Pope John Paul II was truly the moral and spiritual leader of the entire world, as one can appreciate by the worldwide outpouring of love on his death April 2, 2005. John Paul II will be remembered for his emphasis on Christ and man, that the Gospel provides direction and supports the dignity of the human person.
Carol Wojtyla (1920-2005) will be remembered as Pope John Paul II of the Catholic Church. A playwright, actor, and poet, he was born May 18, 1920 in Wadowice, Poland. In 1938 he enrolled in the school of drama at Jagiellonian University in Krakow, where he played goalie on the college soccer team. He entered an underground seminary in 1942 during the Nazi Regime, and was ordained a priest in 1946 after Poland fell under Communism. Oppression by the Nazis and Communists forged his dedication to freedom and human rights. He earned a doctorate in theology in 1948 and a doctorate in philosopy in 1954. His first book was Love and Responsibility, on love and sexual morality, published in 1960. His highly successful play on love, The Jeweler’s Shop, was published in 1960 and subsequently translated into 22 languages, and was made into a movie in 1988.
Karol Wojtyla became Bishop of Krakow, Poland in 1958. He attended the Second Vatican Council and helped to draft the documents on Religious Liberty and the Church in the Modern World. He then became Archbishop of Krakow in 1964 and Cardinal in 1967. Following the 33-day papacy of John Paul I, the Conclave of Cardinals elected the bright, personable, and vigorous Wojtyla the 264th Pope on October 16, 1978.
Pope John Paul II was one of the most dynamic Popes in the history of the Catholic Church. The man lived his philosophy, that man is a relational being. The world was his parish, as the loving and outgoing Pope made an unprecedented 104 papal trips abroad. During his three pilgrimages to Poland, his repeated call for freedom and spiritual renewal was the turning-point that ultimately led to the non-violent collapse of Communism, symbolized by the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989.
The world was moved when he forgave and visited the man who seriously wounded him in St. Peter’s Square on May 13, 1981. In a spirit of Christian unity, he prayed with the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury Robert Runcie at the site of the martyrdom of St. Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral on May 29, 1982. He became a symbol of hope to the young with his inauguration of International World Youth Day in 1987. As expressed in his 1994 book Crossing the Threshold of Hope, his belief in Jesus Christ as the hope for man in the Third Millennium was an inspiration for all. He urged all of us to hear the words (Matthew 28:10) of the Risen Christ – “Be Not Afraid!” In his 2000 visit to Jerusalem, the Pope asked God forgiveness for the sins of the Catholic Church. On January 13, 2003, he opposed the imminent pre-emptive strike against Iraq, stating war “is always a defeat for humanity.”
A persistent theme in his fourteen encyclicals was the dignity of the human person in the light of Christ, and the goal for humanity to become a civilization of love. His first encyclical, The Redeemer of Man (1979), called the Church a “community of disciples” who follow Jesus Christ, “the center of the universe and of history.” He completed his Trinitarian encyclicals with The Mercy of God the Father (1980), and On the Holy Spirit (1986). His respect for the Blessed Virgin Mary was reflected in Mother of the Redeemer (1987). He commemorated Saints Cyril and Methodius in The Apostles to the Slavs in 1985 to encourage his fellow countryman during communist oppression. The Pope called for social justice in three encyclicals, On Human Work (1981), On Social Concerns (1987), and On the One Hundredth Year of Rerum Novarum (1991), in which he emphasized the dignity of the individual, in the face of man being unjustly treated as a unit of production in a socialistic utilitarian world. He renewed commitment to the missionary role of the Church in Mission of the Redeemer in 1990. He appreciated man’s thirst for truth, as noted in his encyclical The Splendor of Truth, published in 1993. One of his favorite Scriptural quotes was John 8:32: You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. Perhaps his most important was the widely read encyclical The Gospel of Life, published in 1995, in which he defended the sanctity of life and described the culture of death – the evil of abortion and euthanasia. He pursued Vatican II’s goal in turning the Church’s direction towards Christian unity, as addressed in his 1995 encyclical That All May Be One. In addition to pointing out those areas of study necessary for a true consensus of faith, he addressed the common bonds of unity in faith among all Christians: Jesus Christ our Savior, Son of God the Father, who sent the Holy Spirit; Baptism; the New Testament of the Bible; and prayer, especially the Lord’s Prayer. He emphasized the relation of Faith and Reason in an encyclical of the same name in 1998. His fourteenth and final encyclical On The Eucharist in its Relationship to the Church was released in 2003.
His weekly general audiences in St. Peter’s Square led to his book on the Theology of the Body in 1997. Pope John Paul II led a profound life of prayer, and in 2002 added the Mysteries of Light, also called the Luminous Mysteries, to the Joyful, Sorrowful, and Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary. He established Divine Mercy Sunday, which recognized the devotion of St. Faustina and the Chaplet of Divine Mercy to our Merciful Savior.
Pope John Paul II was truly the moral and spiritual leader of the entire world, as one can appreciate by the worldwide outpouring of love on his death April 2, 2005. John Paul II will be remembered for his emphasis on Christ and man, that the Gospel provides direction and supports the dignity of the human person. For “the truth is that only in the mystery of Christ the Incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light.” He is only the third Pope to be called the Great, a title that is already being used for this holy and loving man.