Remembering Pope John Paul II

Author Peggy Noonan has written a new book, "John Paul the Great: Remembering a Spiritual Father." She discussed the late pope, Catholicism and a Christmas message with George Will on a holiday edition of "This Week." Following is a transcript of the interview.

Will: Peggy Noonan, in an astonishing 25 months, the world elevated two former actors to high offices: Pope John Paul II to the Vatican, the papacy; the American electorate put Ronald Reagan to the presidency. You worked for Ronald Reagan. You obviously revere Pope John Paul II. How are they alike?

Noonan: Oh, my gosh. They were compelling. They were big. They only seemed to represent what they believed in. When they walked into the room, they brought that with them.

They were also, interestingly enough, part of a little cluster of greatness, I think, that rose in the late '70s-early '80s -- John Paul, Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher -- not at all an actress. But why three of them, I think, understood the power of embodying your belief and bringing it forward, they also understood the power of not carrying what the New York Times thinks of you. They understood the power of doing what you are certain is correct, moving forward.

Will: One theme of your very personal and intense book is that the Pope changed your life. How?

Noonan: I became a -- I don't know how to describe it -- an ardent or a loving or an engaged Catholic in the time that he was the Pope during that 26 years. When you, in the modern world, want to become a Catholic, and want to seriously embrace what you have been somewhat distractedly believing, you don't necessarily know where to go or who to turn to for advice and leadership.

I wound up thinking, "Well, there's that old guy in Rome. He's the Pope. He must know a few things." I wound up reading his encyclicals. I wound up watching him. I mean, this was the Pope of the great media era. He was all over TV and radio, and eventually he was on the Internet.

A Solemn Woodstock?

Will: His death -- protracted and in a way public death -- followed by that astonishing funeral, may have been the most important event of 2005.

Let me read what you wrote about this. You said, "The funeral itself may have been the greatest evangelical event since Gutenberg printed the Bible." And you said, "Europe came. Europe took to the streets. Europeans may, just may, have come back from that funeral a newly heartened people." Could that be they would wish being the father of your thoughts, that that was such a transformative event?

Noonan: Maybe it is, but think about this: we all know Europe is post-Christian. We know Europe is post-Catholic. We know the church is dead in Europe ...

Will: Maybe pre-muslim ...

Noonan: Yes, indeed it may, but think about this: This old pope dies. He'd been there for 26 years. He'd been dying in public for a half a dozen years, old, bent, suffering. He was off everybody's radar screen, really. He dies -- it was like the death of Franco. He'd been dying for a long time, and then one day it was true.

What happened? There was a moment of silence, and then Europe erupted.

Three to 4 million people engulfed the streets of Rome, so many of them young people -- I saw bags and backpacks on. It was an amazing uprising, and what did those people say -- the 3 to 4 million?

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