VATICAN CITY — Pope John Paul II takes perhaps his last trip down memory lane in a new book recalling everything from carrying a sleeping bag in a grubby Polish train to his twilight years as leader of 1 billion Roman Catholics.
The book, whose Italian title translates to "Get Up. Let's Go," also includes a few candid revelations.
He writes that he has never felt "lonely" despite a life of celibacy but also offers some rare self-doubt in one section, in which he asks himself if he perhaps has not been strict enough.
The book is a stream of consciousness from youth to old age, from vigor to fatigue, that covers mostly the years since 1958, when he was appointed Poland's youngest bishop at age 38.
Published by Mondadori, it goes on sale today in its Italian edition to coincide with his 84th birthday.
The pope recalls how he found out he had been made a bishop in 1958.
He was on a wilderness camping trip on the Lyna River when he got word that Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski wanted to see him.
"First I went by canoe, then I got a ride in the back of a truck carrying sacks of flour to the city of Olsztynek. The train to Warsaw was leaving late at night so I took a sleeping bag in case I had to take a nap on the station floor ... but I didn't sleep at all that night."
After his superiors told him he would be made a bishop, he told them he was going back to the camping trip.
A superior at first said: "Perhaps [as bishop] you shouldn't do those things anymore." The superior relented and told the young priest who would someday be pope: "Go ahead. But make sure you get back in time for your consecration."
There was no looking back for Karol Wojtyla. Only six years later he become archbishop of Krakow. He was made a cardinal in 1967 and in 1978 became the first non-Italian pope in 450 years.
The man who had to hitch a ride on the back of a Polish flour truck recalls his first trip as pope in 1979. The crowd outside his residence in Mexico City serenaded him until after midnight.
"[My secretary] had to go outside to hush them up, explaining that 'the pope has to sleep.' Only then did they stop."
In the book, the pope defends the church's rule of clerical celibacy, saying it allows a priest to dedicate his whole life to the church. But he moves off the doctrinal and on to the personal when he rejects arguments that priests should be allowed to marry because they can become too lonely.
"Personally, I have never felt lonely. Apart from knowing that the Lord is close to me, I have always had many people around me and have had many cordial relations... ," he writes.
The book is bound to be a bestseller. His 1994 book has sold more than 20 million copies.
His royalties will go to charity.