George Weigel, left, receives the Catholic Information Center’s second annual Blessed John Paul II Award from Father Arne Panula, an Opus Dei priest who serves as the center’s director. CATHOLIC INFORMATION CENTER PHOTO
George Weigel, left, receives the Catholic Information Center’s second annual Blessed John Paul II Award from Father Arne Panula, an Opus Dei priest who serves as the center’s director. CATHOLIC INFORMATION CENTER PHOTO
Papal biographer George Weigel said the greatest line ever written about the Blessed Pope John Paul II was not penned by him, but rather by a French journalist in Rome on Oct. 22, 1978 for the pope's inauguration: "This is not a pope from Poland. This is a pope from Galilee."

"This was the key to his pontificate," Weigel, the recipient of the Catholic Information Center's second annual Blessed John Paul II Award. Weigel, the author of more than 15 books, including Pope John Paul II's biography, "A Witness to Hope," and its companion, "The End and the Beginning: Pope John Paul II-The Victory of Freedom, the Last Years, the Legacy" was speaking at the Mayflower Hotel in downtown Washington during an Oct. 22 award dinner in his honor.

"Why did (the pope) go to the Holy Land in 2000? It was his own desire to remind the world of the extraordinary consequence that happened there 2,000 years ago," Weigel said. "He carried all of us to the Holy Land with him to those places of salvation history. Through (Christ), God entered into history for man's salvation."

This is not just a nice story or a narrative, said Weigel. "It is the truth of the world....These were real people, in a real time. They became friends of Jesus Christ and met Him at Easter. Then they went out and changed the world," he said.

When one stands in St. Peter's Square, Weigel said, people probably ask themselves: "How did an illiterate guy (St. Peter) from the east of nowhere get to the center of power and the world's greatest tombstone?" It is because, "he was radically transformed by his friendship with Jesus Christ and (whom he) later knew as the Risen Lord."

All Catholics, he said, are called by their Baptism to "go and teach all nations."

Weigel said this is the greatest challenge for Catholics today - "at this moment in time in our country."

Today's era is one of "increasing coldness," he said. "It's cold because we measure humanity by utility rather than dignity."

"We are living in a culture of a new Gnosticism - anything goes, everything's plastic and malleable," said Weigel. "Living inside a Biblical optic helps us meet the challenge (to) religious freedom."

The recent challenges to the country's long-held religious freedom are difficult, he said. "But we've been revitalized, realizing the first freedom is never secure."

As overwhelming as the fight for religious freedom seems, Weigel said, Catholics are going to "help give America a new birth of freedom."

He spoke of the heroic Hill of Crosses in Lithuania that survived decades under atheistic communist rule by the Soviet Union. More than 100,000 crosses stood and still stand today as a testament to faith in the face of the most difficult times for religious freedom.

"Don't quit. Christ has won the victory. We can carry on in good spirit as John Paul II did...This is why we too can 'Be not afraid' and get on with the business of opening the doors to Christ," Weigel said.

More than 400 people attended the CIC award dinner, including the Vatican's apostolic nuncio Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, who gave the blessing before dinner; Jim Nicholson, former U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican; Thomas Keefe, president of the University of Dallas; and Opus Dei Father Arne Panula, director of the Catholic Information Center, who presented the Blessed John Paul II Award to George Weigel. Nationally syndicated radio host Laura Ingraham served as the evening's mistress of ceremonies.