Offering a trip to Poland and the experience of watching a play the future pope wrote before ordination, the pontifical university where St. John Paul II penned his doctoral dissertation is launching a year-long study initiative to bring John Paul’s legacy to bear on present challenges.

“We want to focus not only on studying his achievements, but also on thinking with him about the most important matters of contemporary spiritual culture, such as solidarity, mercy, Christian art, the place of the Church in the modern world or the spiritual crisis of Europe,” said Dominican Father Benedict Croell.

Head of the Office of Development & Mission Advancement of the Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas, also known as the Angelicum, Croell told Crux that what distinguishes the “JP2 Studies” initiative, and the University’s St. John Paul II Institute of Culture from similar undertakings in the academic world “is an attempt to confront the heritage of the Pope’s teaching with the challenges of the present day.”

“Our program will be unique here at the Angelicum in that it is a yearlong and there is a whole experiential component,” Croell said. “During the year, in addition to being in the Eternal City and studying in the very classrooms where he studied, the program will travel and walk in the footsteps of JPII in Poland – just a hop, skip and a jump from Rome.”

Students will also have a first-hand experience of “Wojtyla’s ingenious use in communicating with theatrical production and all that went into that will also be experienced by the students in the production of Wojtyla’s Job.”

Acting experience, the priest is quick to clarify, is not necessary to enroll in the program that will have its first edition during the 2021-2022 academic year, but taking part in the production is a way to see just how the man born as Karol Wojtyla “understood the power of the stage in the communication of ideas and especially the Gospel.”

Enrollment opened May 18, the 101st anniversary of his birth, and the program has been created for seminarians, priests, researchers and academics, catechists and even journalists specializing on the Church who are interested in deepening their knowledge about the life, work and teaching of St. John Paul II.

Among the lecturers of “JP2 Studies” are intellectuals such as Rémi Brague, George Weigel, Father Jarosław Kupczak OP, Anglican Archbishop Rowan Williams, Marek A. Cichocki, Michał Gierycz and Francis Russell Hittinger.

Speaking about the elements of John Paul II’s teaching that are unique to him and, Hittinger, the Warren Chair of Catholic Studies and Research Professor of Law at the University of Tulsa, said in a recent interview that the Catholic Church goes through cycles of teachings, some emphasizing the hearing or reception of the faith, others emphasizing its articulation.

“Pope Leo XIII’s Aeterni Patris and John Paul’s Fides et Ratio are supreme examples of the latter,” he said. “Perhaps we could say that Leo teaches about modernity while John Paul teaches about the strange territory of ideas and spiritual challenges that we call, for better or worse, post-modernity. Each pope was prophetic in his own time. I always think of them as a team.”

“Beginning with Leo XIII, pontifical social teachings have emphasized the three necessary societies – societies necessary for human happiness, or eudaimonia,” Hittinger said. “These are, of course, domestic society rooted in matrimony, political society, and Church. One could say that we are familial, political, and ecclesial animals. My course will examine John Paul’s contribution to that perennial theme.”

The mission of the Saint John Paul II Institute of Culture is to reflect on the most important challenges of our times seen through the prism of the intellectual and spiritual heritage of Saint John Paul II.

“Only one year after the launch of the Institute, it is becoming increasingly clear that Rome is one of the most interesting places in Europe to reflect on current problems of the modern world and the Church in the context of the thought and teaching of St. John Paul II,” said Dominican Father Michał Paluch, rector of the Angelicum.