WASHINGTON (April 14, 2003) -- Widely regarded as his spiritual last testament, Roman Triptych, Meditations, a new book of poems by Pope John Paul II, will be published in this country by USCCB Publishing, the official publisher of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
In the trio of poems, the Pope uses the imagery of a mountain stream, the Sistine chapel, and the story of Abraham and Isaac as the framework for his "Roman Triptych." He focuses on God as the origin and end point of human life and all creation. He also ponders the beginning and end of his own reign as Pope.
The agreement between USCCB Publishing and the Holy See's Libreria Editrice Vaticana was signed in late March. It names USCCB Publishing as the exclusive publisher of Roman Triptych in the United States. Illustrated with works from the Vatican Museum, the book will be published in English and Spanish.
Paul Henderson, executive director of USCCB Publishing, said he expects the book to be released on June 29, the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul. Roman Triptych first will be released in hardcover, followed by a paperback mass market edition. USCCB Publishing is also developing an audio edition. Henderson noted that USCCB Publishing hopes to make the book available as widely as possible through local bookstores and online.
Written in Polish, these are the first poems which Pope John Paul II has written and published during his pontificate. The book was written last summer and, in the present definitive form, was finished by last Christmas. Last month in a press conference the Holy See presented to journalists covering the Vatican a first draft of the poems' translations in Italian, English, Spanish, French and German.
One poem concerns Pope John Paul's 1978 election and discusses the responsibility of cardinals who will gather in the Sistine Chapel to elect a new pope after his death.
The Cardinals gathered for the 1978 conclave "enfolded by the Sistine's colors, by the vision left to us by Michelangelo," the Pope writes. "And so it will be again, when the need arises after my death."
"Michelangelo's vision must then speak to them," John Paul writes.
In the poem, "Meditations on the Book of Genesis at the Threshold of the Sistine Chapel," the Pope says that Michelangelo painted the truth about the beginning and end of all human life, made in the image of God and destined to be judged by God.
Michelangelo's Last Judgment, a fresco covering a wall of the Sistine Chapel, teaches that the same God who created human beings will judge them, Pope John Paul writes.
The third poem, "A Hill in the Land of Moriah," describes Abraham and his fidelity to God's call: leaving his homeland, believing God's promise that he and Sarah would have a child, and showing his willingness to sacrifice his son at God's command.
In the poem, the Pope writes that God revealed to Abraham what it means for a father to sacrifice his own son, from which Abraham was ultimately spared, but which God would experience in the death of Jesus.
The pontificate of Pope John Paul II, which began October 16, 1978, is one of the longest in history, and certainly the most prolific. The Pope has issued 13 encyclicals, preached on five continents, released a prayer CD, and written an autobiographical book. Now he has added a book of poetry on spiritual themes.
For information on how to order Roman Triptych, Meditations directly from the USCCB, visit the bishops' Web site. A special 800 number will also be set up shortly to take orders.