A Pope On the Slopes

I just finished reading The Secret Life of John Paul II, written by Lino Zani (with Marilu Simonesci), kindly sent to me by St. Benedict Press. The book was written last year and recently translated into English.

Lino Zani was born and raised in the Italian alps is an avid skier and mountain climber. Since his parents owned and operated a mountain lodge (a lodge dedicated to the fallen soldiers of the Adamello, which figures into the story), he also instructed and guided others in skiing in is mountains.

The beginning of Zani’s relationship with Pope John Paul II began when the pope’s personal secretary had the idea that Zani’s parent’s secluded lodge would be a good location for a papal skiing vacation. The idea came to fruition, thus beginning a relationship that would last until the Pope’s death – a relationship that began as mountain guide and developed into a deep friendship.

For many years, Zani said nothing about his encounters with the Pope, but decided on the “verge of the beatification of John Paul II…to recount in its entirety, with faithful precision and a spirit of authentic and Christian awareness, the human and spiritual story…revisiting the trail of all the memories of those twenty-one exgraordinary years with the Holy Father.”

Despite the title, there may be no secrets in the book, but reading it made me feel that I knew Pope a little more personally and deeply than I had before. Zani beautifully conveys both the personalism and the prayerfulness of Pope John Paul II. Whoever the Pope was with at any given time received his love and his undivided attention. One senses reading that no one was ever made to feel small in his presence. The picture of the Pope’s sense of humor and delight in simple play made me smile.

What really touched me were the descriptions of the Pope at prayer in the mountains, which beautifully conveyed his deep holiness and spirituality. Zani describes seeing that up close: “The main effect of his holiness was precisely that of transmitting a stream of unexpected courage to face one’s own life, whatever it was like. For a little while after having been with him, one became intrepid, impermeable to the evil of sufferings, unharmed by fear.”

Although the delight of the book is in the picture of the Pope it presents, the book also tells the story of a cross in the mountain, dedicated to solders that died during World War I – and the relationship of that to the Fatima predictions. That part made an interesting read, but, for me at least, not as compelling as the portrait of holiness Zani paints.

As the book jacket says, this book provides a “fascinating glimpse into the private life of history’s most public pontiff.” A good read.