Pope Caesar's Wake
Letters Exchanged with Pope Woytyla
by Joe Ruggier
350 pages at 36.95 US and CAN paperback
307 Birchwood Court
6311 Gilbert Rd.
Richmond, BC, V7C3V7
A Review by Laurel Johnson
In a forward by Michael Burch -- award nominated American poet and editor of The HyperTexts -- he describes Joe Ruggier as a nail and the Catholic Church as the hammer. After reading Ruggier's book, I understood the nail and hammer metaphor. Ruggier is a poet, scholar, and writer who found himself in a state of physical, emotional, and financial shipwreck. As a staunch lifelong Catholic, he believed the Church should guide and protect the fragile. In his case, the opposite was true. He had been abused and
humiliated as a child, shunned and ridiculed as an adult and harshly judged by his home Church. For him, forgiveness of those who mistreated him had become a medical necessity by 1981. His exchange of letters with the Vatican began with the assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II in 1981 and ended after the Pope's death in 2005.
Ruggier's letters to the Pope begin as a tribute to a unique, beloved man. Beautiful odes and prose poems express his love of John Paul II and the Church as a whole. He wants to understand what the Pope really thinks and feels, invites him to criticize the sentiments expressed, and seeks spiritual direction. Ruggier speaks what's in his heart -- grief over a
failed marriage, the fearsome results of mental and physical illness, sorrow over decades long mistreatment by fellow Catholics. In response to these poignant letters, Ruggier receives apostolic blessings through Papal secretaries.
As time passes, Ruggier shares his thoughts on missionary outreach. He considers his writings a religious calling representing all Artists, just as Pope John Paul II represents the Church of Rome. He requests a Papal appointment as missionary supported by a small stipend to pursue his writings related to the Church. No surprise, the Vatican is generous with promises of prayer but loathe to part with any of the money that lavishly supports their privileged enclave. He threatens, cajoles, and pleads in hopes of receiving just one personal word of kindness or compassion from the Pope. Joe Ruggier, like every artist, wants his voice to be heard and valued, so he shares his precious God-breathed books as gifts to the Pope.
The correspondence with John Paul II finally becomes what Ruggier calls "a macabre dialog." The author takes often humorous and occasionally profane revenge on the Church that has callously failed him through empty platitudes, barren rituals, and stony silence. Sadly, Pope Caesar's ears are deaf to Joe Ruggier, just as they have been to the ragged masses who supported the Vatican since its inception. Despite his disillusionment,
Ruggier loves the Church and Papacy. He reconciles himself to Pope John Paul II's silence, understanding that failing health and other obligations prevent such personal replies. The book ends with a touching elegy written by Ruggier in honor of Pope John Paul II after his death.
Joe Ruggier's poetry and prose are worth discovering. No matter what he writes, he shares his heart and spirit in amazing ways. If I had been Pope John Paul II, I would have eagerly entered into correspondence with this man. These letters and sentiments represent a microcosm of Church members as a whole. If the Church cares how they are perceived by Catholics and others around the world, that hierarchy would do well to read this book.
It should be required reading for all priests everywhere.