POPE JOHN PAUL THE GREAT (1920–2005)
Karol Josef Wojtyla’s youth was as rocky as Angelo Roncalli’s was smooth. The youngest of three children born to Karol and Emilia Wojtyla in Wadowice, Poland, he’d lost his entire family by age 20. Nazi Germany had invaded his country, requiring that he become a manual laborer to avoid being deported.
An outstanding student, Karol persisted in his studies even though the underground university was outlawed. He was active in a drama group and seemed destined for a life onstage. But in 1942, he discerned a call to the priesthood and began studies in a clandestine seminary. Following World War II, he completed his studies and was ordained in 1946. He had confronted—as had the people of his nation and much of the world—the horror of evil.
Between ordination to the priesthood in 1946 and consecration as a bishop in 1958, Father Wojtyla finished two doctorates, served in several Krakow parishes, and was a university chaplain and seminary professor. An active outdoorsman, he favored hiking, kayaking, skiing, and camping. Physical activity was balanced by prayer and reflection. As archbishop of Krakow, his mornings included Mass, two hours writing in the presence of the Eucharist, and pacing a walk by the beads of his rosary.
Calling it the “seminary of the Holy Spirit,” he attended every session of Vatican II and served on the drafting committee of its “Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World.” He was teaching philosophy at the University of Lublin (Poland) at the time of his election as pope in 1978. He was more pastor than administrator, a style he carried into his 27-year papacy.
‘BE NOT AFRAID’
The name chosen by this 263rd successor of Peter summed up the continuity he also chose. John XXIII, Paul VI, and John Paul I were all acknowledged in the name by which we remember him: John Paul II. He determined not to be crowned with a papal tiara (traditional since the eighth century), which he felt could be viewed as a symbol of might and wealth. In his inaugural prayer, he said, “Christ, make me . . . the servant of your sweet power.” He also spoke the words of Jesus, “Be not afraid,” a central message of his papacy.
What the Church and world saw of Pope John Paul II was impressive, but seldom seen were the spiritual disciplines undergirding his public life. He rose at 5:30 a.m., went directly to his private chapel, and knelt in prayer for two hours. There, he interceded for those who requested his prayers, as recorded on paper by his secretaries and kept at his kneeler. Following 7:30 Mass and breakfast, he wrote in the presence of the Eucharist until 11 a.m. He prayed the Liturgy of the Hours, walked the Way of the Cross every Friday, and received the Sacrament of Reconciliation every week. His aides sometimes found him lying face down before the tabernacle, as though mere kneeling were not enough.
Three months after his election, Pope John Paul II began the first of many pastoral pilgrimages, logging nearly 700,000 miles in 27 years. Critics thought he should govern the Church from Rome. In Zaire, he expressed the view of those whose native soil he kissed: “How could you be our pastor without knowing us? Without knowing who we are, how we live, what is the historical moment we are going through?” He said he wasn’t only the successor of Peter but also of Paul, who “could never sit still.”
His universal pastorate required him to challenge political leaders. He said, “To the Gospel message, of course, belong all the problems of human rights.” He said this of Chile, but his message also shook governments in Poland, Haiti, and Cuba.
His influence and many achievements are chronicled on the previous page. The holiness he acknowledged in others through many beatifications and canonizations is also revealed in the man who forgave his attempted assassin, tried to reunify a Church divided by history, and expressed regret for the “Church’s historical shortcomings.” His last words were “Let me go to the house of the Father.” Declaring him an official saint simply confirms his current address in heaven. Pope John Paul II’s feast is October 22, the anniversary of his inauguration as leader of the Church.
MILESTONES OF JOHN XXIII’s BRIEF PAPACY
° 1958 Was elected pope and inaugurated on feast of St. Charles Borromeo
° 1959 Announced the convening of Vatican II; revised the Good Friday Prayer for
the Jewish people
° 1960 Established the Secretariat for Christian Unity
° 1961 Wrote the encyclical “On Christianity and Social Progress,”enlarging the
scope of Catholic social teaching to include developing nations and challenging
the laity to work for social justice
° 1962 Opened the Second Vatican Council; intervened effectively with the Soviet
Union during the Cuban Missile Crisis
° 1963 Wrote “Peace on Earth,” the first encyclical addressed to the world at
large, making a plea for nuclear disarmament
JOHN PAUL II: FIRSTS OF HIS LONG PAPACY
° 1978 Became first Slavic pope
° 1979 Visited Puebla, Mexico, first of visits to 129 countries; made first pilgrimage
to Poland; made first of 129 lectures on the Theology of the Body; wrote
“Redeemer of Mankind,” first of 12 encyclicals
° 1981 Survived first of two attempts on his life
° 1982 Canonized his first saint: Maximilian Kolbe (481 more saints followed)
° 1983 Introduced new Code of Canon Law
° 1985 Initiated World Youth Day
° 1986 Made the first official papal visit to a synagogue; hosted World Day of
Prayer in Assisi
° 1992 Apologized for Church persecution of Galileo, first of over 100 public
apologies; presented Catechism of the Catholic Church to the world
° 1994 Released Crossing the Threshold of Hope, first of five books as pope
° 2001 Was the first pope to enter a mosque
° 2002 Announced Year of the Rosary, added the Luminous Mysteries