The world has been blessed to have Pope John Paul II for the past 27 years. Many people have called him The Man of the Century. Pope John Paul II was certainly one of the best known and most revered men on earth.
According to the Reverend Billy Graham, “He”ll go down in history as the greatest of our modern popes. He”s been the strong conscience of the whole Christian world.”
Pope John Paul II lived a long and vigorous life, surviving many events and health problems that might have ended his life too soon. Since the diagnosis in 2001 he suffered from Parkinsons disease, an affliction that affected his ability to speak and his muscle control throughout his body. Additionally, Pope John Paul II had significant arthritis, which put him in a wheelchair for the remaining several years of his life. He was recovering from throat surgery prior to his passing.
As a young college student in Nazi-occupied Poland, he survived a collision with a truck which nearly ended his life. Later, as Pope, John Paul II was attacked in an assassination attempt, surviving a gunshot wound while walking to a gathering in St. Peters Square.
Born in Poland
Pope John Paul II was born in Poland in 1920 as Karol Josef Wojtyla (vo Tee la). His father was a retired military officer and his mother was a schoolteacher. He grew up in Nazi-occupied Poland and later in Communist-dominated Poland.
Karol Josef Wojtyla secretly studied theology at an underground seminary in Krakow during the Nazi occupation. He became an ordained priest at age 26 while continuing his studies. He was a brilliant man, an intellectual who earned two doctorates by age 36, and he became a professor of ethics at the Catholic University in Lublin. Also in his background were experiences as and actor and playwright, a poet, a quarry worker, and a chemical factory boiler-tender.
He became Cardinal at age 47 and began the leadership that led to the fall of Communism in Poland.
Among his numerous accomplishments, Pope John Paul II was fluent in 8 languages and adept in 13 languages. He was truly at home and welcome throughout the world, having traveled over a half million miles to 125 foreign countries, more than all the countries visited by all other popes combined. Prior to John Paul II popes generally remained at the Vatican and confined their infrequent travels to a few locations in Europe. Pope John Paul II reached the world through his masses delivered to millions of people and his audiences with the worlds major leaders.
The great thrust of John Paul IIs life as Pope was the elevation and promotion of human rights throughout the world. His first trip as the new pope was to visit his native Poland in 1979 to encourage his homeland with his support for the Solidarity trade union movement which opposed Communism in Poland. Ten years later a peaceful revolution resulted in the downfall of Communism in Poland. A few years later the Berlin Wall fell and the cold war ended throughout Europe and the world. An extraordinary event occurred when former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev visited Rome following the collapse of Communism. Pope John Paul II was one of the leaders of the democratic movement.
As the Pope had said years earlier, It is the task of the Church, of the Holy See, of all pastors, to fight on the side of man, often against man himself.”
Pope John Paul II was the first pope to visit the Jewish Synagogue of Rome, the first pope to visit the Auschwitz Holocaust memorial, and the first pope to visit Israel. The first audience that Pope John Paul II gave as the newly elected Pope was with his Jewish boyhood friend, Jerzy Kluger, who later was instrumental in arranging the Popes visit to Jerusalem. The Christian-Jewish reconciliation was the result of the Popes efforts to bring the two great world religions together.
During his Papacy, John Paul II helped bring to the Vatican many modern touches. The Vatican now uses satellite transmissions to reach the Church faithful. They produce video cassettes for educational purposes, and in 1994 they used an audio CD to record a recitation of the rosary set to music, which they made commercially available.
Pope John Paul II wrote abundantly, contributing significantly to Vatican Council II, and writing explanatory encyclicals that amount to over 150 volumes. The Pope also wrote a book in 1979 entitled, The Future of the Church, and another book was created from his written answers to a journalists 20 questions and entitled, Crossing the Threshold of Hope.
An Example of Leadership
Pope John Paul II was a model of Christian principle, kind, humble, generous and forgiving. In 1983, just over two years after his recovery from gunshot wounds in an assassination attempt by a Turkish gunman, the Pope visited his attacker in prison. The Pope spoke privately to the gunman and forgave him for his actions. Though neither man revealed details of the conversation, the Turkish gunman was moved and humbled. The Pope had extended forgiveness to his enemy.
Pope John Paul II was the 265th pope in history. His Papacy lasted 27 years, longer than that of all but two other popes. He was one of the youngest ever elected to the Papacy, and he was the first non-Italian elected in 455 years.
He was a unique and special man. Pope John Paul II will be greatly missed.