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Pope's book gets personal

In one of the world's biggest publishing deals, the Vatican launched a book by Pope John Paul II on Wednesday that outlines his thoughts on everything from Buddha to women, Jews to abortion and Marxism to eternity.

Crossing the Threshold of Hope contains no major pronouncements, but its writing and publication are highly unusual events. It is the first book written by a pope, although John Paul wrote books and plays before he was elected pontiff in 1978.

"This book feels like you're talking to a friend, a very learned friend, but still a friend," said Cardinal John O'Connor of New York.

The book, published in 21 languages, hits stores today. The Knopf English-language edition sells for $20. All profits are to go to a charity specified by John Paul, a sum that could reach $60-million if the run sells out.

Here are some excerpts:

On world troubles: All individual and collective suffering (is) caused by the forces of nature and unleashed by man's free will _ the wars, the gulags and the holocausts: the Holocaust of the Jews but also, for example, the holocaust of the black slaves from Africa. . . .

Secularization and secularism promote . . . insensitivity and lead to a consumer mentality oriented toward the enjoyment of earthly goods. After the experience of concentration camps, gulags, bombings, not to mention natural catastrophes, can man possibly expect anything worse from this world, an even greater amount of humiliation and contempt? In a word, hell?

Personal reflections: I think of the Warsaw uprising in 1944 _ the desperate revolt of my contemporaries who sacrificed everything . . . I was a part of that generation and I must say that the heroism of my contemporaries helped me to define my personal vocation. . . .

I remember that one day my father gave me a prayer book which contained the prayer to the Holy Spirit. He told me to recite it daily. So, from that day on, I have tried to.

On Jews: I remember, above all, the Wadowice elementary school, where at least a fourth of the pupils in my class were Jewish. I should mention my friendship at school with one of them, Jerzy Kluger _ a friendship that has lasted . . . to the present. I can vividly remember the Jews who gathered every Saturday at the synagogue behind our school. Both religious groups, Catholics and Jews, were united, I presume, by the awareness that they prayed to the same God.

Communism: In a certain sense, communism as a system fell by itself. It fell as a consequence of its own mistakes and abuses. It proved to be a medicine more dangerous than the disease itself. It did not bring about true social reform, yet it did become a powerful threat and challenge to the entire world. But it fell by itself, because of its own inherent weakness.

Abortion: The question of conceived and unborn children is a particularly delicate yet clear problem. The legalization of the termination of pregnancy is none other than the authorization given to an adult, with the approval of an established law, to take the lives of children yet unborn and thus incapable of defending themselves. It is difficult to imagine a more unjust situation. . . . What is at stake is the commandment Do Not Kill! . . .

Often the woman is a victim of male selfishness. . . . The man . . . has contributed to the conception of the new life, does not want to be burdened with it and leaves the responsibility to the woman as if it were "her fault" alone.

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