Pope John Paul II

Pope John Paul II (Latin: Ioannes Paulus PP. II ), born Karol Józef Wojtyła (May 18, 1920 - April 2, 2005) reigned as pope of the Roman Catholic Church for almost 27 years, from October 16 - 1978 until his death, making his the second-longest pontificate. On May 9, 2005 Pope Benedict XVI, John Paul II's successor, waived the five year waiting period for a cause for beatification to be opened.[1] He was the first Polish pope and the first non-Italian pope since the 16th century. His early reign was marked by his opposition to Communism, and he is often credited as one of the forces which brought about its fall. In the later part of his pontificate, he was notable for speaking against consumerism, unrestrained capitalism, abortion, cultural relativism and what he deemed as the "culture of death".

His concern for the poor, the weak and those who suffer, his firm stances against warfare, violence, and capital punishment, his views of evolution and his support for world debt forgiveness, combined with his willingness to visit socialist nations and his strong relationships with leaders of non-Catholic Churches and non-Christian faiths (ecumenism) were considered by some to be proof that he was "liberal."

His affirmation of the long-standing Catholic doctrine that abortion, homosexual sex, and contraception are immoral, his continuing the tradition of ordaining only men to the priesthood, teaching that divorced persons could not remarry without a declaration of nullity, that valid sacramental marriage exists between one man and one woman, emphasizing the benefits of retaining the discipline of mandatory priestly celibacy, and his opposition to secularism are cited by others as proof that he was "conservative."

In any event, his diverse views showed that political labels of "liberal" and "conservative" could not be so easily applied to religious leaders.

During his reign, the pope travelled extensively, visiting over 100 countries, more than any of his predecessors. He was said to have canonized more people than all popes before him put together (though early records are incomplete). He was Pope during a period in which Catholicism's influence declined in developed countries but expanded in the Third World.

Pope John Paul II was extremely popular worldwide, attracting the largest crowds in history (at times attracting crowds of over one million people in a single venue and over four million people at the World Youth Day in Manila), and being respected by many even outside of the Catholic Church, despite strident criticism from some quarters. John Paul II was fluent in numerous languages: his native Polish, Italian, French, German, English, Spanish, Russian, Portuguese and Latin.

In 1992, he was diagnosed as having Parkinson's disease. On 2 April 2005 at 9:37 pm local time, Pope John Paul II died in the Papal Apartments while a vast crowd kept vigil in St Peter's Square below. Millions of people flocked to Rome to pay their respects to the body and for his funeral. The last years of his reign had been marked by his fight against the various diseases ailing him, provoking some concerns that he should abdicate, but in retrospect his determination was widely seen as an exemplary display of courage.

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Styles of
Pope John Paul II
Reference style His Holiness
Spoken style Your Holiness
Religious style Holy Father
Posthumous style Servant of God


John Paul II emphasized what he called the "universal call to holiness" and attempted to define the Catholic Church's role in the modern world. He spoke out against ideologies and politics of communism, Marxism, feminism, imperialism, relativism, materialism, fascism (including Nazism), racism and unrestrained capitalism. In many ways, he fought against oppression, secularism and poverty. Although he was on friendly terms with many Western heads of state and leading citizens, he reserved a special opprobrium for what he believed to be the corrosive spiritual effects of modern Western consumerism and the concomitant widespread secular and hedonistic orientation of Western populations.

John Paul II affirmed traditional Catholic teachings by opposing abortion, contraception, capital punishment, embryonic stem cell research, human cloning, euthanasia, and war. He also defended traditional teachings on marriage and gender roles by opposing divorce, same-sex marriage and the ordination of women. His conservative views were sometimes criticized as regressive. John Paul II called upon followers to vote according to Catholic teachings. John Paul II became known as the "Pilgrim Pope" for travelling greater distances than had all his predecessors combined. According to John Paul II, the trips symbolized bridge-building efforts (in keeping with his title as Pontifex Maximus, literally Master Bridge-Builder) between nations and religions, attempting to remove divisions created through history.

He beatified 1,340 people, more people than any previous pope. The Vatican asserts he canonized more people than the combined tally of his predecessors during the last five centuries, and from a far greater variety of cultures.[2] Whether he had canonized more saints than all previous popes put together, as is sometimes also claimed, is difficult to prove, as the records of many early canonizations are incomplete, missing, or inaccurate. However, it is known that his abolition of the office of Promotor Fidei ("Promoter of the Faith" and the origin of the term Devil's Advocate) streamlined the process. He has been criticized by many for doing this.

Pope John Paul II died on 2 April 2005 after a long fight against Parkinson's disease and other illnesses. Immediately after his death, many of his followers demanded that he be elevated to sainthood as soon as possible, shouting "Santo Subito" (meaning "Saint immediately" in Italian). Both L'Osservatore Romano and Pope Benedict XVI, Pope John Paul II's successor, referred to John Paul II as "Great".

John Paul II was succeeded by the Dean of the College of Cardinals, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger of Germany, the former head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith who had led the Funeral Mass for John Paul II.

Biography Edit

Main article: Biography of Pope John Paul II

Early lifeEdit

Karol Józef Wojtyła was born on May 18 1920 in Wadowice in southern Poland. His mother, Emilia Kaczorowska, died in 1929, when he was just aged 9 and his father supported him so that he could study. His youth was marked by extensive contacts with the then thriving Jewish community of Wadowice. In fact, he grew up playing soccer in the streets of Wadowice with his Jewish friends and neighbors.

Karol enrolled at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków. He worked as a volunteer librarian and did compulsory military training in the Academic Legion. In his youth he was an athlete, actor and playwright and he learned as many as twelve languages during his lifetime, including Latin, Ukrainian, Greek, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Italian, German, English, and of course his native Polish. He also had some facility with Russian.

During the Second World War academics of the Jagiellonian University were arrested and the university suppressed. All able-bodied males had to have a job. He variously worked as a messenger for a restaurant and a manual labourer in a limestone quarry.

Church careerEdit

In 1942 he entered the underground seminary run by the Archbishop of Kraków, Cardinal Sapieha. Karol Wojtyła was ordained a priest on November 1 1946. Not long after, he was sent to study theology at the Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas, commonly known as the Angelicum, where he earned a licentiate and later a doctorate in sacred theology. This doctorate, the first of two, was based on the Latin dissertation Doctrina de fide apud S. Ioannem a Cruce (The Doctrine of Faith According to Saint John of the Cross). Even though his doctoral work was unanimously approved in June of 1948, he was denied the degree because he could not afford to print the text of his dissertation (an Angelicum rule). In December of that year, a revised text of his dissertation was approved by the theological faculty of Jagiellonian University in Kraków, and Wojtyła was finally awarded the degree.

He earned a second doctorate, based on an evaluation of the possibility of founding a Catholic ethic on the ethical system of phenomenologist Max Scheler (An Evaluation of the Possibility of Constructing a Christian Ethics on the Basis of the System of Max Scheler), in 1954. As was the case with the first degree, he was not granted the degree upon earning it. This time, the faculty at Jagiellonian University was forbidden by communist authorities from granting the degree. In conjunction with his habilitation at Catholic University of Lublin, Poland, he finally obtained the doctorate in philosophy in 1957 from that institution, where he had assumed the Chair of Ethics in 1956.

On July 4 1958 Pope Pius XII named him titular bishop of Ombi and auxiliary to Archbishop Baziak, apostolic administrator of the Archdiocese of Kraków. Karol Wojtyła found himself at 38 the youngest bishop in Poland.

In 1962 Bishop Wojtyła took part in the Second Vatican Council, and in December 1963 Pope Paul VI appointed him Archbishop of Kraków. Paul VI elevated him to cardinal in 1967.

A Pope from PolandEdit

Main article: Papal conclave, 1978 (October)

In August 1978 following Paul's death, he voted in the Papal Conclave that elected Pope John Paul I, who at 65 was considered young by papal standards. However John Paul I was in poor health and he died after only 33 days as pope, thereby precipitating another conclave.

Voting in the second conclave was divided between two particularly strong candidates: Giuseppe Cardinal Siri, the Archbishop of Genoa; and Giovanni Cardinal Benelli, the Archbishop of Florence and a close associate of Pope John Paul I. In early ballots, Benelli came within nine votes of victory. However Wojtyła secured election as a compromise candidate, in part through the support of Franz Cardinal König and others who had previously supported Cardinal Siri.

He became the 264th Pope according to the Vatican. At only 58 years of age, he was the youngest pope elected since Pope Pius IX in 1846. Like his immediate predecessor, Pope John Paul II dispensed with the traditional Papal coronation and instead received ecclesiastical investiture with the simplified Papal inauguration on October 22 1978. As Bishop of Rome he took possession of his Cathedral Church, the Basilica of St. John Lateran, on November 12 1978.

Assassination attempts Edit

On May 13 1981 John Paul II was shot and critically wounded by Mehmet Ali Ağca, a Turkish gunman, as he entered St. Peter's Square to address an audience. Ağca was caught and sentenced to life imprisonment. Two days after Christmas 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."

On March 2 2006, an Italian parliamentary commission concluded that the Soviet Union was behind the attempt, in retaliation for John Paul II's support to Solidarity, the Polish workers' movement, a thesis which had already been supported by Michael Ledeen and the CIA at the time. The report stated that certain Bulgarian security departments were utilized to prevent the Soviet Union's role from being uncovered. [3] However, alternative theories also exist, and the Pope himself declared during a May 2002 visit to Bulgaria that this country had nothing to do with the assassination attempt. The failed assassin was also a member of the ultra-nationalist Turkish Grey Wolves, who were allegedly infiltrated by Gladio, a NATO sponsored paramilitary organization created in order to counter a potential Soviet invasion [4]. Bulgaria and Russia disputed the Italian commission's conclusions, pointing out that the Pope denied the Bulgarian connection.

Another assassination attempt took place on May 12 1982, just a day before the anniversary of the last attempt on his life, in Fatima when a man tried to stab John Paul II with a bayonet, but was stopped by security guards. The assailant, an ultraconservative and right wing Spanish priest named Juan María Fernández y Krohn, reportedly opposed the reforms of the Second Vatican Council and called the pope an agent of Moscow. He subsequently left the Roman Catholic priesthood and served a six-year sentence, and was expelled from Portugal afterwards.

Health Edit

Main article: Health of Pope John Paul II

When he first entered the papacy in 1978, John Paul II was an avid sportsman, enjoying hiking and swimming. In addition, John Paul II travelled extensively after becoming pope; at the time, the 58-year old was extremely healthy and active.

In 1981, though, John Paul II's health suffered a major blow after the first failed assassination attempt. The bullet-wound caused severe bleeding, and the Pope's blood pressure dropped. In addition, a colostomy was also performed. He nevertheless maintained an impressive physical condition throughout the 1980s.

Starting about 1992, John Paul II's health slowly declined. He began to suffer from an increasingly slurred speech and difficulty in hearing. In addition, the Pope rarely walked in public. Though not officially confirmed by the Vatican until 2003, most experts agreed that the frail pontiff suffered from Parkinson's Disease.

In February 2005 John Paul II was taken to the hospital with an inflammation of the larynx, the result of influenza. Though later released from the hospital, he was taken back later that month after difficulty breathing. A tracheotomy was performed, limiting the pope's speaking abilities.

In March of 2005, speculation was high that the Pope was near death; this was confirmed by the Vatican a few days before John Paul II passed away.

Death Edit

On March 31 2005 the Pope developed a very high fever, but was neither rushed to the hospital, nor offered life support, apparently, in accordance with his wishes to die in the Vatican. Later that day Vatican sources announced that John Paul II had been given the Anointing of the Sick by his friend and secretary Stanisław Dziwisz. During the final days of the Pope's life, the lights were kept burning through the night where he lay in the Papal apartment on the top floor of the Apostolic Palace.

Thousands of people rushed to the Vatican, filling St Peter's Square and beyond, and held vigil for two days. At about 15:30 CEST, John Paul II spoke his final words, "Let me go to the house of the Father", to his aides in his native Polish and fell into a coma about four hours later. He died in his private apartments, at 21:37 CEST (19:37 UTC) on April 2, 46 days short of his 85th birthday. Mass of the vigil of the Second Sunday of Easter, that is, Divine Mercy Sunday, had just been celebrated at his bedside.

A crowd of over two million within Vatican City, over one billion Catholics world-wide, and many non-Catholics mourned John Paul II. The Poles were particularly devastated by his death. The public viewing of his body in St. Peter's Basilica drew over four million people to Vatican City and was one of the largest pilgrimages in the history of Christianity. Many world leaders expressed their condolences and ordered flags in their countries lowered to half-mast. Numerous countries with a Catholic majority, and even some with only a small Catholic population, declared mourning for John Paul II.

Funeral Edit

Main article: Funeral of Pope John Paul II

The death of Pope John Paul II set into motion rituals and traditions dating back to medieval times. The Rite of Visitation took place from April 4 through 22:00 CET (20:00 UTC) on April 7 at St. Peter's Basilica. On April 8 the Mass of Requiem was conducted by the Dean of the College of Cardinals, Joseph Ratzinger, who would later become the next pope. It has been estimated to have been the largest attended funeral of all time.

John Paul II was interred in the grottoes under the basilica, the Tomb of the Popes. He was lowered into the tomb that had been occupied by the remains of Blessed Pope John XXIII, but which had been empty since his remains had been moved into the main body of the basilica after his beatification by John Paul II in 2003.

John Paul "The Great" Edit

Since the death of John Paul II, a number of clergy at the Vatican 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 millennium. His 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. Pope Benedict has continued to refer to John Paul II as "the Great." At the 2005 World Youth Day in Germany, Pope Benedict, 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." The Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera even called him "the Greatest."

Scholars of canon law say that there is no official process for declaring a pope "Great"; the title establishes itself through popular, and continued, usage. The three popes who today commonly are known as "Great" are Leo I, who reigned from 440461 and persuaded Attila the Hun to withdraw from Rome; Gregory I, 590604, after whom the Gregorian Chant is named; and Nicholas I, 858867, who also withstood a siege of Rome (in this case from Carolingian Christians, over a dispute regarding marriage annulment).

Historically, the title "the Great" has been given only to the first pope (or sovereign) in a line bearing a name. John Paul II would, by this criterion, be unlikely to be dubbed "the Great." However, there are exceptions. For example, Alexander the Great, was also Alexander III. The fact that, until John Paul II, no popes after the first, have received this title is likely more a function of the fact that so few popes have been acclaimed "the Great" at all, and as such this is not a title that is limited to only the first pope of a given name.


On May 9 2005 Benedict XVI began the beatification process for his predecessor, John Paul II. Normally five years must pass after a person's death, before the beatification process can begin. However, in an audience with Pope Benedict, Camillo Cardinal Ruini cited "exceptional circumstances" which suggested that the waiting period could be waived. As Vicar General of the Diocese of Rome, Cardinal Ruini is responsible for promoting the cause for canonisation of any person who dies within that diocese. In all other dioceses it would be the Bishop himself. The "exceptional circumstances" presumably refer to the cries of "Santo subito!" ("Saint now!") during the late pontiff's funeral. Therefore the new Pope waived the five year rule "so that the cause of Beatification and Canonization of the same Servant of God can begin immediately."[5] The decision was announced on May 13 2005, the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima and the 24th anniversary of the attempt on John Paul's life. John Paul often credited Our Lady of Fatima for preserving him on that day. Cardinal Ruini inaugurated the diocesan phase of the cause for beatification in the Lateran Basilica on June 28 2005.

In early 2006, it was reported that the Vatican was investigating a possible miracle associated with John Paul II. A French nun, confined to her bed by Parkinson's Disease, is reported to have experienced a "complete and lasting cure after members of her community prayed for the intercession of Pope John Paul II".[6][7]

Life's workEdit


Main article: Teachings of Pope John Paul II

As pope, John Paul II's most important role was to teach people about Christianity. He wrote a number of important documents that many observers believe will have long-lasting influence on the Church.

A notable achievement of John Paul II was the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which became an international bestseller. Its purpose, according to the Pope's Apostolic Constitution Fidei Depositum was to be "a statement of the Church's faith and of Catholic doctrine, attested to or illumined by Sacred Scripture, the Apostolic Tradition and the Church's Magisterium." His first encyclical letters focused on the Triune God; the very first was on Jesus the Redeemer ("Redemptor Hominis").

In his Apostolic Letter At the beginning of the third millennium (Novo Millennio Ineunte), he emphasized the importance of "starting afresh from Christ": "No, we shall not be saved by a formula but by a Person." In what he calls a "program for all times," he placed "sanctity" as the single most important priority of all pastoral activities in the entire Catholic Church. Thus, he canonized many saints around the world as exemplars for his vision and he supported the prelature of Opus Dei, whose aim is to spread the message of the universal call to holiness and the sanctification of secular activities, which he said is a "great ideal."

In The Splendour of the Truth (Veritatis Splendor) he emphasized the dependence of man on God and his law ("Without the Creator, the creature disappears") and the "dependence of freedom on the truth". He warned that man "giving himself over to relativism and skepticism, goes off in search of an illusory freedom apart from truth itself".

In Fides et Ratio (On the Relationship between Faith and Reason) John Paul promotes a renewed interest in philosophy and an autonomous pursuit for Truth in theological matters. Drawing on many different sources (such as Thomism), he describes the mutually supporting relationship between faith and reason, and emphasizes why it is important that theologians should focus on the relationship. John Paul proposes that philosophy has lost its meaning (eg. the pursuit for objective truth), and that restoring it will ultimately help cure the nihilistic condition of our current age; and, moreover, lead to the Truth of sacred scripture.

John Paul II also wrote extensively about workers and the social doctrine of the Church, which he discussed in three encyclicals. Through his encyclicals, John Paul also talked about the dignity of women and the importance of the family for the future of mankind.

Other important documents include The Gospel of Life (Evangelium Vitae), where he issued unprecedented teachings on moral matters like on murder, euthanasia and abortion, statements which, according to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, were "infallible", and Orientale Lumen (Light of the East).

John Paul II, who was present and very influential at the Vatican II (1962-65), affirmed the teachings of that Council and did much to implement them. Nevertheless, his critics often wished aloud that he would embrace the so-called "progressive" agenda that some hoped would evolve as a result of the Council. John Paul II continued to declare that contraception, abortion, and homosexual acts were gravely sinful, and, with Cardinal Ratzinger (future Pope Benedict XVI), opposed Liberation theology. He exalted marital sexual intercourse as a sacramental act that was, in every instance, profaned by contraception, abortion, divorce followed by a second marriage, and homosexual acts. He also rejected calls to break with the constant tradition of the Church by ordaining women to the priesthood. In addition, John Paul II chose not to end the discipline of mandatory priestly celibacy, although he did encourage married clergymen of other Christian traditions who later became Catholic to be ordained as Catholic priests. In fact, the Council did not advocate "progressive" changes in these areas, and condemned abortion as an "unspeakable crime".

John Paul II, as a writer of philosophical and theological thought, was characterized by his explorations in phenomenology and personalism. He is also known for his development of the theology of the body.

Pastoral trips Edit

Main article: Pastoral trips of Pope John Paul II

During his pontificate, Pope John Paul II made 104 foreign trips, more than all previous popes put together. In total he logged more than 1.1 million km (725,000 miles). He consistently attracted large crowds on his travels, some amongst the largest ever assembled in human history. While some of his trips (such as to the United States and the Holy Land) were to places previously visited by Pope Paul VI (the first pope to travel widely), many others were to places that no pope had ever visited before. All these travels were paid by the money of the countries he visited and not by the Vatican.

One of John Paul II's earliest official visits was to Poland, in June 1979. In 1981, Pope John Paul II was the first Pope to visit Japan. In 1982 he became the first reigning pope to travel to the United Kingdom, where he met Queen Elizabeth II, the Supreme Governor of the Church of England.

Throughout his trips, he stressed his devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary through visits to various shrines to the Virgin Mary, notably Knock in Ireland, Fátima in Portugal, Guadalupe in Mexico and Lourdes in France.

In 1984 John Paul II became the first Pope to visit Korea and Puerto Rico. On January 15 1995 he offered Mass to an estimated crowd of between four and eight million in Luneta Park, Manila, the largest ever papal crowd, and considered the largest single event in human history. On January 20, 1998, Pope John Paul II became the first pontiff to visit Cuba. During his visit, John Paul sharply criticized Cuba's stance on religious expression. On March 22 1998 he paid a second visit to Nigeria. Also in 1999 John Paul II made another of his multiple trips to the United States. In 2000 he became the first modern Catholic pope to visit Egypt, where he met with the Coptic pope and the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Alexandria. In May 2001 the Pontiff took a pilgrimage that would trace the steps of his co-namesake, Saint Paul, across the Mediterranean, from Greece to Syria to Malta.

He was the first Catholic Pope to visit and pray in an Islamic mosque, in Damascus, Syria. He visited Umayyad Mosque, where John the Baptist is believed to be interred.

In September 2001 amid post-September 11 concerns, he travelled to Kazakhstan, with an audience of largely Muslims, as well as Armenia, to participate in the celebration of the 1700 years of Christianity in that nation.

Relations with other religions Edit

Pope John Paul II travelled extensively and came into contact with many divergent faiths. With these he ceaselessly attempted to find common ground, whether it be doctrinal or dogmatic. He made history with his establishment of contacts with Israel, praying at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama and the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism, visited Pope John Paul II eight times, more than any other single dignitary. The Pope and the Dalai Lama often shared similar views and understood similar plights, both coming from peoples who have suffered under communism.

Relations with the Jewish people Edit

Relations between Catholicism and Judaism improved during the pontificate of John Paul II. He spoke frequently about the Church's relationship with Jews. As a child, Karol Wojtyla had played sports with his many Jewish neighbors. In 1979 he became the first Pope to visit Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland, where many of his countrymen (mostly Polish Jews) had perished under Nazi rule. Shortly afterwards, he became the first pope known to have made an official papal visit to a synagogue, when he visited the Synagogue of Rome on April 13 1986.

In March 2000, John Paul II visited Yad Vashem, (the Israeli national Holocaust memorial) in Israel and later touched the holiest site in Judaism, the Western Wall in Jerusalem. In October 2003 the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) issued a statement congratulating John Paul II on entering the 25th year of his papacy.

Immediately after the pope's death, the ADL issued a statement that Pope John Paul II had revolutionized Catholic-Jewish relations, saying that "more change for the better took place in his 27 year Papacy than in the nearly 2,000 years before." (Pope John Paul II: An Appreciation: A Visionary Remembered).

A number of points of dispute still exist between the Catholic Church and the Jewish community, including World War II-related issues and issues of doctrine. Nonetheless, the number of issues that divide Jewish groups and the Vatican has dropped significantly during the last 40 years.

Relations with the Eastern Orthodox Church Edit

Main article: Pope John Paul II's relations with the Eastern Orthodox Church

In May 1999, John Paul II visited Romania on the invitation from Patriarch Teoctist of the Romanian Orthodox Church. This was the first time a pope had visited a predominantly Eastern Orthodox country since the Great Schism in 1054. On his arrival, the Patriarch and the President of Romania, Emil Constantinescu, greeted the Pope. The Patriarch stated, "The second millennium of Christian history began with a painful wounding of the unity of the Church; the end of this millennium has seen a real commitment to restoring Christian unity."

John Paul II visited other heavily Orthodox areas such as Ukraine, despite lack of welcome at times, and he said that an end to the Schism was one of his fondest wishes.

Pope John Paul II could not escape the controversy of the involvement of Croatian Catholic clergy with the Ustasa regime of an active collaborator with the Ustaše fascist regime. On June 22 2003 he visited Banja Luka in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The Pope had also said throughout his pontificate that one of his greatest dreams was to visit Russia, but this never occurred. He had made several attempts to solve the problems which arose over a period of centuries between the Roman Catholic and Russian Orthodox churches, like giving back the Kazan Icon of the Mother of God in August 2004. However, the Orthodox Church never expressed much enthusiasm, making statements to the effect of: "The question of the visit of the Pope in Russia is not connected by the journalists with the problems between the Churches, which are now unreal to solve, but with giving back one of many sacred things, which were illegally stolen from Russia." (Vsevolod Chaplin).

The Pope for youthEdit

John Paul II had a special relationship also with Catholic youth and is known by some as The Pope for Youth. He was a hero to many of them. Indeed, at gatherings, young Catholics, and conceivably non-Catholics, were often fond of chanting the phrase "JP Two, We Love You", and occasionally John Paul would retort "No. JP Two, He Loves YOU!"

He established World Youth Day in 1984 with the intention of bringing young Catholics from all parts of the world together to celebrate their 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. His most faithful youths gathered themselves in two organizations: "papaboys" and "papagirls."


Over the later parts of his reign, John Paul II made several apologies to various peoples that had been wronged by the Catholic Church through the years. Even before he became the Pope, he was a prominent supporter of initiatives like the Letter of Reconciliation of the Polish Bishops to the German Bishops from 1965. During his reign as a Pope, he publicly made apologies for over 100 of these mistakes, including:

  • The persecution of the Italian scientist and philosopher Galileo Galilei in the trial by the Roman Catholic Church in 1633 (October 31 1992).
  • Catholic involvement with the African slave trade (August 9 1993).
  • The Church's role in burnings at the stake and the religious wars that followed the Protestant Reformation (May 1995, in the Czech Republic).
  • The injustices committed against women in the name of Christ, the violation of women's rights and for the historical denigration of women (July 10 1995, in a letter to "every woman").
  • Inactivity and silence of some Roman Catholics during the Holocaust (March 16 1998).
  • For the execution of Jan Hus in 1415 (December 18 1999 in Prague). When John Paul II visited Prague in 1990s, he requested experts in this matter "to define with greater clarity the position held by Jan Hus among the Church's reformers, and acknowledged that "independently of the theological convictions he defended, Hus cannot be denied integrity in his personal life and commitment to the nation's moral education." It was another step in building a bridge between Catholics and Protestants.
  • For the sins of Catholics throughout the ages for violating "the rights of ethnic groups and peoples, and [for showing] contempt for their cultures and religious traditions". (March 12 2000, during a public Mass of Pardons).
  • For the sins of the Crusader attack on Constantinople in 1204. (May 4 2001, to the Patriarch of Constantinople).
  • For missionary abuses in the past against indigenous peoples of the South Pacific (November 22 2001, via the Internet).
  • For the massacre of Aztecs and other Mesoamericans by the Spanish in the name of the Church.

Social and political stances Edit

John Paul II was a considered a conservative on doctrine and issues relating to reproduction and the ordination of women. No pope, however, has strayed from the Catholic Church's unbroken moral teachings on artificial contraception and the ordination of women.

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 and masculinity in human life. 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 was opposed to capital punishment. He campaigned for world debt forgiveness and social justice.

Stance against dictatorship Edit

In 1984 and 1986, through the voice of Cardinal Ratzinger, leader of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, John Paul II officially condemned the Liberation theology which had many followers in South America. Oscar Romero's attempt, during his visit to Europe, to obtain a Vatican condemnation of El Salvador's regime, denounced for violations of human rights and its support of death squads, was a failure. In his travel in Managua, Nicaragua, John Paul II harshly condemned what he dubbed the "popular Church" (i.e. "ecclesial base communities" (CEBs) supported by the CELAM) and, against Nicaraguan clergy tendencies to support the Sandinistas, insisted on Vatican's sole and only authority. John Paul II was also criticized for visiting Augusto Pinochet in Chile. He invited him to restore democracy, but, critics claim, not in as firm terms as the ones he used against communist countries. John Paul also allegedly endorsed Pío Cardinal Laghi, who critics say supported the "Dirty War" in Argentina and was on friendly terms with the Argentinean generals of the military dictatorship, allegedly playing regular tennis matches with general Jorge Rafael Videla.

The pope, who began his papacy when the Soviets controlled his native country of Poland, as well as the rest of Eastern Europe, was a harsh critic of communism, supporting the Polish Solidarity movement. Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev once said the collapse of the Iron Curtain would have been impossible without John Paul II. This view is shared by those people who credited him, as well as Ronald Reagan, of the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall. In later years, after having harshly condemned Liberation theology, John Paul II criticized some of the more extreme versions of corporate capitalism.

Jubilee 2000 campaign Edit

In 2000 he publicly endorsed the Jubilee 2000 campaign on African debt relief fronted by Irish rock stars Bob Geldof and Bono. It was reported that during this period, U2's recording sessions were repeatedly interrupted by phone calls from the pope, wanting to discuss the campaign with Bono.

Iraq war Edit

In 2003 John Paul II also became a prominent critic of the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq. He sent former Apostolic Pro-Nuncio to the United States Pío Cardinal Laghi to talk with American President George W. Bush to express opposition to the war. John Paul II said that it was up to the United Nations to solve the international conflict through diplomacy and that a unilateral aggression is a crime against peace and a violation of international law.

European Constitutional Treaty Edit

In European Union negotiations for a new European Constitutional Treaty in 2003 and 2004, the Vatican's representatives failed to secure any mention of Europe's "Christian heritage"—one of the pope's cherished goals.

Sex issues Edit

The pope was also a leading critic of homosexual marriage. In his last book, Memory and Identity, he referred to the "pressures" on the European Parliament to permit homosexual marriage. Reuters quotes the pope as writing, "It is legitimate and necessary to ask oneself if this is not perhaps part of a new ideology of evil, perhaps more insidious and hidden, which attempts to pit human rights against the family and against man."

The Pope also reaffirmed the Church's teaching on gender in relation to transsexuals, as the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which he supervised, made clear that the condition must be seen as a mental illness and that transsexuals could not serve in church positions.

Theory of evolution and the interpretation of Genesis Edit

See also: Evolution and the Roman Catholic Church.

In an October 22, 1996, address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, Pope John Paul II updated the Church's position to accept evolution of the human body:

"In his encyclical Humani Generis (1950), my predecessor Pius XII has already affirmed that there is no conflict between evolution and the doctrine of the faith regarding man and his vocation, provided that we do not lose sight of certain fixed points....Today, more than a half-century after the appearance of that encyclical, some new findings lead us toward the recognition of evolution as more than an hypothesis. In fact it is remarkable that this theory has had progressively greater influence on the spirit of researchers, following a series of discoveries in different scholarly disciplines. The convergence in the results of these independent studies -- which was neither planned nor sought -- constitutes in itself a significant argument in favor of the theory." (John Paul II, Message to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences on Evolution)

In the same address, the Pope rejected any theory of evolution that provides a materialistic explanation for the human soul:

"Theories of evolution which, because of the philosophies which inspire them, regard the spirit either as emerging from the forces of living matter, or as a simple epiphenomenon of that matter, are incompatible with the truth about man."

John Paul II also wrote to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences on the subject of cosmology and how to interpret Genesis:

"Cosmogony and cosmology have always aroused great interest among peoples and religions. The Bible itself speaks to us of the origin of the universe and its make-up, not in order to provide us with a scientific treatise, but in order to state the correct relationships of man with God and with the universe. Sacred Scripture wishes simply to declare that the world was created by God, and in order to teach this truth it expresses itself in the terms of the cosmology in use at the time of the writer. The Sacred Book likewise wishes to tell men that the world was not created as the seat of the gods, as was taught by other cosmogonies and cosmologies, but was rather created for the service of man and the glory of God. Any other teaching about the origin and make-up of the universe is alien to the intentions of the Bible, which does not wish to teach how heaven was made but how one goes to heaven." (Pope John Paul II, 3 October 1981 to the Pontifical Academy of Science, "Cosmology and Fundamental Physics")


Main article: Criticism of Pope John Paul II

When the Cold War ended, some conservatives argued that the Pope moved too far left on foreign policy, and had pacifist views that were too extreme. His opposition to the 2003 Iraq War was criticized for this reason.

On the other hand, John Paul II was also criticized from the left for his support of the Opus Dei prelature and the canonization of its founder, Jose María Escrivá, whose opponents call him an admirer of Spanish dictator Francisco Franco, although recent studies show that Escrivá was neither pro-Franco nor anti-Franco, and was staunchly apolitical. This support for Opus Dei was coherent with the 1984 and 1986 condemnations of Liberation theology, the Pope's opposition to Oscar Romero in El Salvador and, according to his critics, also to his visit to Augusto Pinochet, Chile's dictator. His supporters say that the latter is one more among all the heads of states he visited.

John Paul II's steadfast defense of the moral teachings of the Catholic Church regarding gender roles and sexuality also came under attack. Some feminists criticized his positions on the role of women, while other feminist groups championed his support and deep understanding of the dignity of women. He upheld the Catholic stand against homosexuality and same-sex marriage because he believed that although every homosexual person should be respected and loved, the sexual expression of homosexuality is a sin. This upset many Gay-rights activists.

His unwaivering stand with Catholic moral teachings on artificial contraception was particularly controversial. Claims were made that John Paul II's papacy spread an unproven belief that condoms do not block the spread of HIV; between these two claims, many critics have blamed him for contributing to AIDS epidemics in Africa and elsewhere in which millions have died. His supporters disagree and stress the importance of sexual abstinence in preventing the spread of AIDS. Critics have also claimed that large families are caused by lack of contraception and exacerbate Third World poverty and problems such as street children in South America. Supporters have countered that poverty can not be contracepted out of existance.

John Paul II was also criticized for the way he administered the Church; in particular, some critics charged that he failed to respond quickly enough to the Roman Catholic sex abuse cases. He was also criticized for recentralizing power back to the Vatican following what some viewed as a decentralization by Pope John XXIII. As such he was regarded by some as a strict authoritarian.

Besides all the criticism from those demanding modernization, Traditional Catholics were at times equally vehement in denouncing him from the right, demanding a return to the Tridentine Mass and repudiation of the reforms instituted after the Second Vatican Council, such as the use of the vernacular language in Mass. In 1988, controversial Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, founder of the Society of St. Pius X in 197, was excommunicated after the ordination of four bishops, which was called by the Holy See a "schismatic act".

There was also some criticism of the pope for the controversy surrounding the alleged use of charitable social programs as a means of converting people to in the Third World to Catholicism. [8] In fact, the Pope created an uproar in the Indian subcontinent when he suggested that a great harvest of faith would be witnessed on the subcontinent in the third Christian millenium. [9]

Because of the many criticisms he received during this lifetime, including many assassination attempts, and due to the downfall of his detractors in contrast with his fame of sanctity after his death, John Paul II has been called by theologians a sign of contradiction (a sign that is spoken against), a term which John Paul II suggests in his book of the same title as "a distinctive definition of Christ and of his Church." He may also be considered a contradiction for acts that contradict traditional canon law.

Other Edit

  • According to a New York Post article of February 19 2002, John Paul II personally performed three exorcisms during his tenure as pope. The first exorcism was performed on a woman in 1982. His second was in September 2000 when he performed the rite on a 19 year-old woman who had become enraged in St Peter's Square. A year later, in September 2001, he performed an exorcism on a 20 year-old woman.
  • The Harlem Globetrotters visited Pope John Paul II at the Vatican in November of 2000 and named the Pontiff an Honorary Harlem Globetrotter.
  • The book Red Rabbi by Tom Clancy, detailed a fictional KGB attempt to assasinate a newly appointed Polish Pope, who, though not mentioned by name, is obviously supposed to be John Paul II.
  • John Paul II has been featured on at least seven popular albums in his native Poland. Most notably singer/songwriter Stanislaw Sojka’s 2003 album, “Jan Pawel II -- Tryptyk Rzymski”, a ten-track collection of the Pope's poems set to music, reached No. 1.
  • In 2003, his death was incorrectly announced by CNN when his pre-written obituary (along with those of several other famous figures) was inadvertently published on CNN's web site due to a lapse in password protection.
  • A popular story in chess circles states that a certain Karol Wojtyla had published a chess problem in 1946. Although the young Wojtyla was indeed an accomplished chess player, the story of this publication appears to be a hoax whose roots were uncovered by Tomasz Lissowski.
  • John Paul II is the eighth most admired person in the 20th century, according to Gallup.
  • John Paul II was an avid soccer player in his youth and later became honorary member of FC Barcelona and Schalke 04.

Further reading Edit

Books by John Paul II Edit

In chronological order:

Meditations and philosophyEdit

Plays by John Paul IIEdit

Both of these plays were filmed:

Poetry by John Paul IIEdit

Biographies of Pope John Paul IIEdit

Books about his ThoughtEdit

  • Buttiglione, Rocco Karol Wojtyla: The Thought of the Man Who Became Pope John Paul II, Grand Rapids, Mich. & Cambridge, UK, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997

Films about Pope John Paul II Edit

See also Edit

References Edit

External linksEdit

Preceded by
Eugeniusz Baziak
Archbishop of Kraków

Succeeded by
Franciszek Macharski

Preceded by
John Paul I
October 16 1978April 2 2005

Succeeded by
Benedict XVI

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Popes of the Roman Catholic Church
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