The Ave Maria School of Law and Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński University of Warsaw have organized a two-day conference on May 18 and 19 in Warsaw dedicated to Pope St. John Paul’s Natural Law and International Human Rights Legacy.

The program notes that, “If we want a century of violent coercion to be succeeded by a century of persuasion, we must find a way to discuss the human future intelligibly. The universal moral law written on the human heart is precisely that kind of ‘grammar’ which is needed if the world is to engage this discussion of its future.” (John Paul II, Address to the Fiftieth General Assembly of the United Nations Organization, 5 October 1995)

All these years later, we still see a time of “violent coercion” and pray daily that this will soon be followed a time “of persuasion!”

The conference actually opens tomorrow night in Warsaw with a gala dinner at Delicja Polska. I went online and can’t wait till we dine there: Delicja Polska is a restaurant in the Warsaw Old Town » DelicjaPolska.pl

Opening remarks will be delivered by Ron Rychlak, Vice-Chair of the Board of Governors of Ave Maria School of Law.

I was honored beyond telling when I was invited to give the first of three keynote addresses of the conference! My name appears on the program: Keynote Address: Joan Lewis, EWTN Rome Bureau Chief (emerita), “I Made Cookies for a Saint.”

While the great majority of speakers will address the topics of or related to John Paul’s natural law legacy and international human rights, I was asked, given my years working at the Vatican during his pontificate, to give a more personal look at this saintly Pope, John Paul the Great! I was asked to tell my personal stories – to look at John Paul the man, his humanity, his humor, his mysticism and yet his down-to-earthness. (from WYD in Denver)

And to tell the story of how “I Made Cookies for a Saint!”

Hopefully, my talk will come at dessert time!

On Wednesday, May 18, the first full conference day, Cardinal Kazimierz Nycz of Warsaw delivers the opening prayer and remarks. Afterwards, the deans of the two universities co-sponsoring the conference will address attendees: John Czarnetzky, Ave Maria School of Law, and Michał Gierycz, Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński University Dean.

I am guessing we might sing “Happy Birthday” at some time on this day as St. John Paul was born on May 18, 1920!

The keynote address for May 18 will be delivered by Adrian Vermuele, Ralph S. Tyler, Jr. Professor of Constitutional Law, Harvard Law School, “Common good constitutionalism.”

 Morning Session I with various speakers will be moderated by Alejandro Bermudez, Executive Director, Catholic News Agency. The program notes that, “In light of the lived experience of St. John Paul II, this panel will examine the various historical, juridical and anthropological factors of the 20th century leading to the lack of intelligible discourse in human rights experienced today and the consequences thereof.”

Appearing virtually in that session are George Weigel, John Paul biographer and Distinguished Senior Fellow and William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies, and Michael Breidenbach, Associate Professor and Chair of History, Ave Maria University.

The afternoon Session II, entitled “The ‘grammar’ of St. John Paul II and coherent human rights discourse,” will be moderated by Solène Tadié, Europe Correspondent, National Catholic Register.

This panel will examine the various historical, juridical and anthropological factors in the response of St. John Paul II to the elements identified in Session I. Appearing virtually will be Robert P. George, McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence and Director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University, speaking on “Faith and Reason: Amity or Enmity?”

The late afternoon Session III on May 18 should be another riveting period as it features panels presenting St. John Paul II’s teaching and international human rights issues. PANEL A looks at St. John Paul II on human life and the natural family, and Panel B focuses on St. John Paul II on the common good and collective rights.

And this is only the first full day of the conference! And I only touched the tip of the iceberg as far as the names of the eminent speakers and panellists go! My head will be spinning with names and ideas and speech content by the time the conference ends Thursday evening. I hope there will be time for quality personal encounters and good conversations!

By the way, the third keynote address will be delivered on May 19, by J.H.H. Weiler, Professor, N.Y.U. Law School, “On the limits of Natural Law and the Virtues of Revealed Law.”

Cardinal Willem Jacobus Eijk, archbishop of Utrecht, will offer the opening prayer and remarks on “Human rights in a secularized society.”

(PS. I’m not sure what kind of time I will have for writing, but will do my best to post even a blurb. The days are literally 12 hours long)