When John Paul II used the phrase “blood of your blood, bone of your bone” on that first papal trip to Poland, the pope was aware not only of the biblical origins of the phrase spoken by Adam to the newly created Eve, but also of how the phrase had been used by St. John Chrysostom and St. John Henry Newman, Jędraszewski explained.
“‘Bone from my bones and flesh from my flesh.’ As God then took a rib from Adam’s side to fashion a woman, so Christ has given us blood and water from his side to fashion the Church,” St. John Chrysostom said in his catechumenate instruction.
St. John Henry Newman used these words to speak of the mission of priests: “He has established as preachers of the Gospel not beings of foreign origin of some kind unknown, but your brothers -- blood of your blood and bone of your bones.”
The book “Blood of your Blood, Bone of your Bone” was published by Gabrielli Editori with a foreword by Cardinal Stanisław Dziwisz, who served as personal secretary to John Paul II.
It has chapters examining the pope’s relationship with Albania, Austria, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Yugoslavia, Poland, Romania, and Hungary. Czech Cardinal Dominik Duka is one of the contributing authors.
Fr. Mikrut is already well into editing his next volume in the Church history series. It will focus on John Paul II and the Catholic Church in the Soviet Union and is scheduled to be published in Feb. 2021.
“The pope was a completely singular protagonist in the history of the Church: as a Pole, as a priest and as a pope, he faced all dimensions personally,” the Polish priest said.
“All the authors highlighted the relations that John Paul II had with their countries. John Paul II was the pastor who bowed to kiss the soil of their homeland, soaked in tears and blood after the decades of the Nazi and communist dictatorships, to speak to them from heart to heart.”