Jason Evert, has written a revealing book about his hero Blessed John Paul II, titled Saint John Paul the Great: His Five Loves. (NTC / Joan Kurkowski-Gillen)
On a warm, spring May afternoon in 1981, Pope John Paul II did something entirely characteristic for the personable, energetic pontiff. He carved out time in his busy schedule to chat with patients and employees at Rome’s Gemelli Polyclinic — a state-of-the-art medical center located a short distance from the Vatican. During the visit, a physician asked the Holy Father to bless a recently purchased ambulance.
The Holy Water was dutifully brought out, the pope sprinkled the emergency vehicle, and then hospital staff heard him utter an unusual prayer. Pope John Paul II offered a blessing for the first person needing the ambulance.
The next day, Mehmet Ali Agca shot the Holy Father as he circled St. Peter’s Square in an open jeep. Suffering serious intestinal wounds caused by the bullet, Pope John Paul II was rushed to the nearby hospital. He became the first victim to use the new ambulance.
That little known coincidence is one of several stories about the late pontiff that best-selling Catholic author Jason Evert reveals in his newly released book published by Totus Tuus Press and Lighthouse Catholic Media: Saint John Paul the Great: His Five Loves.
A nationally known chastity speaker who gave his first talk at Fort Worth’s Nolan Catholic High School in 1999, Evert always wanted to write a book about the man he considers his hero. Vatican plans to canonize the Polish prelate, along with Pope John XXIII on April 27 — Divine Mercy Sunday — provided the motivation to get it done.
“For the last 15 years I’ve traveled around the world, visited six continents and spoken to more than a million people,” Evert told the North Texas Catholic. “During that time, I met a lot of individuals who knew him personally and they shared all these incredible, extraordinary stories. I kept thinking someone should write them down.”
The much-anticipated canonization of Blessed John Paul II seemed an appropriate time to separate the urban myths from the real miracles and anecdotes attributed to the late pontiff. Faced with a self-imposed deadline, Evert began contacting his primary sources — priests, bishops and cardinals. One interview led to another.
“Everyone was so generous,” he recalls. “I spoke to friends he camped with and people who were on the high school retreats he led in Poland. I would ask for five minutes, and they talked for two hours. They told me remarkable stuff.”
Evert says a quote from French novelist Arsene Houssaye, “tell me what you love and I’ll tell you who you are,” helped frame the information gathered for his 270-page manuscript.
“I looked at what he loved the most then studied him through those loves,” explains the Franciscan University graduate who explored John Paul II’s devotion to the cross, the Blessed Sacrament, the Virgin Mary, young people, and human love through the prism of his struggle-filled years in Poland.
One of Evert’s favorite stories in the book illustrates the pope’s almost mystical connection to the Blessed Sacrament. Preparing for the Holy Father’s 1995 papal pilgrimage to the U.S., the Vatican’s advance man, Father Roberto Tucci, visited the bishop’s residence in Baltimore — one of the stops on the tour. As he walked down a corridor lined with identical doors, Fr. Tucci noticed one entry led to a chapel housing the Blessed Sacrament. He warned American organizers to keep the door shut during the pope’s brief stay in the house.
“His travel team would actually reroute his Popemobile away from chapels or Catholic churches because, if he passed one, he’d stop, go in for 45 minutes and be late for whatever else was on the schedule,” Evert says.
Following instructions, the bishop’s staff made sure every door in the chancery was closed when John Paul II arrived. But as he walked down the hallway, the Holy Father suddenly stopped and turned toward one doorway.
“Then he shook his head and wagged his finger at Fr. Tucci. He opened the door, went in and did significant damage to the schedule,” the researcher recounts. “What astonished everyone was the pope had never been there before, and there was no way he could have known the Blessed Sacrament was behind that door.”
Although Pope Francis is currently praised by the secular media for revolutionizing the papacy by his acts of humility and focus on the poor, Evert says Pope John Paul II embraced a similar life of poverty and humility.
“He was so utterly detached from material things. Even as pope, he wouldn’t accept new clothes,” states the author, who asked papal biographer George Weigel to fact check his book for accuracy.
According to friends, John Paul II wore undershirts with holes and would hand new garments to his housekeeper to give to the poor in Rome. As a young priest, he was known for giving his jacket to any impoverished person he met on the street.
“He once had to borrow shoes to say Mass because he had given his away,” Evert reports.
A similar incident occurred after Cardinal Karol Wojtyla was elected pope. While visiting a slum in Brazil, he encountered a destitute mother.
“He doesn’t carry a wallet in his cassock, so what does he give her? He took off the ring that Pope Paul gave him when he became a cardinal and gave it to her,” Evert continues. “Then he had to borrow another bishop’s ring for the rest of the visit so people would have something to kiss.”
Evert, who is traveling to Rome for the canonization, will appear on EWTN as part of the Catholic network’s coverage. After reading more than 40 biographies of the late pontiff and seeing him 20 times, the founder of chastityproject.com thought he knew John Paul II.
“I couldn’t believe how much I didn’t know about him,” admits Evert, who hopes to use Saint John Paul the Great: His Five Loves to evangelize and catechize Catholics. “This was an amazing book to research. I went mining for information and I found all these jewels. Anyone who thinks they know John Paul II will be surprised.”
Best-selling Catholic author Jason Evert recently released a book published by Totus Tuus Press and Lighthouse Catholic Media: Saint John Paul the Great: His Five Loves. A nationally known chastity speaker who gave his first talk at Fort Worth’s Nolan Catholic High School in 1999, Evert always wanted to write a book about the man he considers his hero. Vatican plans to canonize the Polish prelate, along with Pope John XXIII on April 27 — Divine Mercy Sunday — provided the motivation to get it done.