JOHN PAUL THE GREAT
“Freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought.” — Pope John Paul II
Pope John Paul II was born Karol Józef Wojtyła on18 May 1920 in Wadowice, Poland. As a youth, Wojtyła was an athlete and often played football as a goalkeeper. He also performed with various theatrical groups and worked as a playwright. During this time, his talent for language blossomed and he learned as many as 12 foreign languages, nine of which he later used extensively as Pope.
He stated that he began thinking seriously about the priesthood only after his father's death, and that his vocation gradually became ‘an inner fact of unquestionable and absolute clarity.’
He returned to Poland in the summer of 1948 with his first pastoral assignment. His first action was to kneel down and kiss the ground. This gesture, adapted from French saint Jean Marie Baptiste Vianney, would become one of his ‘trademarks’ during his Papacy.
In 1960, Wojtyła published the influential theological book Love and Responsibility, a defence of the traditional Church teachings on marriage from a new philosophical standpoint.
In 1967, he was instrumental in formulating the encyclical Humanae Vitae, which deals with the same issues that forbid abortion and artificial birth control
In 1978, Wojtyła won the election and chose the name John Paul II in honour of his immediate predecessor. The traditional white smoke informed the crowd gathered in St Peter's Square that a pope had been chosen. He accepted his election with these words: ‘With obedience in faith to Christ, my Lord, and with trust in the Mother of Christ and the Church, in spite of great difficulties, I accept.’ When the new pontiff himself appeared on the balcony, he broke tradition by addressing the gathered crowd: “Dear brothers and sisters, we are saddened at the death of our beloved Pope John Paul I, and so the cardinals have called for a new bishop of Rome. They called him from a faraway land - far and yet always close because of our communion in faith and Christian traditions. I was afraid to accept that responsibility, yet I do so in a spirit of obedience to the Lord and total faithfulness to Mary, our most Holy Mother. I am speaking to you in your - no, our Italian language. If I make a mistake, please ‘correct’ me...″
Thus the papacy of Pope John Paul II began on 16 October 1978. As part of his special emphasis on the universal call to holiness, he beatified 1,340 people and canonised 483 Saints, more than the combined tally of his predecessors during the last five centuries.
In spite of critics who accused him of inflexibility, he explicitly re-asserted Catholic moral teachings against murder, euthanasia and abortion that have been in place for well over a thousand years. “As the family goes, so goes the nation and so goes the whole world in which we live.” —Pope John Paul II
John Paul II had a special relationship with Catholic youth and is known by some as The Pope for Youth. Before he was pontiff, he used to camp and mountain hike with the youth. He still went mountain hiking when he was pope. He was particularly concerned with the education of future priests and made many early visits to Roman seminaries, He established World Youth Day in 1984 with the intention of bringing young Catholics from all parts of the world together to celebrate the faith. These week-long meetings of youth occur every two or three years, attracting hundreds of thousands of young people, who go there to sing, party, have a good time and deepen their faith. The 19 World Youth Days celebrated during his pontificate brought together millions of young people from all over the world. During this time his care for the family was expressed in the World Meetings of Families, which he initiated in 1994.
On 6 May 2001, Pope John Paul II became the first Catholic pope to enter and pray in an Islamic mosque. Respectfully removing his shoes, he entered the Umayyad Mosque, a former Byzantine era Christian church dedicated to John the Baptist (who is believed to be interred there) in Damascus, Syria, and gave a speech including the statement: "For all the times that Muslims and Christians have offended one another, we need to seek forgiveness from the Almighty and to offer each other forgiveness." He kissed the Qur’an in Syria, an act which made him popular amongst Muslims but which disturbed many Catholics.
President George W. Bush presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America's highest civilian honour, to Pope John Paul II during a ceremony at the Vatican 4 June 2004. After receiving the award, John Paul II said, “May the desire for freedom, peace, a more humane world symbolised by this medal inspire men and women of goodwill in every time and place.”
As he entered St. Peter's Square to address an audience on 13 May 1981, John Paul II was shot and critically wounded John Paul II was rushed into the Vatican complex and then to the Gemelli Hospital. When he briefly gained consciousness before being operated on he instructed the doctors not to remove his Brown Scapular during the operation. The pope stated that Our Lady of Fátima helped keep him alive throughout his ordeal. “Could I forget that the event [Ali Ağca's assassination attempt] in St. Peter’s Square took place on the day and at the hour when the first appearance of the Mother of Christ to the poor little peasants has been remembered for over sixty years at Fátima, Portugal? For in everything that happened to me on that very day, I felt that extraordinary motherly protection and care, which turned out to be stronger than the deadly bullet.”
Two days after Christmas in 1983, John Paul II visited the prison where his would-be assassin was being held. The two spoke privately for 20 minutes. John Paul II said, “What we talked about will have to remain a secret between him and me. I spoke to him as a brother whom I have pardoned and who has my complete trust.″
A second assassination attempt took place on 12 May 1982, just a day before the anniversary of the first attempt on his life, in Fátima, Portugal when a man tried to stab John Paul II with a bayonet. He was stopped by security guards.
John Paul II was considered a conservative on doctrine and issues relating to reproduction and the ordination of women.While the Pope was visiting America he said, "All human life, from themoments of conception and through all subsequent stages, is sacred."
A series of 129 lectures given by John Paul during his Wednesday audiences in Rome between September 1979 and November 1984 were later compiled and published as a single work entitled ‘Theology of the Body’, an extended meditation on the nature of human sexuality. He also extended it to condemnation of abortion, euthanasia and virtually all uses of capital punishment, calling them all a part of the "culture of death" that is pervasive in the modern world. He campaigned for world debt forgiveness and social justice.
On 22 October 1996, in a speech to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences plenary session at the Vatican, Pope John Paul II declared the evolutionary theories of Charles Darwin as factual, and wholly compatible with the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. Although accepting the theory of evolution, John Paul II made one major exception - the human soul. “If the human body has its origin in living material which pre-exists it, the spiritual soul is immediately created by God”
While taking a traditional position on sexuality, defending the Church's moral opposition to marriage for same-sex couples, the pope asserted that persons with homosexual inclinations possess the same inherent dignity and rights as everybody else.
On Saturday 2 April 2005, at about 15:30 CEST, John Paul II spoke his final words, “pozwólcie mi odejść do domu Ojca”, (“Let me depart to the house of the Father”), to his aides, and fell into a coma about four hours later.The mass of the vigil of the Second Sunday of Easter commemorating the canonisation of Saint Maria Faustina on 30 April 2000, had just been celebrated at his bedside,
His feelings are reflected in his words, as written in 2000, at the end of his Last Will and Testament “As the end of my earthly life approaches, I return with my memory to its beginning, to my parents, my brother and the sister (whom I never knew because she died before my birth), to the Parish of Wadowice where I was baptised, to that city I love, to my peers, friends from elementary school, high school and the university, up to the time of the occupation when I was a worker, then in the Parish in Niegowic, to St Florian's in Kraków, to the pastoral ministry of academics, to the milieu of... to all milieux... to Kraków and to Rome... to the people who were entrusted to me in a special way by the Lord.”
Since the death of John Paul II, a number of clergy at the Vatican and laymen throughout the world have been referring to the late pontiff as "John Paul the Great"—only the fourth pope to be so acclaimed, and the first since the first millenniumHis successor, Pope Benedict XVI, referred to him as "the great Pope John Paul II" in his first address from the loggia of St Peter's Church, and he referred to Pope John Paul II as "the Great" in his published written homily for the Mass of Repose. At the 20th World Youth Day in Germany 2005, Pope Benedict XVI, speaking in Polish, John Paul's native language, said, “As the great Pope John Paul II would say: keep the flame of faith alive in your lives and your people.” In May 2006, Pope Benedict XVI visited John Paul's native Poland. During that visit he repeatedly made references to “the great John Paul” and “my great predecessor”
Inspired by calls of "Santo Subito!" ("Saint Immediately!") from the crowds gathered during the funeral,[ Benedict XVI began the beatification process for his predecessor, by passing the normal restriction that five years must pass after a person's death before the beatification process can begin. This decision was announced on 13 May 2005, the Feast of Our Lady of Fátima and the 24th anniversary of the assassination attempt on John Paul II at St. Peter's Square.
In early 2006, it was reported that the Vatican was investigating a possible miracle associated with John Paul II. Sister Marie-Simon-Pierre, a French nun and a member of the Congregation of Little Sisters of Catholic Maternity Wards, confined to her bed by Parkinson's Disease, was reported to have experienced a "complete and lasting cure after members of her community prayed for the intercession of Pope John Paul II".
On 28 May 2006, Pope Benedict XVI said Mass before an estimated 900,000 people in John Paul II's native Poland. During his homily, he encouraged prayers for the early canonisation of John Paul II and stated that he hoped canonisation would happen "in the near future."
On the fourth anniversary of Pope John Paul's death, 2 April 2009, Cardinal Dziwisz, told reporters of a presumed miracle that had recently occurred at the former pope's tomb in St. Peter's Basilica A nine year-old Polish boy from Gdańsk, who was suffering from kidney cancer and was completely unable to walk, had been visiting the tomb with his parents. On leaving St. Peter's basilica, the boy told them, "I want to walk," and began walking normally.
On 19 December 2009, Pope Benedict XVI signed the first of two decrees needed for beatification and proclaimed John Paul II "Venerable", in recognition that he lived a heroic, virtuous life. The second vote and the second signed decree would recognise the authenticity of his first miracle (most likely, the case of Sister Marie-Simon-Pierre, the French nun who was cured of Parkinson's Disease). Once the second decree is signed, the ‘positio′ (the report on the cause, with documentation about his life and his writings and with information on the cause) is regarded as being complete. He can then be beatified. Some have speculated that he will be beatified sometime during (or soon after) the month of the 32nd anniversary of his 1978 election, in October 2010.
“It will be a great joy for us when he is officially beatified, but as far as we are concerned he is already a Saint.” —Stanisław Dziwisz
Dear Readers, I express the same feelings about my favourite Pope as is written above by Stanislaw, and, together with my family, I dedicate myself to the causes he upheld. May John Paul the Great be canonised a saint soon. Please pray for this intention daily when you kneel before the Blessed Sacrament or at your regular Rosary time at home. We choose today to install his picture on our homeschool wall and pray for a miracle to happen this week that will declare him a saint.. Our Lady of Fatima, pray for us and this intention. Amen.