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Contact: Christopher Heffron
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April 15, 2005     527 Words

Pope John Paul II: Model of Heroic Faith

CINCINNATI—On April 2, 2005, after a lengthy battle with Parkinson's disease, Pope John Paul II died in the 27th year of leading the Catholic Church. Despite debilitating illness in recent years, Pope John Paul II traveled extensively, advocated for life in all of its stages, created more saints than any of his predecessors and worked tirelessly to bridge the gap between Christians, Jews and Muslims. On that April day, the world's Catholics lost their beloved father-in-faith. The world's citizens lost one of their greatest champions.

In light of his passing, St. Anthony Messenger has devoted its May cover story, entitled "John Paul II: Model of Heroic Faith," to the late pontiff. Contributing Editor Father Jack Wintz, O.F.M., who covered the pope's first visit to the United States in 1979 for this publication and who wrote of John Paul II's visit to Cuba in 1998, reflects on Karol Wojtyla's life, his legacy and his lifelong mission to spread the word of God. After April 20, the article will be posted at: AmericanCatholic.org.

"Heroic" is just one of many terms that can be attributed to Pope John Paul II. Following the German invasion of Poland in 1939, Karol Jozef Wojtyla worked as a laborer while studying at an underground seminary in Krakow. Ordained in 1946, he became an assistant pastor in Krakow in 1949 and later was appointed as the auxiliary bishop of Krakow in 1958. Wojtyla became the archbishop in 1964 and was elected pope in October 1978, becoming the first non-Italian pontiff in 455 years.

John Paul II made good use of his time as the leader of the Catholic Church. Visiting 130 countries, delivering more than 2,000 public addresses and issuing countless encyclicals and apostolic letters, Pope John Paul II battled Communism, campaigned for peace and human rights and fought to spread the message of Christ, thus reinvigorating the faith of many. He also fought personal illness and suffering. By 1998, the effects of Parkinson's disease were clearly visible during his trip to Cuba.

"Once the pope's health began to fail," Father Jack Wintz writes, "he manifested heroic faith by the way he dealt with personal illness and suffering. He walked with a shuffle, his hand often trembled and his speech was so slurred and weak at times that it almost faded into silence."

Yet Pope John Paul II never tired of spreading God's love around the world. Asserting throughout his papacy that Christ is the model of our humanity, Pope John Paul II exhibited such grace, never more evident than when he forgave his would-be assassin, Mehmet Ali Ağca, in 1983. During that event, and indeed throughout his life, Pope John Paul II certainly lived up to his calling.

"It was as if he was born to lead us—and all God's people—back to Bethlehem," Father Jack writes, "to contemplate and absorb the meaning of the Incarnation and the whole mystery of Jesus Christ, upon whom the Holy Father's life was centered."

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