John Paul II - History

John Paul II - History

John Paul II



Roman Catholic clergyman John Paul II was the first non-Italian to be chosen Pope since 1523. He was born in Poland and studied at Kracow University. Ordained as a priest in 1946, he became a Cardinal in 1967.

John Paul is a conservative theologian on issues such as birth control and the role of women in the church. However, he played an active role in international politics: he strongly supported Solidarity in Poland, thus helping to assure its success; he was also an opponent of Communism, and his vocal protests helped contribute to the fall of many communist regimes.

John Paul worked to achieve raprochment between Roman Catholics and Jews. His visit in 2000 to Israel combined with his visits to concentration camps played an important roll in that reconciliation.

In addition to his theological role, Pope John Paul has written a play, many poems and several books.

Pope John Paul II was head of the Catholic Church from 1978 to 2005, but to Poles, he was much more than that. John Paul II was the second longest-serving and the first non-Italian pope in modern history. He significantly improved the relations between the Catholic Church and other world’s religions. John Paul II was born in 1920 as Karol Wojtyla in the quiet town of Wadowice, 50 km south of Krakow. He devoted his life to the Catholic Church and used his position to fight for the Polish people in the times of communism. John Paul II was canonised in 2014.

John Paul II - History

We are here this afternoon to discuss the international impact of a man who is neither a politician, a diplomat, or an international relations theorist, but rather a pastor, an evangelist, and a witness to basic human rights. Yet it is also appropriate that we explore “the Pope’s divisions” under the auspices of the Foreign Policy Research Institute, for this institution has always understood that ideas have consequences in history, for good and for ill.

Pope John Paul II has had a considerable impact on contemporary history. Yet one may well wonder whether those who think about international relations, professionally or as an avocation, have begun to come to grips intellectually with the meaning of John Paul’s international accomplishment— or what that accomplishment suggests about the contours of world politics in the 21st century.

So my plan here is to sketch, briefly, the Pope’s accomplishment as I have come to understand it as his biographer, using three examples then I shall indicate, again briefly, some lessons from this accomplishment for the future and finally, I shall suggest where the new intellectual terrain lies for those interested in ethics and international relations.

To understand John Paul II’s concept of the dynamics of international relations, indeed, the dynamics of history itself, requires us to go back to the small Polish town of Wadowice, c. 1928. There, a young Polish boy named Karol Wojtyla learned the great lesson of modern Polish history: that it was through its culture — its language, it literature, its religion— that Poland the nation survived when Poland the state was erased for 123 years from the map of Europe. History viewed from the Vistula River basin looks different it has a tangible spiritual dimension. Looking at history from that distinctive angle-of-vision teaches the observant that overwhelming material force can be resisted successfully through the resources of the human spirit— through culture — and that culture is the most dynamic, enduring factor in human affairs, at least over the long haul.

Karol Wojtyla, whom the world would later know as Pope John Paul II, applied this lesson of the priority of culture in history in resistance to the two great totalitarian powers that sought to subjugate Poland between 1939 and 1989.

He applied it to a variety of resistance activities against the draconian Nazi Occupation of Poland from 1939 until 1945. If the Nazi strategy to erase these Polish-Slavic untermenschen from the European New Order began with an attempt to decapitate Polish society by liquidating it cultural leadership, then one effective means of resistance was to keep Polish culture alive— and this Wojtyla tried to do, at the daily risk of his life, by his participation in a host of cultural resistance groups: the underground Jagiellonian University, clandestine literary, theatrical, and religious activities, a pioneering movement of civil renewal called UNIA.

As a priest and bishop in Krakow, he applied a similar “culture-first” strategy to resistance against the communist effort to rewrite Poland’s history and redefine Poland’s culture. Wojtyla had no direct “political” involvement between 1948 and 1978 he could have cared less about the internal politics of the Polish communist party. But his efforts to nurture an informed, intelligent Catholic laity were examples of what a later generation would call “building civil society”— and thus laying the groundwork for an active resistance movement with political traction.

Pope John Paul II has applied this strategy of culturally driven change on a global stage since his election on October 16, 1978.

John Paul’s role in the collapse of European communism is now generally recognized, but it does not seem well understood. He was not, pace Tad Szulc, a wily diplomat skillfully negotiating a transition beyond one-party rule in Poland. He was not, pace Carl Bernstein and Marco Politi, a co-conspirator with Ronald Reagan in a “holy alliance” to effect communism’s demise. He was not, pace the late Jonathan Kwitny, a Gandhi in a white cassock, running a non-violent resistance movement in Poland through a clandestine messenger service from the Vatican. Rather, John Paul shaped the politics of east central Europe in the 1980s as a pastor, evangelist, and witness to basic human rights

Primary-source evidence for this is found in the texts of the Pope’s epic June 1979 pilgrimage to his homeland, nine days on which the history of the 20th century pivoted. In those forty-some sermons, addresses, lectures, and impromptu remarks, the Pope told his fellow-countrymen, in so many words: “You are not who they say you are. Let me remind you who you are.” By restoring to the Polish people their authentic history and culture, John Paul created a revolution of conscience that, fourteen months later, produced the nonviolent Solidarity resistance movement, a unique hybrid of workers and intellectuals — a “forest planed by aroused consciences,” as the Pope’s friend, the philosopher Jozef Tischner once put it. And by restoring to his people a form of freedom and a fearlessness that communism could not reach, John Paul II set in motion the human dynamics that eventually led, over a decade, to what we know as the Revolution of 1989.

June 1979 was not only a moment of catharsis for a people long frustrated by their inability to express the truth about themselves publicly. It was also a moment in which convictions were crystallized, to the point where the mute acquiescence that, as Vaclav Havel wrote, made continuing communist rule possible was shattered. Moreover, it was not simply that, as French historian Alain Besancon nicely put it, “people regained the private ownership of their tongues” during the Solidarity revolution. It was what those tongues said— their new willingness to defy what Havel called the communist “culture of the lie”— that made the crucial difference.

To be sure, there were other factors in creating the Revolution of 1989: the policies of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher Mikhail Gorbachev the Helsinki Final Act and its effects throughout Europe. But if we ask why communism collapsed when it did— in 1989 rather than 1999 or 2009 or 2019 — and how it did, then sufficient account has to be taken of June 1979. This is a point stressed by local witnesses: when I fist began to research this question in 1990, Poles, Czechs, and Slovaks, religious and secular alike, were unanimous in their testimony about the crucial impact of June 1979. That, they insisted, was when “1989″ started.

(Parenthetically, it’s worth noting that the West largely missed this. Thus the New York Times editorial of June 5, 1979: “As much as the visit of Pope John Paul II to Poland must reinvigorate and reinspire the Roman Catholic Church in Poland, it does not threaten the political order of the nation or of Eastern Europe.” But two other Slavic readers of the signs of the times were not at all confused: Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and Yuri Andropov both knew that the rise of John Paul II and the deployment of his “culture- first” strategy of social change was a profound threat to the Soviet order.)

John Paul applied a similar strategy to a quite different situation when he went to Chile in 1987. Fourteen years of the Pinochet government, following the crisis of the Allende regime, had created deep divisions in Chilean society. There were raw wounds in the body politic because of human rights abuses and the recalcitrance of the Left there was, in a phrase, no “civil society,” and that lack made a democratic transition impossible.

Therefore, John Paul, in collaboration with the Chilean bishops, decided that the public purpose of his 1987 pilgrimage to Chile would be to help reconstitute civil society through a reclamation of Chile’s Christian culture. The great theme for the visit would be that “Chile’s vocation is for understanding, not confrontation.” The papal pilgrimage would, as one of its organizers put it to me, “take back the streets,” which had been places of fear under Allende and Pinochet, and transform them, once again, into places of community. And people would be deliberately mixed together at the venues for the papal Masses: Chileans would be compelled, under the eye of their common religious “father,” to look at each other, once again, as persons rather than ideological objects. And it seems no accident that, some eighteen months after the papal visit had accelerated the process of reconstructing Chilean civil society, a national plebiscite voted to move beyond military rule and restore democracy.

Finally, the Pope deployed a similar strategy in Cuba in January 1998. He did not mention the current Cuban regime, once, in five days. Rather, he re-read Cuban history through the lens of a Christianity that had formed a distinctively Cuban people from native peoples, Spaniards, and black African slaves, and he re-read the Cuban national liberation struggle of the 19th century through the prism of its Christian inspiration. Here, as in Poland in 1979, the Pope was restoring to a people it authentic history and culture. In doing so, he was also calling for a reinsertion of Cuba into history and into the hemisphere, asking the Cuban people to stop thinking of yourselves as victims (the theme of Fidel Castro’s welcoming address), and start thinking of themselves as the protagonists of their own destiny.

Several lessons can be drawn from this analysis. First, the experience of John Paul II suggests that “civil society” is not simply institutional: a free press, free trade unions, free business organizations, free associations, etc. “Civil society” has an essential moral core.

Secondly, John Paul’s strategy reminds us that “power” cannot be measured solely in terms of aggregates of military or economic capability. The “power of the powerless” is a real form of power.

In the third place, the Pope’s impact demonstrates that non-state actors count in contemporary world politics, and sometimes in decisive ways. John Paul II did not shape the history of our times as the sovereign of the Vatican City micro-state, but as the Bishop of Rome and the universal pastor of the Catholic Church.

Still, the present pontificate has left some gaps in our understanding that urgently need filling in the years just ahead. It is curious that this son of a soldier, who has expressed his respect for the military vocation on many occasions, has not developed the Church’s just war doctrine. This was most evident during Gulf War, but beyond such relatively conventional conflicts, there are new issues today at the intersection of ethics and world politics— the problem of outlaw states, the morality of preemption in the face of weapons of mass destruction, the locus of “legitimate authority” in the international community — that the Pope has simply not addressed, and others must.

The same can be said for “humanitarian intervention,” which the Pope identified as a “moral duty” at the FAO in 1992. But this “duty” was not defined. On whom does it fall, and why? By what means is it to be discharged? What about the claims of sovereignty? These are large questions that demand the most careful reflection.

John Paul II has been the most politically consequential pope in centuries. But his impact did not come through the normal modalities of politics. He had no army. His success did not, in the main, come through the normal instruments of diplomacy. In terms of the history of ideas, his “culture-first” reading of history is a sharp challenge to the regnant notions that politics runs history, or economics runs history. Does the fact of the Pope’s success suggest that we are moving into a period in which nation-states are of less consequence in “world affairs”? Or were the accomplishments I’ve outlined here idiosyncratic, the result of a singular personality meeting a unique set of circumstances with singular prescience and effect? There is much to chew on here, for students of international affairs, in the years immediately ahead. But that we have been living, in this pontificate, through the days of a giant seems clear enough.

Election of John Paul II

John Paul II was elected on October 16th, 1978. He was the first non-Italian pope to be elected in four centuries.

The first non-Italian pope to be elected in four centuries, and widely regarded as one of the most memorable, was born Karol Jozef Wojtyla in 1920 in a small town in Poland, near Krakow. His mother died in 1929, when he was a schoolboy of eight. His studies at university in Poland were interrupted by the German invasion in 1939, but he was ordained priest after the war, in 1946, and went on to hold a university professorship at Lublin. Rising in the Church hierarchy, he was Archbishop of Krakow from the end of 1963 and was created a cardinal in 1967 by Pope Paul VI.

Paul VI died in 1978 and was succeeded in August that year by John Paul I, the former patriarch of Venice, who died on September 28th after the shortest pontificate in modern times, lasting only thirty-three days. The cardinals gathered again on October 14th, a Saturday, behind the sealed doors of the Sistine Chapel to choose his successor. There were 111 electors present (cardinals over eighty were not allowed a vote). The figures vary, but according to one tally there were twenty-five from Italy and thirty from the rest of Europe, nineteen from Latin America, twelve from North America, twelve from Africa, nine from Asia and four from Oceania. Lots were cast for the nasty little rooms in the Apostolic Palace in which the cardinals slept on borrowed hospital or seminary beds, with a bedside light too dim to read by, a wash-basin, a slops bucket, a writing table and a kneeler for prayers. Each was issued with one roll of toilet paper, two ballpoint pens, two very small towels, one bar of soap and an ashtray. The point was to encourage the cardinals not to dally over their choice one of them said it was like being buried alive.

The conclave lasted through three days and eight ballots. Voting was strictly secret and reports of the proceedings have to be taken with some salt. The leading candidates were both Italian: Cardinal Giuseppe Siri, archbishop of Genoa, who has been described as ‘the archconservative’s archconservative’, and Cardinal Giovanni Benelli, the more liberal archbishop of Florence. According to his secretary, Siri came within a handful of votes of election at one stage, but support for him and Benelli was so equally divided that it grew clear that neither was likely to gain the necessary majority of two-thirds of the votes plus one, which meant 75. Late on the second day of the conclave, the archbishop of Vienna, Cardinal Franz König, suggested Cardinal Wojtyla as a compromise candidate. Some of Siri’s supporters joined with some of Benelli’s and most of the American cardinals in voting for Wojtyla. The tide swung Wojtyla’s way and he was elected on the eighth ballot with more than 90 of the 111 votes. He said in response, ‘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’.

Observers saw the white smoke curling up from the Sistine Chapel soon after 6pm and the result of the conclave was announced according to custom in Latin from the balcony of St Peter’s Basilica. Some of the waiting crowd thought from the new pope’s surname that he must be an African, but at 7.15 pm he appeared on the balcony and made a speech, in almost flawless Italian, in which he told the crowd that he had been dismayed at the nomination, but had accepted it ‘in the spirit of obedience to Our Lord and with total trust in his Mother, the Most Holy Madonna.’

The new pope, who was fifty-eight, was installed on October 22nd and took the name of John Paul II in honour of his predecessor, who had himself taken the names of both his predecessors – John XXIII and Paul VI. At sixty he survived an assassination attempt in Rome in 1981, when he was shot in St Peter’s Square.

John Paul II was noted for conservatism, strength of character, phenomenal energy and zeal for hard work. As well as Polish, Latin and Italian, he spoke English, French and German, and, instantly recognizable in his ‘popemobile’, he travelled widely, attracting enormous crowds and addressing huge and enthusiastic audiences. He was probably seen by more people than anyone before in history.

After a pontificate of twenty-six years, John Paul II died in 2005 in Rome, aged eighty-four. He had canonized more saints, more widely spread around the world, than any of his predecessors and named 150 new cardinals from all five continents. He had made a powerful impact on the world’s religious faiths and millions went to Rome to see his body lying in state in St Peter’s.

John Paul II : man of history

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How St. John Paul II changed the Church and the world

As we celebrate the feast day of the Polish pope, it is fitting to consider the profound and multifaceted impact of his papacy.

Today, we celebrate the feast day of Pope St. John Paul II, whose pontificate was the third-longest ever and who was canonized just nine years after his death, making his the shortest canonization cause in modern Church history. John Paul II was a pope who broke many other records. If we try to imagine what the world and the Church would be like today if on October 16, 1978, the College of Cardinals had elected someone else to lead the Barque of Peter, we would have a dramatically different reality. Here are just a few of the most important ways in which St. John Paul II changed the Church and the world forever.

He played a pivotal role in ending communism in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. John Paul II did not single-handedly defeat the Soviet empire. The Soviets’ internal economic decay, the bold leadership of Ronald Reagan, and the fact that the Soviets did not invade Poland in 1980 as they did Hungary in 1956 all were crucial factors that led to the reunification of Europe and the end of the Cold War. However, why did the end of European communism begin in Poland with the rise of Solidarity? It is a widely accepted historical fact that Pope John Paul II’s 1979 nine-day visit to his native Poland gave hope to his nation and inspired his countrymen to assertively fight for their rights. The documentary Nine Days That Changed the World does a beautiful job of showing the political impact of this visit. British historian Timothy Garton Ash, who covered the rise of Solidarity for the English-language press (and who himself regards himself as an “agnostic liberal”) has written: “I would argue the historical case in three steps: without the Polish Pope, no Solidarity revolution in Poland in 1980 without Solidarity, no dramatic change in Soviet policy towards Eastern Europe under Gorbachev without that change, no velvet revolutions in 1989.”

John Paul II dealt lethal blows to many dictatorships. With the exception of communist Cuba, most countries in Latin America today enjoy democracy. Today, Chile is a member of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, the “rich countries club,” while Brazil’s middle class has soared by 40 percent in the past decade. In 1978, however, that was not so. Most countries in the region were ruled by ruthless military dictatorships. In 1987, John Paul II visited Chile, where he made many gestures supporting the pro-democratic opposition, and asked the country’s dictator General Augusto Pinochet to step down. A few months later, Pinochet held a referendum asking the Chilean people if they want a return to civilian rule (which they did). Meanwhile, in 1983, the pontiff visited Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, then ruled by the extravagant dictator “Baby Doc” Duvalier. John Paul condemned the poverty and political violence, and shortly thereafter the Haitians rose up and drove Duvalier out of the country. In addition to Latin America, John Paul II’s visit to the Philippines, ruled by dictator Ferdinand Marcos, influenced the local Church to lead a successful nonviolent revolution against the dictatorship. The late archbishop of Manila Cardinal Jaime Sin, the informal leader of the Philippine People Power Revolution, said he was inspired above all by John Paul II and Solidarity.

The Church’s relationship to other religions has changed forever. Before the Second Vatican Council, relations between Catholics and Jews were quite difficult. Until the pontificate of St. John XXIII, Catholics prayed for the conversion of the “perfidious Jews” during the Good Friday liturgy. Today, relations between the Church and the Jews are arguably the best they have been in 2,000 years. St. John Paul II became the first pope to make an official visit to a synagogue, to establish diplomatic relations between the Holy See and Israel, and to condemn anti-Semitism as a sin. Repeatedly during his pontificate, John Paul proved to be a friend of the Jews. When the pontiff died, the Jewish world was in mourning, feeling it had lost a brother and protector. Similarly, he became the first pope to visit a Protestant church. The dignitary who had the most audiences with St. John Paul II was the Dalai Lama the Polish pope and the Tibetan Buddhist monk both came from ancient nations that experienced communist oppression imposed by their powerful neighbors, and so they seemed to share a special “ecumenism of blood.”

Christian unity, while still a long way off, is closer than ever before. I make an effort to regularly pray for the unity of all Christians, and if you do not, I encourage you to do so as well. God wants unity, and not divisions. While the prospects of this actually happening anytime soon seem unlikely, St. John Paul II certainly moved things forward. Earlier this year, Pope Francis travelled to Armenia, the world’s oldest Christian nation, where most people belong to the Armenian Apostolic Church. There, he signed an agreement with Catholicos Karekin II in which the two men agreed to work towards “full communion” between their respective Churches. This would not have been possible without a declaration signed between John Paul II and the previous catholicos, in which they agreed on a shared definition of Christ’s nature, the biggest theological obstacle to full communion between Rome and Etchmiadzin (where the headquarters of the Armenian Apostolic Church are located).

Similarly, in the 1990s John Paul II vigorously worked for full reconciliation between Rome and the Church of England. While the likelihood of such a reconciliation has become increasingly remote in recent years, as the C of E has abandoned traditional teachings on morality and on the nature of the priesthood, John Paul’s efforts paved the way for Pope Benedict XVI in 2009 to establish ordinariates for Anglicans who wish to swim the Tiber.

John Paul II also became the first pope to visit Orthodox-majority countries such as Romania and Greece.

John Paul II brought the Gospel to more people than anyone since St. Peter. In all likelihood, St. John Paul II was seen by more people in person than any other figure in world history. He not only travelled widely across Italy and visited almost all of Rome’s parishes (in addition to leading the global Church, the pope is also the bishop of Rome and primate of Italy) John Paul visited two-thirds of the world’s countries. As we saw before, his visits to communist Poland and nations governed by military dictators had enormous political consequences. Difficult political situations were no deterrent to papal travel: for example, John Paul II was the only major head of state to visit East Timor during its brutal occupation by Indonesia (consequently, many East Timorese men born after the visit are named John Paul). However, John Paul II made a point of not only visiting countries on the “peripheries,” but of bringing the Gospel to rich nations threatened by the cult of Mammon as well: after his native Poland, the nations John Paul II paid the most visits to were France (which over the past two centuries had rejected its ancient Christian roots) and the United States. Even nations with tiny Catholic populations, like Jamaica and Finland, were honored with papal visits.

He invented World Youth Day, which is bringing about real rejuvenation where the Church needs it most. When Pope John Paul II decided to hold World Youth Day in Denver in 1993, the American bishops begged him to reconsider. Young Americans don’t care about their faith, they argued, and the event will be a big public relations flop. How wrong they were! While vocations to the priesthood and religious life in the United States are at a lower level than they were 50 years ago, they have picked up significantly in recent years after reaching a nadir in the mid-1990s, right before World Youth Day was held stateside. Since a third of current American seminarians have cited WYD as an influence on their vocation, this correlation cannot be coincidental. World Youth Day in Sydney in 2008 proved to be a similar booster shot to the Church in Australia, where vocations and youth engagement in Catholicism are on the rise, while post-Catholic Spain has also seen a growth in vocations since WYD 2011 in Madrid. Both Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis have continued to celebrate World Youth Day, and it looks like the event is here to stay. Meanwhile, the Church will continue reaping the good fruits.

The papacy became a voice that matters in the world. Encompassing an area of 109 acres, the Holy See is the world’s smallest state. Central Park in New York City is almost eight times bigger. Thanks to St. John Paul II, however, the tiny Vatican microstate has arguably gained the most global influence since the Renaissance. “How many divisions has the pope?” Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin once famously said, scoffing at the notion that the Roman priest-monarch could have any real impact on the world. John Paul II proved Stalin wrong. From Poland to El Salvador, his travels often had explosive consequences. When John Paul II spoke at the United Nations or at the European Parliament, people listened. In 2003, even the New York Times thought that John Paul II would be an appropriate candidate to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. It is telling that after John Paul II’s death both George W. Bush and Hugo Chavez praised the late pope.

He gave a bold example of uncompromising leadership, something rare in our world. The late British journalist and intellectual (and Catholic convert) Malcolm Muggeridge once said that only dead fish swim with the stream. Most political leaders today are dead fish, changing their minds based on what the polling data says. John Paul II, however, was always true to his convictions. He did not care if the op-ed page of the Guardian, La Repubblica, or the New York Times criticized his defense of the unborn or if Condoleezza Rice was disappointed that the pope did not back the invasion of Iraq. To the late pope, the Gospels, and not current trends, were what mattered the most. The final chapter of John Paul II’s pontificate, however, was perhaps the most countercultural. Today, we live in an age that glorifies physical beauty and youth and that is afraid of suffering. Most people want to be like Dorian Gray in Oscar Wilde’s famous novel and remain young and beautiful forever. In most Western countries, the vast majority of children with Down syndrome are killed in the womb. There is growing support to legalize euthanasia not only for the terminally ill, but also for those who simply have become weary of living. On the contrary, John Paul II embraced his suffering and illness from Parkinson’s disease and other ailments. His disease and death were very public. This resonated in hearts around the world, judging by the millions who flocked to Rome in the spring of 2005 to attend the biggest funeral in human history.

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John Paul II was founded by the Tasmanian Catholic Education Office in 1983, with the mission to provide an affordable education to all families who seek a Catholic education within the communities of Clarendon Vale, Rokeby, Oakdowns, Lauderdale and surrounding areas.

Our founding principal, George Toepfer had a passion to realise Archbishop Guilford Young’s hope of bringing Catholic Education to Clarence Plains. The School comes from humble beginnings and started its journey with just two teachers who worked with the local community to develop a school that would uphold the John Paul II motto: to love and serve the Lord in peace. The School has always worked hard to support all families, particularly the poor and marginalised.

Our School takes inspiration from the life of Saint John Paul II and his dedication to the service of others. Throughout its history, the school has always encouraged students to develop their gifts as individuals and to live lives of purpose, in the spirit of John Paul II.

In recent times, John Paul II has found itself in one of the main ‘growth corridors’ of Clarence, embracing the new areas of Oakdowns and Glebe Hill, as well as the growing areas of Rokeby, Lauderdale and the South Arm Peninsula.

We welcome you to find out more about our proud history and our vision for the future.


Karol Józef Wojtyła was born in the Polish town of Wadowice. [24] [25] He was the youngest of three children born to Karol Wojtyła (1879–1941), an ethnic Pole, and Emilia Kaczorowska (1884–1929), who was of distant Lithuanian heritage. [26] Emilia, who was a schoolteacher, died from a heart attack and kidney failure in 1929 [27] when Wojtyła was eight years old. [28] His elder sister Olga had died before his birth, but he was close to his brother Edmund, nicknamed Mundek, who was 13 years his senior. Edmund's work as a physician eventually led to his death from scarlet fever, a loss that affected Wojtyła deeply. [26] [28]

Wojtyła was baptized a month after his birth, made his First Communion at the age of 9, and was confirmed at the age of 18. [29] As a boy, Wojtyła was athletic, often playing football as goalkeeper. [30] During his childhood, Wojtyła had contact with the large Jewish community of Wadowice. [31] School football games were often organised between teams of Jews and Catholics, and Wojtyła often played on the Jewish side. [26] [30] "I remember that at least a third of my classmates at elementary school in Wadowice were Jews. At elementary school there were fewer. With some I was on very friendly terms. And what struck me about some of them was their Polish patriotism." [32] It was around this time that the young Karol had his first serious relationship with a girl. He became close to a girl called Ginka Beer, described as "a Jewish beauty, with stupendous eyes and jet black hair, slender, a superb actress." [33]

In mid-1938, Wojtyła and his father left Wadowice and moved to Kraków, where he enrolled at the Jagiellonian University. While studying such topics as philology and various languages, he worked as a volunteer librarian and though required to participate in compulsory military training in the Academic Legion, he refused to fire a weapon. He performed with various theatrical groups and worked as a playwright. [34] During this time, his talent for language blossomed, and he learned as many as 15 languages — Polish, Latin, Italian, English, Spanish, Portuguese, French, German, Luxembourgish, Dutch, Ukrainian, Serbo-Croatian, Czech, Slovak and Esperanto, [35] nine of which he used extensively as pope.

In 1939, after invading Poland, the Nazi German occupation forces closed the university. [24] Able-bodied males were required to work, so from 1940 to 1944 Wojtyła variously worked as a messenger for a restaurant, a manual labourer in a limestone quarry and for the Solvay chemical factory, in order to avoid deportation to Germany. [25] [34] In February 1940, he met Jan Tyranowski who introduced him to the Carmelite spirituality and the "Living Rosary" youth groups. [36] In that same year he had two major accidents, suffering a fractured skull after being struck by a tram and sustaining injuries which left him with one shoulder higher than the other and a permanent stoop after being hit by a lorry in a quarry. [37] His father, a former Austro-Hungarian non-commissioned officer and later officer in the Polish Army, died of a heart attack in 1941, [38] leaving Wojtyła as the immediate family's only surviving member. [26] [27] [39] "I was not at my mother's death, I was not at my brother's death, I was not at my father's death," he said, reflecting on these times of his life, nearly forty years later, "At twenty, I had already lost all the people I loved." [39]

After his father's death, he started thinking seriously about the priesthood. [40] In October 1942, while the war continued, he knocked on the door of the Archbishop's residence in Kraków and asked to study for the priesthood. [40] Soon after, he began courses in the clandestine underground seminary run by the Archbishop of Kraków, Cardinal Adam Stefan Sapieha. On 29 February 1944, Wojtyła was hit by a German truck. German Wehrmacht officers tended to him and sent him to a hospital. He spent two weeks there recovering from a severe concussion and a shoulder injury. It seemed to him that this accident and his survival was a confirmation of his vocation. On 6 August 1944, a day known as "Black Sunday", [41] the Gestapo rounded up young men in Kraków to curtail the uprising there, [41] similar to the recent uprising in Warsaw. [42] [43] Wojtyła escaped by hiding in the basement of his uncle's house at 10 Tyniecka Street, while the German troops searched above. [40] [42] [43] More than eight thousand men and boys were taken that day, while Wojtyła escaped to the Archbishop's residence, [40] [41] [42] where he remained until after the Germans had left. [26] [40] [42]

On the night of 17 January 1945, the Germans fled the city, and the students reclaimed the ruined seminary. Wojtyła and another seminarian volunteered for the task of clearing away piles of frozen excrement from the toilets. [44] Wojtyła also helped a 14-year-old Jewish refugee girl named Edith Zierer, [45] who had escaped from a Nazi labour camp in Częstochowa. [45] Edith had collapsed on a railway platform, so Wojtyła carried her to a train and stayed with her throughout the journey to Kraków. She later credited Wojtyła with saving her life that day. [46] [47] [48] B'nai B'rith and other authorities have said that Wojtyła helped protect many other Polish Jews from the Nazis. During the Nazi occupation of Poland, a Jewish family sent their son, Stanley Berger, to be hidden by a Gentile Polish family. Berger's biological Jewish parents died during the Holocaust, and after the war Berger's new Christian parents asked Karol Wojtyła to baptise the boy. Wojtyła refused, saying that the child should be raised in the Jewish faith of his birth parents and nation, not as a Catholic. [49] He did everything he could to ensure that Berger leave Poland to be raised by his Jewish relatives in the United States. [50] In April 2005, shortly after John Paul II's death, the Israeli government created a commission to honour the legacy of John Paul II. One of the honorifics proposed by a head of Italy's Jewish community, Emmanuele Pacifici was the medal of the Righteous Among the Nations. [51] In Wojtyła's last book, Memory and Identity, he described the 12 years of the Nazi régime as "bestiality", [52] quoting from the Polish theologian and philosopher Konstanty Michalski. [53]

After finishing his studies at the seminary in Kraków, Wojtyła was ordained as a priest on All Saints' Day, 1 November 1946, [27] by the Archbishop of Kraków, Cardinal Adam Stefan Sapieha. [25] [54] [55] Sapieha sent Wojtyła to Rome's Pontifical International Athenaeum Angelicum, the future Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas, to study under the French Dominican friar Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange beginning on 26 November 1946. He resided in the Belgian Pontifical College during this time, under rectorship of Maximilien de Furstenberg. [56] Wojtyła earned a licence in July 1947, passed his doctoral exam on 14 June 1948, and successfully defended his doctoral thesis titled Doctrina de fide apud S. Ioannem a Cruce (The Doctrine of Faith in St. John of the Cross) in philosophy on 19 June 1948. [57] The Angelicum preserves the original copy of Wojtyła's typewritten thesis. [58] Among other courses at the Angelicum, Wojtyła studied Hebrew with the Dutch Dominican Peter G. Duncker, author of the Compendium grammaticae linguae hebraicae biblicae. [59]

According to Wojtyła's fellow student the future Austrian Cardinal Alfons Stickler, in 1947 during his sojourn at the Angelicum, Wojtyła visited Padre Pio, who heard his confession and told him that one day he would ascend to "the highest post in the Church". [60] Cardinal Stickler added that Wojtyła believed that the prophecy was fulfilled when he became a Cardinal. [61]

Wojtyła returned to Poland in the summer of 1948 for his first pastoral assignment in the village of Niegowić, 24 kilometres (15 miles) from Kraków, at the Church of the Assumption. He arrived at Niegowić at harvest time, where his first action was to kneel and kiss the ground. [62] He repeated this gesture, which he adopted from the French saint Jean Marie Baptiste Vianney, [62] throughout his papacy.

In March 1949, Wojtyła was transferred to the parish of Saint Florian in Kraków. He taught ethics at Jagiellonian University and subsequently at the Catholic University of Lublin. While teaching, he gathered a group of about 20 young people, who began to call themselves Rodzinka, the "little family". They met for prayer, philosophical discussion, and to help the blind and the sick. The group eventually grew to approximately 200 participants, and their activities expanded to include annual skiing and kayaking trips. [63]

In 1953, Wojtyła's habilitation thesis was accepted by the Faculty of Theology at the Jagiellonian University. In 1954, he earned a Doctorate in Sacred Theology, [64] evaluating the feasibility of a Catholic ethic based on the ethical system of the phenomenologist Max Scheler with a dissertation titled "Reevaluation of the possibility of founding a Catholic ethic on the ethical system of Max Scheler" [65] (Polish: Ocena możliwości zbudowania etyki chrześcijańskiej przy założeniach systemu Maksa Schelera). [66] Scheler was a German philosopher who founded a broad philosophical movement that emphasised the study of conscious experience. However, the Communist authorities abolished the Faculty of Theology at the Jagellonian University, thereby preventing him from receiving the degree until 1957. [55] Wojtyła developed a theological approach, called phenomenological Thomism, that combined traditional Catholic Thomism with the ideas of personalism, a philosophical approach deriving from phenomenology, which was popular among Catholic intellectuals in Kraków during Wojtyła's intellectual development. He translated Scheler's Formalism and the Ethics of Substantive Values. [67] In 1961, he coined "Thomistic Personalism" to describe Aquinas's philosophy. [68]

During this period, Wojtyła wrote a series of articles in Kraków's Catholic newspaper, Tygodnik Powszechny ("Universal Weekly"), dealing with contemporary Church issues. [69] He focused on creating original literary work during his first dozen years as a priest. War, life under Communism, and his pastoral responsibilities all fed his poetry and plays. Wojtyła published his work under two pseudonyms—Andrzej Jawień and Stanisław Andrzej Gruda [34] [69] —to distinguish his literary from his religious writings (issued under his own name), and also so that his literary works would be considered on their own merits. [34] [69] In 1960, Wojtyła published the influential theological book Love and Responsibility, a defence of traditional Church teachings on marriage from a new philosophical standpoint. [34] [70]

While a priest in Kraków, groups of students regularly joined Wojtyła for hiking, skiing, bicycling, camping and kayaking, accompanied by prayer, outdoor Masses and theological discussions. In Stalinist-era Poland, it was not permitted for priests to travel with groups of students. Wojtyła asked his younger companions to call him "Wujek" (Polish for "Uncle") to prevent outsiders from deducing he was a priest. The nickname gained popularity among his followers. In 1958, when Wojtyła was named auxiliary bishop of Kraków, his acquaintances expressed concern that this would cause him to change. Wojtyła responded to his friends, "Wujek will remain Wujek," and he continued to live a simple life, shunning the trappings that came with his position as Bishop. This beloved nickname stayed with Wojtyła for his entire life and continues to be affectionately used, particularly by the Polish people. [71] [72]

Call to the episcopate

On 4 July 1958, [55] while Wojtyła was on a kayaking holiday in the lakes region of northern Poland, Pope Pius XII appointed him as an auxiliary bishop of Kraków. He was consequently summoned to Warsaw to meet the Primate of Poland, Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński, who informed him of his appointment. [73] [74] Wojtyła accepted the appointment as auxiliary bishop to Kraków's Archbishop Eugeniusz Baziak, and he received episcopal consecration (as titular bishop of Ombi) on 28 September 1958, with Baziak as the principal consecrator and as co-consecrators Bishop Boleslaw Kominek (titular bishop of Sophene and Vågå, auxiliary of the Catholic Archdiocese of Wrocław, and Franciszek Jop, Auxiliary Bishop of Sandomierz (Titular Bishop of Daulia. Kominek was to become Cardinal Archbishop of Wrocław) and Jop was later Auxiliary Bishop of Wrocław and then Bishop of Opole). [55] At the age of 38, Wojtyła became the youngest bishop in Poland.

In 1959, Wojtyła began an annual tradition of saying a Midnight Mass on Christmas Day in an open field at Nowa Huta, the so-called model workers' town outside Kraków that was without a church building. [75] Baziak died in June 1962 and on 16 July, Wojtyła was selected as Vicar Capitular (temporary administrator) of the Archdiocese until an archbishop could be appointed. [24] [25]

Participation in Vatican II and subsequent events

From October 1962, Wojtyła took part in the Second Vatican Council (1962–1965), [24] [55] where he made contributions to two of its most historic and influential products, the Decree on Religious Freedom (in Latin, Dignitatis humanae) and the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et spes). [55] Wojtyła and the Polish bishops contributed a draft text to the Council for Gaudium et spes. According to the Jesuit historian John W. O'Malley, the draft text Gaudium et spes that Wojtyła and the Polish delegation sent "had some influence on the version that was sent to the council fathers that summer but was not accepted as the base text". [76] According to John F. Crosby, as pope, John Paul II used the words of Gaudium et spes later to introduce his own views on the nature of the human person in relation to God: man is "the only creature on earth that God has wanted for its own sake", but man "can fully discover his true self only in a sincere giving of himself". [77]

He also participated in the assemblies of the Synod of Bishops. [24] [25] On 13 January 1964, Pope Paul VI appointed him Archbishop of Kraków. [78] On 26 June 1967, Paul VI announced Wojtyła's promotion to the College of Cardinals. [55] [78] Wojtyła was named cardinal priest of the titulus of San Cesareo in Palatio.

In 1967, he was instrumental in formulating the encyclical Humanae vitae, which dealt with the same issues that forbid abortion and artificial birth control. [55] [79] [80]

According to a contemporary witness, Wojtyła was against the distribution of a letter around Kraków in 1970, stating that the Polish Episcopate was preparing for the 50th anniversary of the Polish–Soviet War.

In 1973, Wojtyła met philosopher Anna-Teresa Tymieniecka, the wife of Hendrik S. Houthakker, professor of economics at Stanford University and Harvard University, and member of President Nixon's Council of Economic Advisers [81] [82] [83] Tymieniecka collaborated with Wojtyła on a number of projects including an English translation of Wojtyła's book Osoba i czyn (Person and Act). Person and Act, one of John Paul II's foremost literary works, was initially written in Polish. [82] Tymieniecka produced the English-language version. [82] They corresponded over the years, and grew to be good friends. [82] [84] When Wojtyła visited New England in the summer of 1976, Tymieniecka put him up as a guest in her family home. [82] [84] Wojtyła enjoyed his holiday in Pomfret, Vermont kayaking and enjoying the outdoors, as he had done in his beloved Poland. [82] [74]

During 1974–1975, Wojtyła served Pope Paul VI as consultor to the Pontifical Council for the Laity, as recording secretary for the 1974 synod on evangelism and by participating extensively in the original drafting of the 1975 apostolic exhortation, Evangelii nuntiandi. [85]


In August 1978, following the death of Pope Paul VI, Wojtyła voted in the papal conclave, which elected John Paul I. John Paul I died after only 33 days as pope, triggering another conclave. [25] [55] [86]

The second conclave of 1978 started on 14 October, ten days after the funeral. It was split between two strong candidates for the papacy: Cardinal Giuseppe Siri, the conservative Archbishop of Genoa, and the liberal Archbishop of Florence, Cardinal Giovanni Benelli, a close friend of John Paul I. [87]

Supporters of Benelli were confident that he would be elected, and in early ballots, Benelli came within nine votes of success. [87] However, both men faced sufficient opposition for neither to be likely to prevail. Giovanni Colombo, the Archbishop of Milan was considered as a compromise candidate among the Italian cardinal-electors, but when he started to receive votes, he announced that, if elected, he would decline to accept the papacy. [88] Cardinal Franz König, Archbishop of Vienna, suggested Wojtyła as another compromise candidate to his fellow electors. [87] Wojtyła won on the eighth ballot on the third day (16 October)—coincidentally the day that the American evangelical preacher Billy Graham had just concluded a 10-day pilgrimage to Poland—with, according to the Italian press, 99 votes from the 111 participating electors.

Among those cardinals who rallied behind Wojtyła were supporters of Giuseppe Siri, Stefan Wyszyński, most of the American cardinals (led by John Krol), and other moderate cardinals. He accepted his election with the 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". [89] [90] The pope, in tribute to his immediate predecessor, then took the regnal name of John Paul II, [55] [87] also in honor of the late Pope Paul VI, and the traditional white smoke informed the crowd gathered in St. Peter's Square that a pope had been chosen. There had been rumors that the new pope wished to be known as Pope Stanislaus in honor of the Polish saint of the name, but was convinced by the cardinals that it was not a Roman name. [86] When the new pontiff appeared on the balcony, he broke tradition by addressing the gathered crowd: [89]

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 corrict [sic] me . [91] [89] [92] [93] [deliberately mispronouncing the word 'correct']

Wojtyła became the 264th pope according to the chronological list of popes, the first non-Italian in 455 years. [94] At only 58 years of age, he was the youngest pope since Pope Pius IX in 1846, who was 54. [55] Like his predecessor, John Paul II dispensed with the traditional papal coronation and instead received ecclesiastical investiture with a simplified papal inauguration on 22 October 1978. During his inauguration, when the cardinals were to kneel before him to take their vows and kiss his ring, he stood up as the Polish prelate, Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński knelt down, stopped him from kissing the ring, and simply embraced him. [95]

Pastoral journeys

During his pontificate, John Paul II made journeys to 129 countries, [97] travelling more than 1,100,000 kilometres (680,000 mi) while doing so. He consistently attracted large crowds, some among the largest ever assembled in human history, such as the Manila World Youth Day, which gathered up to four million people, the largest papal gathering ever, according to the Vatican. [98] [99] John Paul II's earliest official visits were to the Dominican Republic and Mexico in January 1979. [100] While some of his journeys (such as to the United States and the Holy Land) were to places previously visited by Pope Paul VI, John Paul II became the first pope to visit the White House in October 1979, where he was greeted warmly by then-President Jimmy Carter. He was the first pope ever to visit several countries in one year, starting in 1979 with Mexico [101] and Ireland. [102] He was the first reigning pope to travel to the United Kingdom, in 1982, where he met Queen Elizabeth II, the Supreme Governor of the Church of England. While in Britain he also visited Canterbury Cathedral and knelt in prayer with Robert Runcie, the Archbishop of Canterbury, at the spot where Thomas à Becket had been killed, [103] as well as holding several large-scale open air masses, including one at Wembley Stadium, which was attended by some 80,000 people. [104]

He travelled to Haiti in 1983, where he spoke in Creole to thousands of impoverished Catholics gathered to greet him at the airport. His message, "things must change in Haiti," referring to the disparity between the wealthy and the poor, was met with thunderous applause. [105] In 2000, he was the first modern pope to visit Egypt, [106] where he met with the Coptic pope, Pope Shenouda III [106] and the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Alexandria. [106] He was the first Catholic pope to visit and pray in an Islamic mosque, in Damascus, Syria, in 2001. He visited the Umayyad Mosque, a former Christian church where John the Baptist is believed to be interred, [107] where he made a speech calling for Muslims, Christians and Jews to live together. [107]

On 15 January 1995, during the X World Youth Day, he offered Mass to an estimated crowd of between five and seven million in Luneta Park, [99] Manila, Philippines, which was considered to be the largest single gathering in Christian history. [99] In March 2000, while visiting Jerusalem, John Paul became the first pope in history to visit and pray at the Western Wall. [108] [109] In September 2001, amid post-11 September concerns, he travelled to Kazakhstan, with an audience largely consisting of Muslims, and to Armenia, to participate in the celebration of 1,700 years of Armenian Christianity. [110]

In June 1979, John Paul II travelled to Poland, where ecstatic crowds constantly surrounded him. [111] This first papal trip to Poland uplifted the nation's spirit and sparked the formation of the Solidarity movement in 1980, which later brought freedom and human rights to his troubled homeland. [79] Poland's Communist leaders intended to use the pope's visit to show the people that although the pope was Polish it did not alter their capacity to govern, oppress, and distribute the goods of society. They also hoped that if the pope abided by the rules they set, that the Polish people would see his example and follow them as well. If the pope's visit inspired a riot, the Communist leaders of Poland were prepared to crush the uprising and blame the suffering on the pope. [112]

The pope won that struggle by transcending politics. His was what Joseph Nye calls 'soft power' — the power of attraction and repulsion. He began with an enormous advantage, and exploited it to the utmost: He headed the one institution that stood for the polar opposite of the Communist way of life that the Polish people hated. He was a Pole, but beyond the regime's reach. By identifying with him, Poles would have the chance to cleanse themselves of the compromises they had to make to live under the regime. And so they came to him by the millions. They listened. He told them to be good, not to compromise themselves, to stick by one another, to be fearless, and that God is the only source of goodness, the only standard of conduct. 'Be not afraid,' he said. Millions shouted in response, 'We want God! We want God! We want God!' The regime cowered. Had the Pope chosen to turn his soft power into the hard variety, the regime might have been drowned in blood. Instead, the Pope simply led the Polish people to desert their rulers by affirming solidarity with one another. The Communists managed to hold on as despots a decade longer. But as political leaders, they were finished. Visiting his native Poland in 1979, Pope John Paul II struck what turned out to be a mortal blow to its Communist regime, to the Soviet Empire, [and] ultimately to Communism." [112]

According to John Lewis Gaddis, one of the most influential historians of the Cold War, the trip led to the formation of Solidarity and would begin the process of Communism's demise in Eastern Europe:

When Pope John Paul II kissed the ground at the Warsaw airport he began the process by which Communism in Poland—and ultimately elsewhere in Europe—would come to an end. [113]

On later trips to Poland, he gave tacit support to the Solidarity organisation. [79] These visits reinforced this message and contributed to the collapse of East European Communism that took place between 1989/1990 with the reintroduction of democracy in Poland, and which then spread through Eastern Europe (1990–1991) and South-Eastern Europe (1990–1992). [92] [97] [111] [114] [115]

World Youth Days

As an extension of his successful work with youth as a young priest, John Paul II pioneered the international World Youth Days. John Paul II presided over nine of them: Rome (1985 and 2000), Buenos Aires (1987), Santiago de Compostela (1989), Częstochowa (1991), Denver (1993), Manila (1995), Paris (1997), and Toronto (2002). Total attendance at these signature events of the pontificate was in the tens of millions. [116]

Dedicated Years

Keenly aware of the rhythms of time and the importance of anniversaries in the Church's life, John Paul II led nine "dedicated years" during the twenty-six and a half years of his pontificate: the Holy Year of the Redemption in 1983–84, the Marian Year in 1987–88, the Year of the Family in 1993–94, the three Trinitarian years of preparation for the Great Jubilee of 2000, the Great Jubilee itself, the Year of the Rosary in 2002–3, and the Year of the Eucharist, which began on 17 October 2004, and concluded six months after the Pope's death. [116]

Great Jubilee of 2000

The Great Jubilee of 2000 was a call to the Church to become more aware and to embrace her missionary task for the work of evangelization.

From the beginning of my Pontificate, my thoughts had been on this Holy Year 2000 as an important appointment. I thought of its celebration as a providential opportunity during which the Church, thirty-five years after the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, would examine how far she had renewed herself, in order to be able to take up her evangelising mission with fresh enthusiasm. [117]

John Paul II also made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land for the Great Jubilee of 2000. [118] During his visit to the Holy Land, John Paul II visited many sites of the Rosary, including the following locations: the Wadi Al-Kharrar at the River Jordan, where it is believed John the Baptist baptized Jesus, one of the Luminous Mysteries Manger Square in the Palestinian Territories of Bethlehem, near the site of Jesus' birth, one of the Joyful Mysteries and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the site of Jesus' burial and resurrection, Sorrowful and Glorious Mysteries, respectively. [119] [120] [121] [122]

As pope, John Paul II wrote 14 papal encyclicals and taught about sexuality in what is referred as the "Theology of the Body". Some key elements of his strategy to "reposition the Catholic Church" were encyclicals such as Ecclesia de Eucharistia, Reconciliatio et paenitentia and Redemptoris Mater. In his At the beginning of the new millennium (Novo Millennio Ineunte), he emphasised the importance of "starting afresh from Christ": "No, we shall not be saved by a formula but by a Person." In The Splendour of the Truth (Veritatis Splendor), he emphasised 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 scepticism, 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 promoted a renewed interest in philosophy and an autonomous pursuit of truth in theological matters. Drawing on many different sources (such as Thomism), he described the mutually supporting relationship between faith and reason, and emphasised that theologians should focus on that relationship. John Paul II wrote extensively about workers and the social doctrine of the Church, which he discussed in three encyclicals: Laborem exercens, Sollicitudo rei socialis, and Centesimus annus. Through his encyclicals and many Apostolic Letters and Exhortations, John Paul II talked about the dignity and the equality of women. [123] He argued for the importance of the family for the future of humanity. [79] Other encyclicals include The Gospel of Life (Evangelium Vitae) and Ut Unum Sint (That They May Be One). Though critics accused him of inflexibility in explicitly re-asserting Catholic moral teachings against abortion and euthanasia that have been in place for well over a thousand years, he urged a more nuanced view of capital punishment. [79] In his second encyclical Dives in misericordia he stressed that divine mercy is the greatest feature of God, needed especially in modern times.

Social and political stances

John Paul II was considered a conservative on doctrine and issues relating to human sexual reproduction and the ordination of women. [124]

While he was visiting the United States in 1977, the year before becoming pope, Wojtyla said: "All human life, from the moments of conception and through all subsequent stages, is sacred." [125]

A series of 129 lectures given by John Paul II during his Wednesday audiences in Rome between September 1979 and November 1984 were later compiled and published as a single work titled Theology of the Body, an extended meditation on human sexuality. He extended it to the condemnation of abortion, euthanasia and virtually all capital punishment, [126] calling them all a part of a struggle between a "culture of life" and a "culture of death". [127] He campaigned for world debt forgiveness and social justice. [79] [124] He coined the term "social mortgage", which related that all private property had a social dimension, namely, that "the goods of this are originally meant for all." [128] In 2000, he publicly endorsed the Jubilee 2000 campaign on African debt relief fronted by Irish rock stars Bob Geldof and Bono, once famously interrupting a U2 recording session by telephoning the studio and asking to speak to Bono. [129]

John Paul II, who was present and very influential at the 1962–65 Second Vatican Council, affirmed the teachings of that Council and did much to implement them. Nevertheless, his critics often wished that he would embrace the so-called "progressive" agenda that some hoped would evolve as a result of the Council. In fact, the Council did not advocate "progressive" changes in these areas for example, they still condemned abortion as an unspeakable crime. John Paul II continued to declare that contraception, abortion, and homosexual acts were gravely sinful, and, with Joseph Ratzinger (future Pope Benedict XVI), opposed liberation theology.

Following the Church's exaltation of the marital act of sexual intercourse between a baptised man and woman within sacramental marriage as proper and exclusive to the sacrament of marriage, John Paul II believed that it was, in every instance, profaned by contraception, abortion, divorce followed by a 'second' marriage, and by homosexual acts. In 1994, John Paul II asserted the Church's lack of authority to ordain women to the priesthood, stating that without such authority ordination is not legitimately compatible with fidelity to Christ. This was also deemed a repudiation of calls to break with the constant tradition of the Church by ordaining women to the priesthood. [130] In addition, John Paul II chose not to end the discipline of mandatory priestly celibacy, although in a small number of unusual circumstances, he did allow certain married clergymen of other Christian traditions who later became Catholic to be ordained as Catholic priests.

Apartheid in South Africa

John Paul II was an outspoken opponent of apartheid in South Africa. In 1985, while visiting the Netherlands, he gave an impassioned speech condemning apartheid at the International Court of Justice, proclaiming that "No system of apartheid or separate development will ever be acceptable as a model for the relations between peoples or races." [131] In September 1988, John Paul II made a pilgrimage to ten Southern African countries, including those bordering South Africa, while demonstratively avoiding South Africa. During his visit to Zimbabwe, John Paul II called for economic sanctions against South Africa's government. [132] After John Paul II's death, both Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu praised the pope for defending human rights and condemning economic injustice. [133]

Capital punishment

John Paul II was an outspoken opponent of the death penalty, although previous popes had accepted the practice. At a papal mass in St. Louis, Missouri, in the United States he said:

A sign of hope is the increasing recognition that the dignity of human life must never be taken away, even in the case of someone who has done great evil. Modern society has the means of protecting itself, without definitively denying criminals the chance to reform. I renew the appeal I made most recently at Christmas for a consensus to end the death penalty, which is both cruel and unnecessary. [134]

During that visit, John Paul II convinced the then governor of Missouri, Mel Carnahan, to reduce the death sentence of convicted murderer Darrell J. Mease to life imprisonment without parole. [135] John Paul II's other attempts to reduce the sentence of death-row inmates were unsuccessful. In 1983, John Paul II visited Guatemala and unsuccessfully asked the country's president, Efraín Ríos Montt, to reduce the sentence for six left-wing guerrillas sentenced to death. [136]

In 2002, John Paul II again travelled to Guatemala. At that time, Guatemala was one of only two countries in Latin America (the other being Cuba) to apply capital punishment. John Paul II asked the Guatemalan president, Alfonso Portillo, for a moratorium on executions. [137]

European Union

John Paul II pushed for a reference to Europe's Christian cultural roots in the draft of the European Constitution. In his 2003 apostolic exhortation Ecclesia in Europa, John Paul II wrote that he "fully (respected) the secular nature of (European) institutions". However, he wanted the EU Constitution to enshrine religious rights, including acknowledging the rights of religious groups to organise freely, recognise the specific identity of each denomination and allow for a "structured dialogue" between each religious community and the EU, and extend across the European Union the legal status enjoyed by religious institutions in individual member states. "I wish once more to appeal to those drawing up the future European Constitutional Treaty so that it will include a reference to the religion and in particular to the Christian heritage of Europe," John Paul II said. The pope's desire for a reference to Europe's Christian identity in the Constitution was supported by non-Catholic representatives of the Church of England and Eastern Orthodox Churches from Russia, Romania, and Greece. [138] John Paul II's demand to include a reference to Europe's Christian roots in the European Constitution was supported by some non-Christians, such as Joseph Weiler, a practising Orthodox Jew and renowned constitutional lawyer, who said that the Constitution's lack of a reference to Christianity was not a "demonstration of neutrality," but, rather, "a Jacobin attitude". [139]

At the same time, however, John Paul II was an enthusiastic supporter of European integration in particular, he supported his native Poland's entry into the bloc. On 19 May 2003, three weeks before a referendum was held in Poland on EU membership, the Polish pope addressed his compatriots and urged them to vote for Poland's EU membership at St. Peter's Square in Vatican City State. While some conservative, Catholic politicians in Poland opposed EU membership, John Paul II said:

I know that there are many in opposition to integration. I appreciate their concern about maintaining the cultural and religious identity of our nation. However, I must emphasise that Poland has always been an important part of Europe. Europe needs Poland. The Church in Europe needs the Poles' testimony of faith. Poland needs Europe. [140]

The Polish pope compared Poland's entry into the EU to the Union of Lublin, which was signed in 1569 and united the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania into one nation and created an elective monarchy. [141]


On 22 October 1996, in a speech to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences plenary session at the Vatican, John Paul II said of evolution that "this theory has been progressively accepted by researchers, following a series of discoveries in various fields of knowledge. The convergence, neither sought nor fabricated, of the results of work that was conducted independently is in itself a significant argument in favour of this theory." John Paul II's embrace of evolution was enthusiastically praised by American paleontologist and evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould, [142] with whom he had an audience in 1984. [143]

Although generally 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." [144] [145] [146]

Iraq War

In 2003 John Paul II criticised the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, saying in his State of the World address "No to war! War is not always inevitable. It is always a defeat for humanity." [147] He sent Pio Cardinal Laghi, the former Apostolic Pro-Nuncio to the United States, to talk with George W. Bush, the US president, 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. The pope's opposition to the Iraq War led to him being a candidate to win the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize, which was ultimately awarded to Iranian attorney/judge and noted human rights advocate, Shirin Ebadi. [148] [149]

Liberation theology

In 1984 and 1986, through Cardinal Ratzinger (future Pope Benedict XVI) as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, John Paul II officially condemned aspects of liberation theology, which had many followers in Latin America. [150]

Visiting Europe, Salvadoran Archbishop Óscar Romero unsuccessfully attempted to obtain a Vatican condemnation of the right-wing El Salvador's regime for violations of human rights during the Salvadoran Civil War and its support of death squads, and expressed his frustration in working with clergy who cooperated with the government. He was encouraged by John Paul II to maintain episcopal unity as a top priority. [151] [152]

In his travel to Managua, Nicaragua, in 1983, John Paul II harshly condemned what he dubbed the "popular Church" [150] (i.e. "ecclesial base communities" supported by the CELAM), and the Nicaraguan clergy's tendencies to support the leftist Sandinistas, reminding the clergy of their duties of obedience to the Holy See. [153] [154] [150] During that visit Ernesto Cardenal, a priest and minister in the Sandinista government, knelt to kiss his hand. John Paul withdrew it, wagged his finger in Cardinal's face, and told him, "You must straighten out your position with the church." [155]

Organised crime

John Paul II was the first pontiff to denounce Mafia violence in Southern Italy. In 1993, during a pilgrimage to Agrigento, Sicily, he appealed to the Mafiosi: "I say to those responsible: 'Convert! One day, the judgment of God will arrive!'" In 1994, John Paul II visited Catania and told victims of Mafia violence to "rise up and cloak yourself in light and justice!" [156] In 1995, the Mafia bombed two historical churches in Rome. Some believed that this was the mob's vendetta against the pope for his denunciations of organised crime. [157]

Persian Gulf War

Between 1990 and 1991, a 34-nation coalition led by the United States waged a war against Saddam Hussein's Iraq, which had invaded and annexed Kuwait. John Paul II was a staunch opponent of the Gulf War. Throughout the conflict, he appealed to the international community to stop the war, and after it was over led diplomatic initiatives to negotiate peace in the Middle East. [158] In his 1991 encyclical Centesimus Annus, John Paul II harshly condemned the conflict:

No, never again war, which destroys the lives of innocent people, teaches how to kill, throws into upheaval even the lives of those who do the killing and leaves behind a trail of resentment and hatred, thus making it all the more difficult to find a just solution of the very problems which provoked the war. [159]

In April 1991, during his Urbi et Orbi Sunday message at St. Peter's Basilica, John Paul II called for the international community to "lend an ear" to "the long-ignored aspirations of oppressed peoples". He specifically named the Kurds, a people who were fighting a civil war against Saddam Hussein's troops in Iraq, as one such people, and referred to the war as a "darkness menacing the earth". During this time, the Vatican had expressed its frustration with the international ignoring of the pope's calls for peace in the Middle East. [160]

Rwandan genocide

John Paul II was the first world leader to describe as genocide the massacre by Hutus of Tutsis in the mostly Catholic country of Rwanda, which started in 1990 and reached its height in 1994. He called for a ceasefire and condemned the massacres on 10 April and 15 May 1990. [161] In 1995, during his third visit to Kenya before an audience of 300,000, John Paul II pleaded for an end to the violence in Rwanda and Burundi, pleading for forgiveness and reconciliation as a solution to the genocide. He told Rwandan and Burundian refugees that he "was close to them and shared their immense pain". He said:

What is happening in your countries is a terrible tragedy that must end. During the African Synod, we, the pastors of the church, felt the duty to express our consternation and to launch an appeal for forgiveness and reconciliation. This is the only way to dissipate the threats of ethnocentrism that are hovering over Africa these days and that have so brutally touched Rwanda and Burundi. [162]

Views on sexuality

While taking a traditional position on human sexuality, maintaining the Church's moral opposition to homosexual acts, John Paul II asserted that people with homosexual inclinations possess the same inherent dignity and rights as everybody else. [163] In his book Memory and Identity he referred to the "strong pressures" by the European Parliament to recognise homosexual unions as an alternative type of family, with the right to adopt children. In the book, as quoted by Reuters, he wrote: "It is legitimate and necessary to ask oneself if this is not perhaps part of a new ideology of evil, more subtle and hidden, perhaps, intent upon exploiting human rights themselves against man and against the family." [79] [164] A 1997 study determined that 3% of the pope's statements were about the issue of sexual morality. [165]

In 1986, the Pope approved the release of a document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith regarding Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons. While not neglecting to comment on homosexuality and moral order, the letter issued multiple affirmations of the dignity of homosexual persons. [166]

John Paul II completed a full-scale reform of the Catholic Church's legal system, Latin and Eastern, and a reform of the Roman Curia.

On 18 October 1990, when promulgating the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, John Paul II stated

By the publication of this Code, the canonical ordering of the whole Church is thus at length completed, following as it does. the "Apostolic Constitution on the Roman Curia" of 1988, which is added to both Codes as the primary instrument of the Roman Pontiff for 'the communion that binds together, as it were, the whole Church' [167]

In 1998 John Paul II issued the motu proprio Ad tuendam fidem, which amended two canons (750 and 1371) of the 1983 Code of Canon Law and two canons (598 and 1436) of the 1990 Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches.

1983 Code of Canon Law

On 25 January 1983, with the Apostolic Constitution Sacrae disciplinae leges John Paul II promulgated the current Code of Canon Law for all members of the Catholic Church who belonged to the Latin Church. It entered into force the first Sunday of the following Advent, [168] which was 27 November 1983. [169] John Paul II described the new Code as "the last document of Vatican II". [168] Edward N. Peters has referred to the 1983 Code as the "Johanno-Pauline Code" [170] (Johannes Paulus is Latin for "John Paul"), paralleling the "Pio-Benedictine" 1917 code that it replaced.

Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches

John Paul II promulgated the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches (CCEO) on 18 October 1990, by the document Sacri Canones. [171] The CCEO came into force of law on 1 October 1991. [172] It is the codification of the common portions of the Canon Law for the 23 of the 24 sui iuris churches in the Catholic Church that are the Eastern Catholic Churches. It is divided into 30 titles and has a total of 1540 canons. [173]

Pastor bonus

John Paul II promulgated the apostolic constitution Pastor bonus on 28 June 1988. It instituted a number of reforms in the process of running the Roman Curia. Pastor bonus laid out in considerable detail the organisation of the Roman Curia, specifying precisely the names and composition of each dicastery, and enumerating the competencies of each dicastery. It replaced the previous special law, Regimini Ecclesiæ universæ, which was promulgated by Paul VI in 1967. [174]

On 11 October 1992, in his apostolic constitution Fidei depositum (The Deposit of Faith), John Paul ordered the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

He declared the publication to be "a sure norm for teaching the faith … a sure and authentic reference text for teaching Catholic doctrine and particularly for preparing local catechisms". It was "meant to encourage and assist in the writing of new local catechisms [both applicable and faithful]" rather than replacing them.

John Paul II has been credited with inspiring political change that not only led to the collapse of Communism in his native Poland and eventually all of Eastern Europe, but also in many countries ruled by dictators. In the words of Joaquín Navarro-Valls, John Paul II's press secretary:

The single fact of John Paul II's election in 1978 changed everything. In Poland, everything began. Not in East Germany or Czechoslovakia. Then the whole thing spread. Why in 1980 did they lead the way in Gdansk? Why did they decide, now or never? Only because there was a Polish pope. He was in Chile and Pinochet was out. He was in Haiti and Duvalier was out. He was in the Philippines and Marcos was out. On many of those occasions, people would come here to the Vatican thanking the Holy Father for changing things. [175]


Before John Paul II's pilgrimage to Latin America, during a meeting with reporters, he criticised Augusto Pinochet's regime as "dictatorial". In the words of The New York Times, he used "unusually strong language" to criticise Pinochet and asserted to journalists that the Church in Chile must not only pray, but actively fight for the restoration of democracy in Chile. [176]

During his visit to Chile in 1987, John Paul II asked Chile's 31 Catholic bishops to campaign for free elections in the country. [177] According to George Weigel and Cardinal Stanisław Dziwisz, he encouraged Pinochet to accept a democratic opening of the regime, and may even have called for his resignation. [178] According to Monsignor Sławomir Oder, the postulator of John Paul II's beatification cause, John Paul's words to Pinochet had a profound impact on the Chilean dictator. The pope confided to a friend: "I received a letter from Pinochet in which he told me that as a Catholic he had listened to my words, he had accepted them, and he had decided to begin the process to change the leadership of his country." [179]

During his visit to Chile, John Paul II supported the Vicariate of Solidarity, the Church-led pro-democracy, anti-Pinochet organisation. John Paul II visited the Vicariate of Solidarity's offices, spoke with its workers, and "called upon them to continue their work, emphasizing that the Gospel consistently urges respect for human rights". [180] While in Chile, John Paul II made gestures of public support of Chile's anti-Pinochet democratic opposition. For instance, he hugged and kissed Carmen Gloria Quintana, a young student who had been nearly burned to death by Chilean police and told her that "We must pray for peace and justice in Chile." [181] Later, he met with several opposition groups, including those that had been declared illegal by Pinochet's government. The opposition praised John Paul II for denouncing Pinochet as a "dictator", for many members of Chile's opposition were persecuted for much milder statements. Bishop Carlos Camus, one of the harshest critics of Pinochet's dictatorship within the Chilean Church, praised John Paul II's stance during the papal visit: "I am quite moved, because our pastor supports us totally. Never again will anyone be able to say that we are interfering in politics when we defend human dignity." He added: "No country the Pope has visited has remained the same after his departure. The Pope's visit is a mission, an extraordinary social catechism, and his stay here will be a watershed in Chilean history." [182]

Some have erroneously accused John Paul II of affirming Pinochet's regime by appearing with the Chilean ruler in public. However, Cardinal Roberto Tucci, the organiser of John Paul II's visits, revealed that Pinochet tricked the pontiff by telling him he would take him to his living room, while in reality he took him to his balcony. Tucci says that the pontiff was "furious". [183]


John Paul II visited Haiti on 9 March 1983, when the country was ruled by Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier. He bluntly criticised the poverty of the country, directly addressing Baby Doc and his wife, Michèle Bennett in front of a large crowd of Haitians:

Yours is a beautiful country, rich in human resources, but Christians cannot be unaware of the injustice, the excessive inequality, the degradation of the quality of life, the misery, the hunger, the fear suffered by the majority of the people. [184]

John Paul II spoke in French and occasionally in Creole, and in the homily outlined the basic human rights that most Haitians lacked: "the opportunity to eat enough, to be cared for when ill, to find housing, to study, to overcome illiteracy, to find worthwhile and properly paid work all that provides a truly human life for men and women, for young and old." Following John Paul II's pilgrimage, the Haitian opposition to Duvalier frequently reproduced and quoted the pope's message. Shortly before leaving Haiti, John Paul II called for social change in Haiti by saying: "Lift up your heads, be conscious of your dignity of men created in God's image. " [185]

John Paul II's visit inspired massive protests against the Duvalier dictatorship. In response to the visit, 860 Catholic priests and Church workers signed a statement committing the Church to work on behalf of the poor. [186] In 1986, Duvalier was deposed in an uprising.


The collapse of the dictatorship of General Alfredo Stroessner of Paraguay was linked, among other things, to John Paul II's visit to the South American country in May 1988. [187] Since Strossner's taking power through a coup d'état in 1954, Paraguay's bishops increasingly criticised the regime for human rights abuses, rigged elections, and the country's feudal economy. During his private meeting with Stroessner, John Paul II told the dictator:

Politics has a fundamental ethical dimension because it is first and foremost a service to man. The Church can and must remind men—and in particular those who govern—of their ethical duties for the good of the whole of society. The Church cannot be isolated inside its temples just as men's consciences cannot be isolated from God. [188]

Later, during a Mass, John Paul II criticised the regime for impoverishing the peasants and the unemployed, saying that the government must give people greater access to the land. Although Stroessner tried to prevent him from doing so, John Paul II met opposition leaders in the one-party state. [188]

Role as spiritual inspiration and catalyst

By the late 1970s the dissolution of the Soviet Union had been predicted by some observers. [189] [190] John Paul II has been credited with being instrumental in bringing down Communism in Central and Eastern Europe, [79] [92] [97] [114] [115] [191] by being the spiritual inspiration behind its downfall and catalyst for "a peaceful revolution" in Poland. Lech Wałęsa, the founder of Solidarity and the first post-Communist President of Poland, credited John Paul II with giving Poles the courage to demand change. [79] According to Wałęsa, "Before his pontificate, the world was divided into blocs. Nobody knew how to get rid of Communism. In Warsaw, in 1979, he simply said: 'Do not be afraid', and later prayed: 'Let your Spirit descend and change the image of the land … this land'." [191] It has also been widely alleged that the Vatican Bank covertly funded Solidarity. [192] [193]

In 1984 the foreign policy of the Ronald Reagan administration saw opened diplomatic relations with the Vatican for the first time since 1870. In sharp contrast to the long history of strong domestic opposition, this time there was very little opposition from Congress, the courts, and Protestant groups. [194] Relations between Reagan and John Paul II were close especially because of their shared anti-communism and keen interest in forcing the Soviets out of Poland. [195] Reagan's correspondence with the pope reveals "a continuous scurrying to shore up Vatican support for U.S. policies. Perhaps most surprisingly, the papers show that, as late as 1984, the pope did not believe the Communist Polish government could be changed." [196]

The British historian Timothy Garton Ash, who describes himself as an "agnostic liberal", said shortly after John Paul II's death:

No one can prove conclusively that he was a primary cause of the end of communism. However, the major figures on all sides—not just Lech Wałęsa, the Polish Solidarity leader, but also Solidarity's arch-opponent, General Wojciech Jaruzelski not just the former American president George Bush Senior but also the former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev—now agree that he was. I would argue the historical case in three steps: without the Polish Pope, no Solidarity revolution in Poland in 1980 without Solidarity, no dramatic change in Soviet policy towards eastern Europe under Gorbachev without that change, no velvet revolutions in 1989. [197]

In December 1989, John Paul II met with the Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev at the Vatican and each expressed his respect and admiration for the other. Gorbachev once said "The collapse of the Iron Curtain would have been impossible without John Paul II." [92] [114] On John Paul II's death, Mikhail Gorbachev said: "Pope John Paul II's devotion to his followers is a remarkable example to all of us." [115] [191]

On 4 June 2004 US President George W. Bush presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States' highest civilian honour, to John Paul II during a ceremony at the Apostolic Palace. The president read the citation that accompanied the medal, which recognised "this son of Poland" whose "principled stand for peace and freedom has inspired millions and helped to topple communism and tyranny". [198] 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." [199]

Communist attempt to compromise John Paul II

In 1983 Poland's Communist government unsuccessfully tried to humiliate John Paul II by falsely saying he had fathered an illegitimate child. Section D of Służba Bezpieczeństwa (SB), the security service, had an action named "Triangolo" to carry out criminal operations against the Catholic Church the operation encompassed all Polish hostile actions against the pope. [200] [ better source needed ] Captain Grzegorz Piotrowski, one of the murderers of beatified Jerzy Popiełuszko, was the leader of section D. They drugged Irena Kinaszewska, the secretary of the Kraków-based weekly Catholic magazine Tygodnik Powszechny where Karol Wojtyła had worked, and unsuccessfully attempted to make her admit to having had sexual relations with him. [201]

The SB then attempted to compromise Kraków priest Andrzej Bardecki, an editor of Tygodnik Powszechny and one of the closest friends of Cardinal Karol Wojtyła before he became pope, by planting false memoirs in his dwelling, but Piotrowski was exposed and the forgeries were found and destroyed before the SB could "discover" them. [201]

John Paul II travelled extensively and met with believers from many divergent faiths. At the World Day of Prayer for Peace, held in Assisi on 27 October 1986, more than 120 representatives of different religions and denominations spent a day of fasting and prayer. [202]

Churches of the East

Although the contact between the Holy See and many Christians of the East had never totally ceased, communion had been interrupted since ancient times. Again, the history of conflict in Central Europe was a complex part of John Paul II's personal cultural heritage which made him all the more determined to react so as to attempt to overcome abiding difficulties, given that relatively speaking the Holy See and the non-Catholic Eastern Churches are close in many points of faith.

Eastern Orthodox Church

In May 1999, John Paul II visited Romania on the invitation from Patriarch Teoctist Arăpaşu 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. [203] On his arrival, the Patriarch and the President of Romania, Emil Constantinescu, greeted the pope. [203] 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." [203]

On 23–27 June 2001, John Paul II visited Ukraine, another heavily Orthodox nation, at the invitation of the President of Ukraine and bishops of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. [204] The Pope spoke to leaders of the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organisations, pleading for "open, tolerant and honest dialogue". [204] About 200 thousand people attended the liturgies celebrated by the Pope in Kyiv, and the liturgy in Lviv gathered nearly one and a half million faithful. [204] John Paul II said that an end to the Great Schism was one of his fondest wishes. [204] Healing divisions between the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches regarding Latin and Byzantine traditions was clearly of great personal interest. For many years, John Paul II sought to facilitate dialogue and unity stating as early as 1988 in Euntes in mundum, "Europe has two lungs, it will never breathe easily until it uses both of them."

During his 2001 travels, John Paul II became the first pope to visit Greece in 1291 years. [205] [206] In Athens, the pope met with Archbishop Christodoulos, the head of the Church of Greece. [205] After a private 30-minute meeting, the two spoke publicly. Christodoulos read a list of "13 offences" of the Catholic Church against the Eastern Orthodox Church since the Great Schism, [205] including the pillaging of Constantinople by crusaders in 1204, and bemoaned the lack of apology from the Catholic Church, saying "Until now, there has not been heard a single request for pardon" for the "maniacal crusaders of the 13th century". [205]

The pope responded by saying "For the occasions past and present, when sons and daughters of the Catholic Church have sinned by action or omission against their Orthodox brothers and sisters, may the Lord grant us forgiveness", to which Christodoulos immediately applauded. John Paul II said that the sacking of Constantinople was a source of "profound regret" for Catholics. [205] Later John Paul II and Christodoulos met on a spot where Saint Paul had once preached to Athenian Christians. They issued a 'common declaration', saying

"We shall do everything in our power, so that the Christian roots of Europe and its Christian soul may be preserved. We condemn all recourse to violence, proselytism and fanaticism, in the name of religion." [205]

The two leaders then said the Lord's Prayer together, breaking an Orthodox taboo against praying with Catholics. [205]

The pope had said throughout his pontificate that one of his greatest dreams was to visit Russia, [207] but this never occurred. He attempted to solve the problems that had arisen over centuries between the Catholic and Russian Orthodox churches, and in 2004 gave them a 1730 copy of the lost icon of Our Lady of Kazan.

Armenian Apostolic Church

John Paul II was determined to maintain good relations with the Armenian Apostolic Church, whose separation from the Holy See dated to Christian antiquity. In 1996, he brought the Catholic Church and the Armenian Apostolic Church closer by agreeing with Armenian Archbishop Karekin II on Christ's nature. [208] During an audience in 2000, John Paul II and Karekin II, by then the Catholicos of All Armenians, issued a joint statement condemning the Armenian genocide. Meanwhile, the pope gave Karekin the relics of St. Gregory the Illuminator, the first head of the Armenian Church that had been kept in Naples, Italy, for 500 years. [209] In September 2001, John Paul II went on a three-day pilgrimage to Armenia to take part in an ecumenical celebration with Karekin II in the newly consecrated St. Gregory the Illuminator Cathedral in Yerevan. The two Church leaders signed a declaration remembering the victims of the Armenian genocide. [210]


Like his successors after him, John Paul II took a large number of initiatives to promote friendly relations, practical humanitarian cooperation and theological dialogue with a range of Protestant bodies. Of these the first in importance had to be with Lutheranism, given that the contention with Martin Luther and his followers was the most significant historical split in Western Christianity.


From 15 to 19 November 1980, John Paul II visited West Germany [211] on his first trip to a country with a large Lutheran Protestant population. In Mainz, he met with leaders of the Evangelical Church in Germany, and with representatives of other Christian denominations.

On 11 December 1983, John Paul II participated in an ecumenical service in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Rome, [212] the first papal visit ever to a Lutheran church. The visit took place 500 years after the birth of the German Martin Luther, who was first an Augustinian friar and subsequently a leading Protestant Reformer.

In his apostolic pilgrimage to Norway, Iceland, Finland, Denmark and Sweden of June 1989, [213] John Paul II became the first pope to visit countries with Lutheran majorities. In addition to celebrating Mass with Catholic believers, he participated in ecumenical services at places that had been Catholic shrines before the Reformation: Nidaros Cathedral in Norway near St. Olav's Church at Thingvellir in Iceland Turku Cathedral in Finland Roskilde Cathedral in Denmark and Uppsala Cathedral in Sweden.

On 31 October 1999, (the 482nd anniversary of Reformation Day, Martin Luther's posting of the 95 Theses), representatives of the Catholic Church's Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the Lutheran World Federation signed a Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, as a gesture of unity. The signing was a fruit of a theological dialogue that had been going on between the Lutheran World Federation and the Holy See since 1965.


John Paul II had good relations with the Church of England, as also with other parts of the Anglican Communion. He was the first reigning pope to travel to the United Kingdom, in 1982, where he met Queen Elizabeth II, the Supreme Governor of the Church of England. He preached in Canterbury Cathedral and received Robert Runcie, the Archbishop of Canterbury. He said that he was disappointed by the Church of England's decision to ordain women and saw it as a step away from unity between the Anglican Communion and the Catholic Church. [214]

In 1980, John Paul II issued a Pastoral Provision allowing married former Episcopal priests to become Catholic priests, and for the acceptance of former Episcopal Church parishes into the Catholic Church. He allowed the creation of the a form of the Roman Rite, known informally by some as the Anglican Use, which incorporates selected elements of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer that are compatible with Catholic doctrine. He permitted Archbishop Patrick Flores of San Antonio, Texas, to establish Our Lady of the Atonement Catholic Church, together as the inaugural parish for the use of this hybrid liturgy. [215]

Relations between Catholicism and Judaism improved dramatically during the pontificate of John Paul II. [79] [109] He spoke frequently about the Church's relationship with the Jewish faith. [79] There can be little doubt that his attitude was shaped in part by his own experience of the terrible fate of the Jews in Poland and the rest of Central Europe in the 1930s and 1940s.

In 1979, John Paul II visited the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland, where many of his compatriots (mostly Jews) had perished during the German occupation there in World War II, the first pope to do so. In 1998, he issued We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah, which outlined his thinking on the Holocaust. [216] He became the first pope known to have made an official papal visit to a synagogue, when he visited the Great Synagogue of Rome on 13 April 1986. [217] [218]

On 30 December 1993, John Paul II established formal diplomatic relations between the Holy See and the State of Israel, acknowledging its centrality in Jewish life and faith. [217]

On 7 April 1994, he hosted the Papal Concert to Commemorate the Holocaust. It was the first-ever Vatican event dedicated to the memory of the six million Jews murdered in World War II. This concert, which was conceived and conducted by US conductor Gilbert Levine, was attended by the Chief Rabbi of Rome Elio Toaff, the President of Italy Oscar Luigi Scalfaro, and survivors of the Holocaust from around the world. The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, actor Richard Dreyfuss and cellist Lynn Harrell performed on this occasion under Levine's direction. [219] [220] On the morning of the concert, the pope received the attending members of survivor community in a special audience in the Apostolic Palace.

In March 2000, John Paul II visited Yad Vashem, the national Holocaust memorial in Israel, and later made history by touching one of the holiest sites in Judaism, the Western Wall in Jerusalem, [109] placing a letter inside it (in which he prayed for forgiveness for the actions against Jews). [108] [109] [217] In part of his address he said:

"I assure the Jewish people the Catholic Church … is deeply saddened by the hatred, acts of persecution and displays of anti-Semitism directed against the Jews by Christians at any time and in any place,"

and he added that there were

"no words strong enough to deplore the terrible tragedy of the Holocaust." [108] [109]

Israeli cabinet minister Rabbi Michael Melchior, who hosted the pope's visit, said he was "very moved" by the pope's gesture. [108] [109]

It was beyond history, beyond memory. [108]

We are deeply saddened by the behaviour of those who in the course of history have caused these children of yours to suffer, and asking your forgiveness we wish to commit ourselves to genuine brotherhood with the people of the Covenant. [221]

In October 2003, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) issued a statement congratulating John Paul II on entering the 25th year of his papacy. In January 2005, John Paul II became the first pope known to receive a priestly blessing from a rabbi, when Rabbis Benjamin Blech, Barry Dov Schwartz, and Jack Bemporad visited the Pontiff at Clementine Hall in the Apostolic Palace. [222]

Immediately after John Paul II's death, the Anti-Defamation League said in a statement that he had revolutionised Catholic-Jewish relations, saying, "more change for the better took place in his 27-year Papacy than in the nearly 2,000 years before." [223] In another statement issued by the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council, Director Dr Colin Rubenstein said, "The Pope will be remembered for his inspiring spiritual leadership in the cause of freedom and humanity. He achieved far more in terms of transforming relations with both the Jewish people and the State of Israel than any other figure in the history of the Catholic Church." [217]

With Judaism, therefore, we have a relationship which we do not have with any other religion. You are our dearly beloved brothers, and in a certain way, it could be said that you are our elder brothers. [224]

In an interview with the Polish Press Agency, Michael Schudrich, chief rabbi of Poland, said that never in history did anyone do as much for Christian-Jewish dialogue as John Paul II, adding that many Jews had a greater respect for the late pope than for some rabbis. Schudrich praised John Paul II for condemning anti-Semitism as a sin, which no previous pope had done. [225]

On John Paul II's beatification the Chief Rabbi of Rome Riccardo Di Segni said in an interview with the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano that "John Paul II was revolutionary because he tore down a thousand-year wall of Catholic distrust of the Jewish world." Meanwhile, Elio Toaff, the former Chief Rabbi of Rome, said that:

Remembrance of the Pope Karol Wojtyła will remain strong in the collective Jewish memory because of his appeals to fraternity and the spirit of tolerance, which excludes all violence. In the stormy history of relations between Roman popes and Jews in the ghetto in which they were closed for over three centuries in humiliating circumstances, John Paul II is a bright figure in his uniqueness. In relations between our two great religions in the new century that was stained with bloody wars and the plague of racism, the heritage of John Paul II remains one of the few spiritual islands guaranteeing survival and human progress. [226]


In his book-length interview Crossing the Threshold of Hope with the Italian journalist Vittorio Messori published in 1995, John Paul II draws parallels between animism and Christianity. He says:

… it would be helpful to recall … the animist religions which stress ancestor worship. It seems that those who practice them are particularly close to Christianity, and among them, the Church's missionaries also find it easier to speak a common language. Is there, perhaps, in this veneration of ancestors a kind of preparation for the Christian faith in the Communion of Saints, in which all believers—whether living or dead—form a single community, a single body? […] There is nothing strange, then, that the African and Asian animists would become believers in Christ more easily than followers of the great religions of the Far East. [227]

In 1985, the pope visited the African country of Togo, where 60 per cent of the population espouses animist beliefs. To honour the pope, animist religious leaders met him at a Catholic Marian shrine in the forest, much to the pontiff's delight. John Paul II proceeded to call for the need for religious tolerance, praised nature, and emphasised common elements between animism and Christianity, saying:

Nature, exuberant and splendid in this area of forests and lakes, impregnates spirits and hearts with its mystery and orients them spontaneously toward the mystery of He who is the author of life. It is this religious sentiment that animates you and one can say that animates all of your compatriots. [228]

During the investiture of President Thomas Boni Yayi of Benin as a titled Yoruba chieftain on 20 December 2008, the reigning Ooni of Ile-Ife, Nigeria, Olubuse II, referred to John Paul II as a previous recipient of the same royal honour. [229]


Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, visited John Paul II eight times. The two men held many similar views and understood similar plights, both coming from nations affected by Communism and both serving as heads of major religious bodies. [230] [231] As Archbishop of Kraków, long before the 14th Dalai Lama was a world-famous figure, Wojtyła held special Masses to pray for the Tibetan people's non-violent struggle for freedom from Maoist China. [232] During his 1995 visit to Sri Lanka, a country where a majority of the population adheres to Theravada Buddhism, John Paul II expressed his admiration for Buddhism:

In particular I express my highest regard for the followers of Buddhism, the majority religion in Sri Lanka, with its … four great values of … loving kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity with its ten transcendental virtues and the joys of the Sangha expressed so beautifully in the Theragathas. I ardently hope that my visit will serve to strengthen the goodwill between us, and that it will reassure everyone of the Catholic Church's desire for interreligious dialogue and cooperation in building a more just and fraternal world. To everyone I extend the hand of friendship, recalling the splendid words of the Dhammapada: "Better than a thousand useless words is one single word that gives peace. " [233]


John Paul II made considerable efforts to improve relations between Catholicism and Islam. [234]

On 6 May 2001, he became the first Catholic pope to enter and pray in a mosque, namely the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, Syria. Respectfully removing his shoes, he entered the former Byzantine era Christian church dedicated to John the Baptist, who is also revered as a prophet of Islam. He 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." [107]

He kissed the Qur'an in Syria, an act that made him popular among Muslims but that disturbed many Catholics. [235]

In 2004, John Paul II hosted the "Papal Concert of Reconciliation", which brought together leaders of Islam with leaders of the Jewish community and of the Catholic Church at the Vatican for a concert by the Kraków Philharmonic Choir from Poland, the London Philharmonic Choir from the United Kingdom, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra from the United States, and the Ankara State Polyphonic Choir of Turkey. [236] [237] [238] [239] The event was conceived and conducted by Sir Gilbert Levine, KCSG and was broadcast throughout the world. [236] [237] [238] [239]

John Paul II oversaw the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which makes a special provision for Muslims therein, it is written, "together with us they adore the one, merciful God, mankind's judge on the last day." [240]


In 1995, John Paul II held a meeting with 21 Jains, organised by the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. He praised Mohandas Gandhi for his "unshakeable faith in God", assured the Jains that the Catholic Church will continue to engage in dialogue with their religion and spoke of the common need to aid the poor. The Jain leaders were impressed with the pope's "transparency and simplicity", and the meeting received much attention in the Gujarat state in western India, home to many Jains. [241]

As he entered St. Peter's Square to address an audience on 13 May 1981, [242] John Paul II was shot and critically wounded by Mehmet Ali Ağca, [24] [97] [243] an expert Turkish gunman who was a member of the militant fascist group Grey Wolves. [244] The assassin used a Browning 9 mm semi-automatic pistol, [245] shooting the pope in the abdomen and perforating his colon and small intestine multiple times. [92] John Paul II was rushed into the Vatican complex and then to the Gemelli Hospital. On the way to the hospital, he lost consciousness. Even though the two bullets missed his mesenteric artery and abdominal aorta, he lost nearly three-quarters of his blood. He underwent five hours of surgery to treat his wounds. [246] Surgeons performed a colostomy, temporarily rerouting the upper part of the large intestine to let the damaged lower part heal. [246] When he briefly regained consciousness before being operated on, he instructed the doctors not to remove his Brown Scapular during the operation. [247] One of the few people allowed in to see him at the Gemelli Clinic was one of his closest friends philosopher Anna-Teresa Tymieniecka, who arrived on Saturday 16 May and kept him company while he recovered from emergency surgery. [83] The pope later stated that the Blessed Virgin Mary helped keep him alive throughout his ordeal. [97] [243] [248]

Could I forget that the event 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. [249]

Ağca was caught and restrained by a nun and other bystanders until police arrived. He was sentenced to life imprisonment. Two days after Christmas in 1983, John Paul II visited Ağca in prison. John Paul II and Ağca spoke privately for about twenty minutes. [97] [243] 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."

Numerous other theories were advanced to explain the assassination attempt, some of them controversial. One such theory, advanced by Michael Ledeen and heavily pushed by the United States Central Intelligence Agency at the time of the assassination but never substantiated by evidence, was that the Soviet Union was behind the attempt on John Paul II's life in retaliation for the pope's support of Solidarity, the Catholic, pro-democratic Polish workers' movement. [244] [250] This theory was supported by the 2006 Mitrokhin Commission, set up by Silvio Berlusconi and headed by Forza Italia senator Paolo Guzzanti, which alleged that Communist Bulgarian security departments were utilised to prevent the Soviet Union's role from being uncovered, and concluded that Soviet military intelligence (Glavnoje Razvedyvatel'noje Upravlenije), not the KGB, were responsible. [250] Russian Foreign Intelligence Service spokesman Boris Labusov called the accusation "absurd". [250] The pope declared during a May 2002 visit to Bulgaria that the country's Soviet-bloc-era leadership had nothing to do with the assassination attempt. [244] [250] However, his secretary, Cardinal Stanisław Dziwisz, alleged in his book A Life with Karol, that the pope was convinced privately that the former Soviet Union was behind the attack. [251] It was later discovered that many of John Paul II's aides had foreign-government attachments [252] Bulgaria and Russia disputed the Italian commission's conclusions, pointing out that the pope had publicly denied the Bulgarian connection. [250]

A second assassination attempt was made 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. [253] [254] [255] He was stopped by security guards. Stanisław Dziwisz later said that John Paul II had been injured during the attempt but managed to hide a non-life-threatening wound. [253] [254] [255] The assailant, a traditionalist Catholic Spanish priest named Juan María Fernández y Krohn, [253] had been ordained as a priest by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre of the Society of Saint Pius X and was opposed to the changes made by the Second Vatican Council, saying that the pope was an agent of Communist Moscow and of the Marxist Eastern Bloc. [256] Fernández y Krohn subsequently left the priesthood and served three years of a six-year sentence. [254] [255] [256] The ex-priest was treated for mental illness and then expelled from Portugal to become a solicitor in Belgium. [256]

The Al-Qaeda-funded Bojinka plot planned to kill John Paul II during a visit to the Philippines during World Youth Day 1995 celebrations. On 15 January 1995 a suicide bomber was planning to dress as a priest and detonate a bomb when the pope passed in his motorcade on his way to the San Carlos Seminary in Makati. The assassination was supposed to divert attention from the next phase of the operation. However, a chemical fire inadvertently started by the cell alerted police to their whereabouts, and all were arrested a week before the pope's visit, and confessed to the plot. [257]

In 2009 John Koehler, a journalist and former army intelligence officer, published Spies in the Vatican: The Soviet Union's Cold War Against the Catholic Church. [258] Mining mostly East German and Polish secret police archives, Koehler says the assassination attempts were "KGB-backed" and gives details. [259] During John Paul II's papacy there were many clerics within the Vatican who on nomination, declined to be ordained, and then mysteriously left the church. There is wide speculation that they were, in reality, KGB agents.

John Paul II apologised to many groups that had suffered at the hands of the Catholic Church through the years. [79] [260] Before becoming pope he had been a prominent editor and supporter of initiatives such as the Letter of Reconciliation of the Polish Bishops to the German Bishops from 1965. As pope, he officially made public apologies for over 100 wrongdoings, including: [261] [262] [263] [264]

  • The legal process on the Italian scientist and philosopher Galileo Galilei, himself a devout Catholic, around 1633 (31 October 1992). [265][266]
  • Catholics' involvement with the African chiefs who sold their subjects and captives in the African slave trade (9 August 1993).
  • The Church Hierarchy's role in burnings at the stake and the religious wars that followed the Protestant Reformation (20 May 1995, in the Czech Republic).
  • The injustices committed against women, the violation of women's rights and the historical denigration of women (10 July 1995, in a letter to "every woman").
  • The inactivity and silence of many Catholics during the Holocaust (see the article Religion in Nazi Germany) (16 March 1998).

The Great Jubilee of the year 2000 included a day of Prayer for Forgiveness of the Sins of the Church on 12 March 2000.

On 20 November 2001, from a laptop in the Vatican, John Paul II sent his first e-mail apologising for the Catholic sex abuse cases, the Church-backed "Stolen Generations" of Aboriginal children in Australia, and to China for the behaviour of Catholic missionaries in colonial times. [267]

When he became pope in 1978 at the age of 58, John Paul II was an avid sportsman. He was extremely healthy and active, jogging in the Vatican gardens, weight training, swimming, and hiking in the mountains. He was fond of football. The media contrasted the new pope's athleticism and trim figure to the poor health of John Paul I and Paul VI, the portliness of John XXIII and the constant claims of ailments of Pius XII. The only modern pope with a fitness regimen had been Pope Pius XI (1922–1939), who was an avid mountaineer. [268] [269] An Irish Independent article in the 1980s labelled John Paul II the keep-fit pope.

However, after over twenty-five years as pope, two assassination attempts, one of which injured him severely, and a number of cancer scares, John Paul's physical health declined. In 2001 he was diagnosed as suffering from Parkinson's disease. [270] International observers had suspected this for some time, but it was only publicly acknowledged by the Vatican in 2003. Despite difficulty speaking more than a few sentences at a time, trouble hearing, and severe osteoarthrosis, he continued to tour the world although rarely walking in public.

Final months

John Paul II was hospitalised with breathing problems caused by a bout of influenza on 1 February 2005. [271] He left the hospital on 10 February, but was subsequently hospitalised again with breathing problems two weeks later and underwent a tracheotomy. [272]

Final illness and death

On 31 March 2005, following a urinary tract infection, [273] he developed septic shock, a form of infection with a high fever and low blood pressure, but was not hospitalised. Instead, he was monitored by a team of consultants at his private residence. This was taken as an indication by the pope, and those close to him, that he was nearing death it would have been in accordance with his wishes to die in the Vatican. [273] 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. The day before his death, one of his closest personal friends, Anna-Teresa Tymieniecka visited him at his bedside. [274] [275] 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. Tens of thousands of people assembled and held vigil in St. Peter's Square and the surrounding streets for two days. Upon hearing of this, the dying pope was said to have stated: "I have searched for you, and now you have come to me, and I thank you." [276]

On Saturday, 2 April 2005, at approximately 15:30 CEST, John Paul II spoke his final words in Polish, "Pozwólcie mi odejść do domu Ojca" ("Allow me to depart to the house of the Father"), to his aides, and fell into a coma about four hours later. [276] [277] 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, presided over by Stanisław Dziwisz and two Polish associates. Present at the bedside was a cardinal Lubomyr Husar from Ukraine, who served as a priest with John Paul in Poland, along with Polish nuns of the Congregation of the Sisters Servants of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, who ran the papal household. John Paul II died in his private apartment at 21:37 CEST (19:37 UTC) of heart failure from profound hypotension and complete circulatory collapse from septic shock, 46 days before his 85th birthday. [277] [278] [279] His death was verified when an electrocardiogram that ran for 20 minutes showed a flatline. [280] He had no close family by the time of his death his feelings are reflected in his words written in 2000 at the end of his Last Will and Testament. [281] Stanisław Dziwisz later said he had not burned the pontiff's personal notes despite the request being part of the will. [282]


The death of the pontiff set in motion rituals and traditions dating back to medieval times. The Rite of Visitation took place from 4 April 2005 to 7 April 2005 at St. Peter's Basilica. John Paul II's testament, published on 7 April 2005, [283] revealed that the pontiff contemplated being buried in his native Poland but left the final decision to The College of Cardinals, which in passing, preferred burial beneath St. Peter's Basilica, honouring the pontiff's request to be placed "in bare earth".

The Requiem Mass held on 8 April 2005 was said to have set world records both for attendance and number of heads of state present at a funeral. [265] [284] [285] [286] (See: List of Dignitaries.) It was the single largest gathering of heads of state up to that time, surpassing the funerals of Winston Churchill (1965) and Josip Broz Tito (1980). Four kings, five queens, at least 70 presidents and prime ministers, and more than 14 leaders of other religions attended. [284] An estimated four million mourners gathered in and around Vatican City. [265] [285] [286] [287] Between 250,000 and 300,000 watched the event from within the Vatican's walls. [286]

The Dean of the College of Cardinals, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, conducted the ceremony. John Paul II was interred in the grottoes under the basilica, the Tomb of the Popes. He was lowered into a tomb created in the same alcove previously occupied by the remains of John XXIII. The alcove had been empty since John XXIII's remains had been moved into the main body of the basilica after his beatification.

Title "the Great"

Upon the death of John Paul II, a number of clergy at the Vatican and laymen [92] [265] [288] began referring to the late pontiff as "John Paul the Great" — in theory only the fourth pope to be so acclaimed. [92] [288] [289] [290] Cardinal Angelo Sodano specifically referred to John Paul as "the Great" in his published written homily for the pope's funeral Mass of Repose. [291] [292] The South African Catholic newspaper The Southern Cross has referred to him in print as "John Paul II the Great". [293] Some Catholic educational institutions in the US have additionally changed their names to incorporate "the Great", including John Paul the Great Catholic University and schools called some variant of John Paul the Great High School.

Scholars of canon law say that there is no official process for declaring a pope "Great" the title simply establishes itself through popular and continued usage, [265] [294] [295] as was the case with celebrated secular leaders (for example, Alexander III of Macedon became popularly known as Alexander the Great). The three popes who today commonly are known as "Great" are Leo I, who reigned from 440–461 and persuaded Attila the Hun to withdraw from Rome Gregory I, 590–604, after whom the Gregorian Chant is named and Pope Nicholas I, 858–867, who consolidated the Catholic Church in the Western world in the Middle Ages. [288]

John Paul's successor, Benedict XVI, has not used the term directly in public speeches, but has made oblique references to "the great Pope John Paul II" in his first address from the loggia of St. Peter's Basilica, at the 20th World Youth Day in Germany 2005 when he said in Polish: "As the great Pope John Paul II would say: Keep the flame of faith alive in your lives and your people" [296] and in May 2006 during a visit to Poland where he repeatedly made references to "the great John Paul" and "my great predecessor". [297]

Institutions named after John Paul II


Inspired by calls of "Santo Subito!" ("[Make him a] Saint Immediately!") from the crowds gathered during the funeral Mass that he celebrated, [304] [305] [306] [307] Benedict XVI began the beatification process for his predecessor, bypassing the normal restriction that five years must pass after a person's death before beginning the beatification process. [305] [306] [308] [309] In an audience with Pope Benedict XVI, Camillo Ruini, Vicar General of the Diocese of Rome, who was responsible for promoting the cause for canonisation of any person who died within that diocese, cited "exceptional circumstances", which suggested that the waiting period could be waived. [25] [265] [310] 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. [311]

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 member of the Congregation of Little Sisters of Catholic Maternity Wards, confined to her bed by Parkinson's disease, [306] [312] was reported to have experienced a "complete and lasting cure after members of her community prayed for the intercession of Pope John Paul II". [192] [265] [304] [306] [313] [314] As of May 2008 [update] , Sister Marie-Simon-Pierre, then 46, [304] [306] was working again at a maternity hospital run by her religious institute. [309] [312] [315] [316]

"I was sick and now I am cured," she told reporter Gerry Shaw. "I am cured, but it is up to the church to say whether it was a miracle or not." [312] [315]

On 28 May 2006, Pope Benedict XVI celebrated 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". [312] [317]

In January 2007, Cardinal Stanisław Dziwisz announced that the interview phase of the beatification process, in Italy and Poland, was nearing completion. [265] [312] [318] In February 2007, second class relics of John Paul II—pieces of white papal cassocks he used to wear—were freely distributed with prayer cards for the cause, a typical pious practice after a saintly Catholic's death. [319] [320] On 8 March 2007, the Vicariate of Rome announced that the diocesan phase of John Paul's cause for beatification was at an end. Following a ceremony on 2 April 2007—the second anniversary of the Pontiff's death—the cause proceeded to the scrutiny of the committee of lay, clerical, and episcopal members of the Vatican's Congregation for the Causes of Saints, to conduct a separate investigation. [305] [312] [318] On the fourth anniversary of John Paul II'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. [315] [321] [322] 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. [321] [322] [323] On 16 November 2009, a panel of reviewers at the Congregation for the Causes of Saints voted unanimously that John Paul II had lived a life of heroic virtue. [324] [325] On 19 December 2009, Pope Benedict XVI signed the first of two decrees needed for beatification and proclaimed John Paul II "Venerable", asserting that he had lived a heroic, virtuous life. [324] [325] The second vote and the second signed decree certifying the authenticity of the first miracle, the curing of Sister Marie Simon-Pierre, a French nun, from Parkinson's disease. Once the second decree is signed, the position (the report on the cause, with documentation about his life and writings and with information on the cause) is complete. [325] He can then be beatified. [324] [325] Some speculated that he would be beatified sometime during (or soon after) the month of the 32nd anniversary of his 1978 election, in October 2010. As Monsignor Oder said, this course would have been possible if the second decree were signed in time by Benedict XVI, stating that a posthumous miracle directly attributable to his intercession had occurred, completing the positio.

The Vatican announced on 14 January 2011 that Pope Benedict XVI had confirmed the miracle involving Sister Marie Simon-Pierre and that John Paul II was to be beatified on 1 May, the Feast of Divine Mercy. [326] 1 May is commemorated in former communist countries, such as Poland, and some Western European countries as May Day, and John Paul II was well known for his contributions to communism's relatively peaceful demise. [92] [114] In March 2011 the Polish mint issued a gold 1,000 Polish złoty coin (equivalent to US$350), with the Pope's image to commemorate his beatification. [327]

On 29 April 2011, John Paul II's coffin was disinterred from the grotto beneath St. Peter's Basilica ahead of his beatification, as tens of thousands of people arrived in Rome for one of the biggest events since his funeral. [328] [329] John Paul II's remains, which were not exposed, were placed in front of the Basilica's main altar, where believers could pay their respect before and after the beatification mass in St. Peter's Square on 1 May 2011. On 3 May 2011 his remains were interred in the marble altar in Pier Paolo Cristofari Chapel of St. Sebastian, where Pope Innocent XI was buried. This more prominent location, next to the Chapel of the Pietà, the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament, and statues of Popes Pius XI and Pius XII was intended to allow more pilgrims to view his memorial. John Paul II's body is located near the bodies of Pope Pius X and Pope John XXIII, whose bodies were reinterred in the Basilica after their own canonizations and together are three of the four popes canonized in the last century. The only pope who was not exhumed and reinterred after becoming a saint in the last century was Pope Paul VI, who remains buried in the papal grottos. [330] [331]

In July 2012, a Colombian man, Marco Fidel Rojas, the former mayor of Huila, Colombia, testified that he was "miraculously cured" of Parkinson's disease after a trip to Rome where he met John Paul II and prayed with him. Dr. Antonio Schlesinger Piedrahita, a renowned neurologist in Colombia, certified Fidel's healing. The documentation was then sent to the Vatican office for sainthood causes. [332]

In September 2020, Poland unveiled a sculpture of him in Warsaw, designed by Jerzy Kalina [pl] and installed outside the National Museum, holding up a meteorite. [333] In the same month, a relic containing his blood was stolen from the Spoleto Cathedral in Italy. [334]


To be eligible for canonisation (being declared a saint) by the Catholic Church, two miracles must be attributed to a candidate.

The first miracle attributed to John Paul was the above mentioned healing of a woman's Parkinson's disease, which was recognised during the beatification process. According to an article on the Catholic News Service (CNS) dated 23 April 2013, a Vatican commission of doctors concluded that a healing had no natural (medical) explanation, which is the first requirement for a claimed miracle to be officially documented. [335] [336] [337]

The second miracle was deemed to have taken place shortly after the late pope's beatification on 1 May 2011 it was reported to be the healing of Costa Rican woman Floribeth Mora of an otherwise terminal brain aneurysm. [338] A Vatican panel of expert theologians examined the evidence, determined that it was directly attributable to the intercession of John Paul II, and recognised it as miraculous. [336] [337] The next stage was for Cardinals who compose the membership of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints to give their opinion to Pope Francis to decide whether to sign and promulgate the decree and set a date for canonisation. [336] [337] [339]

On 4 July 2013, Pope Francis confirmed his approval of John Paul II's canonisation, formally recognising the second miracle attributed to his intercession. He was canonised together with John XXIII. [16] [340] The date of the canonisation was on 27 April 2014, Divine Mercy Sunday. [341] [342]

The canonisation Mass for Blessed Popes John Paul II and John XXIII, was celebrated by Pope Francis (with Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI), on 27 April 2014 in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican (John Paul II had died on vigil of Divine Mercy Sunday in 2005). About 150 cardinals and 700 bishops concelebrated the Mass, and at least 500,000 people attended the Mass, with an estimated 300,000 others watching from video screens placed around Rome. [343]

Beatification of the Pope's parents

On 10 October 2019, the Archdiocese of Krakow and the Polish Bishops' Conference approved nihil obstat the opening of the beatification cause of the parents of its patron saint John Paul II, Karol Wojtyła Sr. and Emilia Kaczorowska. It gained approval from the Holy See to open the diocesan phase of the cause on 7 May 2020. [344]

John Paul II was widely criticised for a variety of his views. He was a target of criticism from progressives for his opposition to the ordination of women and use of contraception, [24] [345] and from Traditional Catholics for his support for the Second Vatican Council and its reform of the liturgy. John Paul II's response to child sexual abuse within the Church has also come under heavy censure.

Sex abuse scandals

John Paul II was criticised by representatives of the victims of clergy sexual abuse [346] for failing to respond quickly enough to the Catholic sex abuse crisis. In his response, he stated that "there is no place in the priesthood and religious life for those who would harm the young." [347] The Church instituted reforms to prevent future abuse by requiring background checks for Church employees [348] and, because a significant majority of victims were boys, disallowing ordination of men with "deep-seated homosexual tendencies". [349] [350] They now require dioceses faced with an allegation to alert the authorities, conduct an investigation and remove the accused from duty. [348] [351] In 2008, the Church asserted that the scandal was a very serious problem and estimated that it was "probably caused by 'no more than 1 per cent' " (or 5,000) of the over 500,000 Catholic priests worldwide. [352] [353]

In April 2002, John Paul II, despite being frail from Parkinson's disease, summoned all the American cardinals to the Vatican to discuss possible solutions to the issue of sexual abuse in the American Church. He asked them to "diligently investigate accusations". John Paul II suggested that American bishops be more open and transparent in dealing with such scandals and emphasised the role of seminary training to prevent sexual deviance among future priests. In what The New York Times called "unusually direct language", John Paul condemned the arrogance of priests that led to the scandals:

Priests and candidates for the priesthood often live at a level both materially and educationally superior to that of their families and the members of their own age group. It is therefore very easy for them to succumb to the temptation of thinking of themselves as better than others. When this happens, the ideal of priestly service and self-giving dedication can fade, leaving the priest dissatisfied and disheartened. [354]

The pope read a statement intended for the American cardinals, calling the sex abuse "an appalling sin" and said the priesthood had no room for such men. [355]

In 2002, Archbishop Juliusz Paetz, the Catholic Archbishop of Poznań, was accused of molesting seminarians. [356] John Paul II accepted his resignation, and placed sanctions on him, prohibiting Paetz from exercising his ministry as bishop. [357] It was reported that these restrictions were lifted, though Vatican spokesperson Federico Lombardi strenuously denied this saying "his rehabilitation was without foundation".

In 2003, John Paul II reiterated that "there is no place in the priesthood and religious life for those who would harm the young." [347] In April 2003, a three-day conference was held, titled "Abuse of Children and Young People by Catholic Priests and Religious", where eight non-Catholic psychiatric experts were invited to speak to near all Vatican dicasteries' representatives. The panel of experts overwhelmingly opposed implementation of policies of "zero-tolerance" such as was proposed by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. One expert called such policies a "case of overkill" since they do not permit flexibility to allow for differences among individual cases. [358]

In 2004, John Paul II recalled Bernard Francis Law to be Archpriest of the Papal Basilica of Saint Mary Major in Rome. Law had previously resigned as archbishop of Boston in 2002 in response to the Catholic Church sexual abuse cases after Church documents were revealed that suggested he had covered up sexual abuse committed by priests in his archdiocese. [359] Law resigned from this position in November 2011. [355]

John Paul II was a firm supporter of the Legion of Christ, and in 1998 discontinued investigations into sexual misconduct by its leader Marcial Maciel, who in 2005 resigned his leadership and was later requested by the Vatican to withdraw from his ministry. However, Maciel's trial began in 2004 during the pontificate of John Paul II, but the Pope died before it ended and the conclusions were known. [360]

On 10 November 2020, the Vatican published a report which found that John Paul II learned of allegations of sexual impropriety against former cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who at the time was serving as Archbishop of Newark, through a 1999 letter from Cardinal John O'Connor warning him that appointing McCarrick to be Archbishop of Washington D.C., a position which had recently been opened, would be a mistake. John Paul II ordered an investigation, which stalled when three of the four bishops tasked with investigating claims allegedly brought back "inaccurate or incomplete information." John Paul II planned on not giving McCarrick the appointment anyway, but relented and gave him the appointment after McCarrick wrote a letter of denial. He created McCarrick a cardinal in 2001. McCarrick would eventually be laicized after allegations surfaced that he abused minors. [361] [362] George Weigel, a biographer of John Paul II, defended the pope's actions as follows: "Theodore McCarrick fooled a lot of people . and he deceived John Paul II in a way that is laid out in almost biblical fashion in [the Vatican's] report." [363]

Opus Dei controversies

John Paul II was criticised for his support of the Opus Dei prelature and the 2002 canonisation of its founder, Josemaría Escrivá, whom he called "the saint of ordinary life". [364] [365] Other movements and religious organisations of the Church went decidedly under his wing Legion of Christ, the Neocatechumenal Way, Schoenstatt, the charismatic movement, etc. And he was accused repeatedly of taking a soft hand with them, especially in the case of Marcial Maciel, founder of the Legion of Christ. [366]

In 1984 John Paul II appointed Joaquín Navarro-Valls, a member of Opus Dei, as Director of the Vatican Press Office. An Opus Dei spokesman said that "the influence of Opus Dei in the Vatican has been exaggerated". [367] Of the nearly 200 cardinals in the Catholic Church, only two are known to be members of Opus Dei. [368]

Banco Ambrosiano scandal

John Paul II was alleged to have links with Banco Ambrosiano, an Italian bank that collapsed in 1982. [192] At the centre of the bank's failure was its chairman, Roberto Calvi, and his membership in the illegal Masonic Lodge Propaganda Due (aka P2). The Vatican Bank was Banco Ambrosiano's main shareholder, and the death of John Paul I in 1978 is rumoured to be linked to the Ambrosiano scandal. [193]

Calvi, often referred to as "God's Banker", was also involved with the Vatican Bank, Istituto per le Opere di Religione, and was close to Bishop Paul Marcinkus, the bank's chairman. Ambrosiano also provided funds for political parties in Italy, and for both the Somoza dictatorship in Nicaragua and its Sandinista opposition. It has been widely alleged that the Vatican Bank provided money for Solidarity in Poland. [192] [193]

Calvi used his complex network of overseas banks and companies to move money out of Italy, to inflate share prices, and to arrange massive unsecured loans. In 1978, the Bank of Italy produced a report on Ambrosiano that predicted future disaster. [193] On 5 June 1982, two weeks before the collapse of Banco Ambrosiano, Calvi had written a letter of warning to John Paul II, stating that such a forthcoming event would "provoke a catastrophe of unimaginable proportions in which the Church will suffer the gravest damage". [369] On 18 June 1982 Calvi's body was found hanging from scaffolding beneath Blackfriars Bridge in the financial district of London. Calvi's clothing was stuffed with bricks, and contained cash valued at US$14,000, in three different currencies. [370]

Problems with traditionalists

In addition to all the criticism from those demanding modernisation, some Traditionalist Catholics denounced him as well. These issues included demanding a return to the Tridentine Mass [371] and repudiation of the reforms instituted after the Second Vatican Council, such as the use of the vernacular language in the formerly Latin Roman Rite Mass, ecumenism, and the principle of religious liberty. [372] In 1988, the controversial traditionalist Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, founder of the Society of St. Pius X (1970), was excommunicated under John Paul II because of the unapproved ordination of four bishops, which Cardinal Ratzinger called a "schismatic act". [373]

The World Day of Prayer for Peace, [374] with a meeting in Assisi, Italy, in 1986, in which the pope prayed only with the Christians, [375] was criticised for giving the impression that syncretism and indifferentism were openly embraced by the Papal Magisterium. When a second 'Day of Prayer for Peace in the World' [376] was held, in 2002, it was condemned as confusing the laity and compromising to false religions. Likewise criticised was his kissing [377] of the Qur'an in Damascus, Syria, on one of his travels on 6 May 2001. His call for religious freedom was not always supported bishops like Antônio de Castro Mayer promoted religious tolerance, but at the same time rejected the Vatican II principle of religious liberty as being liberalist and already condemned by Pope Pius IX in his Syllabus errorum (1864) and at the First Vatican Council. [378]

Religion and AIDS

John Paul II's continued the tradition of advocating for the "Culture of life" and, in solidarity with Pope Paul VI's Humanae Vitae rejected artificial birth control, even in the use of condoms to prevent the spread of AIDS. [345] Critics have said that large families are caused by lack of contraception and exacerbate Third World poverty and problems such as street children in South America. John Paul II argued that the proper way to prevent the spread of AIDS was not condoms, but rather, "correct practice of sexuality, which presupposes chastity and fidelity." [345] The focus of John Paul II's point is that the need for artificial birth control is itself artificial, and that principle of respecting the sacredness of life ought not be rend asunder in order to achieve the good of preventing AIDS.

Social programmes

There was strong criticism of the pope for the controversy surrounding the alleged use of charitable social programmes as a means of converting people in the Third World to Catholicism. [379] [380] 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 millennium. [381]

Dictatorships in Latin America

John Paul visited General Augusto Pinochet, Chile's military ruler. According to the United Press International, "Pope John Paul II preached the need for peaceful change and greater participation up and down Chile. but stayed away from direct confrontation with Gen. Augusto Pinochet's military regime. disappointing Pinochet's opponents who had hoped the pope would publicly condemn the regime and bless their campaign for a return to democracy." [382]

John Paul endorsed Pío Cardinal Laghi, who critics say supported the "Dirty War" in Argentina and was on friendly terms with the Argentine generals of the military dictatorship, playing regular tennis matches with Navy's representative in the junta, Admiral Emilio Eduardo Massera. [383] [384] [385] [386]

Ian Paisley

In 1988, when John Paul II was delivering a speech to the European Parliament, Ian Paisley, the leader of the Democratic Unionist Party and Moderator of the Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster, shouted "I denounce you as the Antichrist!" [387] [388] and held up a red banner reading "Pope John Paul II ANTICHRIST". Otto von Habsburg (the last Crown Prince of Austria-Hungary), an MEP for Germany, snatched Paisley's banner, tore it up and, along with other MEPs, helped eject him from the chamber. [387] [389] [390] [391] [392] The pope continued with his address after Paisley had been ejected. [389] [393] [394]

Međugorje apparitions

A number of quotes about the apparitions of Međugorje, in Bosnia and Herzegovina, have been attributed to John Paul II. [395] In 1998, when a certain German gathered various statements that were supposedly made by the pope and Cardinal Ratzinger, and then forwarded them to the Vatican in the form of a memorandum, Ratzinger responded in writing on 22 July 1998: "The only thing I can say regarding statements on Međugorje ascribed to the Holy Father and myself is that they are complete invention." (frei erfunden). [396] [397] Similar claims were also rebuked by the Vatican's Secretariate of State. [398]

Beatification controversy

Some Catholic theologians disagreed with the call for the beatification of John Paul II. Eleven dissident theologians, including Jesuit professor José María Castillo and Italian theologian Giovanni Franzoni, said that his stance against contraception and the ordination of women as well as the Church scandals during his pontificate presented "facts which according to their consciences and convictions should be an obstacle to beatification". [399] Some traditionalist Catholics opposed his beatification and canonisation for his views on liturgy and participation in prayer with enemies of the Church, heretics and non-Christians. [400]

After the 2020 report about the handling of the sexual misconduct complaints against Theodore McCarrick, some called for John Paul II's sainthood to be revoked. [401]

Karol Wojtyła was a Cracovia football team supporter (club retired number 1 in his honour). [402] Having played the game himself as a goalkeeper, John Paul II was a fan of English football team Liverpool, where his compatriot Jerzy Dudek played in the same position. [403]

In 1973, while still the archbishop of Kraków, Karol Wojtyła befriended a Polish-born, later American philosopher, Anna-Teresa Tymieniecka. The thirty-two-year friendship (and occasional academic collaboration) lasted until his death. [81] [82] [83] She served as his host when he visited New England in 1976 and photos show them together on skiing and camping trips. [83] Letters that he wrote to her were part of a collection of documents sold by Tymieniecka's estate in 2008 to the National Library of Poland. [83] According to the BBC the library had initially kept the letters from public view, partly because of John Paul's path to sainthood, but a library official announced in February 2016 the letters would be made public. [83] [404] In February 2016 the BBC documentary program Panorama reported that John Paul II had apparently had a 'close relationship' with the Polish-born philosopher. [83] [84] The pair exchanged personal letters over 30 years, and Stourton believes that Tymieniecka had confessed her love for Wojtyła. [274] [405] The Vatican described the documentary as "more smoke than mirrors", and Tymieniecka denied being involved with John Paul II. [406] [407]

Writers Carl Bernstein, the veteran investigative journalist of the Watergate scandal, and Vatican expert Marco Politi, were the first journalists to talk to Anna-Teresa Tymieniecka in the 1990s about her importance in John Paul's life. They interviewed her and dedicated 20 pages to her in their 1996 book His Holiness. [274] [275] [408] Bernstein and Politi even asked her if she had ever developed any romantic relationship with John Paul II, "however one-sided it might have been." She responded, "No, I never fell in love with the cardinal. How could I fall in love with a middle-aged clergyman? Besides, I'm a married woman." [274] [275]

Important dates in the life of Pope John Paul II

The longest reigning pope in modern history, John Paul II, took his message on the road, visiting 129 countries --several repeatedly -- on 104 trips and logging more than 700,000 miles in a papacy that lasted more than 27 years. Blessed John Paul died at the age of 84 at the Vatican April 2, 2005, the vigil of Divine Mercy Sunday.

As the first non-Italian pope in 455 years, John Paul became a spiritual protagonist in two global transitions: the fall of European communism, which began in his native Poland in 1989, and the passage to the third millennium of Christianity. The day of his canonization is Divine Mercy Sunday -- an observance Pope John Paul put on the church's universal calendar in 2000 on the Sunday after Easter. The Polish pope was a longtime enthusiast of the Divine Mercy devotions of St. Faustina Kowalksa, whom he beatified in 1993 and canonized in 2000.

Pope John Paul also instituted the annual February 2 World Day of Consecrated Life, the February 11 World Day of the Sick and a World Meeting of Families every three years. But welcoming hundreds of thousands of young people to the Vatican for a special Palm Sunday celebration in 1984, Pope John Paul launched what has become the biggest international gathering on the church's calendar: World Youth Day.

In his later years, the pope moved with difficulty, tired easily and was less expressive, all symptoms of the nervous system disorder of Parkinson's disease. Yet he pushed himself to the limits of his physical capabilities, convinced that such suffering was itself a form of spiritual leadership.

Here are some important dates in the life of Blessed John Paul II:

1920: Karol Wojtyla is born May 18, baptized June 20 in Wadowice, Poland.

1929: His mother dies he receives first Communion.

1938: Moves to Krakow with father enters Jagellonian University, joins experimental theater group.

1940: University studies interrupted he works as manual laborer during World War II.

1941: His father dies.

1942: Enters secret seminary in Krakow.

1944: Is hit by a car, hospitalized is hidden in archbishop's home to avoid arrest by Nazis.

1945: World War II ends he resumes studies at Jagellonian University.

1946: Nov. 1, is ordained priest goes to Rome for graduate studies.

1949: Named assistant pastor in Krakow parish.

1954: Begins teaching philosophy at Catholic University of Lublin earns doctorate in philosophy.

1958: Sept. 28, ordained auxiliary bishop of Krakow.

1962: Goes to Rome for first session of Second Vatican Council.

1963: Attends Vatican II second session, is named archbishop of Krakow Dec. 30.

1964: Is installed as archbishop of Krakow attends council's third session.

1965: Makes three trips to Rome to help redraft Vatican II document on church in modern world attends final council session.

1967: June 28, is made cardinal named to first world Synod of Bishops but stays home to protest government's denial of a passport to Poland's primate, Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski.

1971: Attends first of several bishops' synods in Rome is elected to its permanent council.

1978: Oct. 16, is elected 264th pope and bishop of Rome visit to Assisi is first of 146 trips within Italy visit to a Rome parish marks start of visits to 317 of Rome's 333 parishes.

1979: Visits Dominican Republic and Mexico, his first of 104 trips abroad as pope also visits Poland, Ireland, United States and Turkey publishes first encyclical, apostolic exhortation convenes first plenary meeting of College of Cardinals in more than 400 years approves Vatican declaration that Swiss-born Father Hans Kung can no longer teach as Catholic theologian.

1980: Convenes special Dutch synod to straighten out problems in Dutch church becomes first modern pope to hear confessions in St. Peter's Basilica.

1981: May 13, is shot, severely wounded names Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger head of Vatican doctrinal congregation.

1982: Marks anniversary of attempt on his life with trip to Fatima, Portugal meets with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat makes Opus Dei the church's first personal prelature.

1983: Promulgates new Code of Canon Law opens Holy Year of Redemption visits would-be assassin, Mehmet Ali Agca, in prison.

1984: Establishes diplomatic relations with United States.

1985: Warns that abortion in Europe is "demographic suicide" convenes special bishops' synod to review 20 years since Vatican II.

1986: Makes historic visit to Rome's synagogue calls world religious leaders to Assisi to pray for peace.

1987: Opens Marian year and writes encyclical on Mary attends first international World Youth Day in Argentina.

1988: Approves issuance of Holy See's first public financial report issues encyclical, "On Social Concerns" issues letter defending women's equality but saying they cannot be ordained priests sets up Vatican commission to try reconciling followers of schismatic Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre.

1989: Is widely seen as key figure in collapse of communism in Eastern Europe.

1990: Issues first uniform law code for Eastern Catholic churches issues global norms for Catholic higher education approves Vatican instruction on theologians establishes diplomatic relations with Soviet Union.

1991: Issues encyclical marking 100 years of Catholic social teaching convenes special European synod to deal with rapid changes in wake of communism's collapse.

1992: Has benign tumor on colon removed issues official "Catechism of the Catholic Church."

1993: Writes first papal encyclical on nature of moral theology.

1994: Declares teaching that women cannot be priests must be held definitively establishes diplomatic relations with Israel publishes book, "Crossing the Threshold of Hope" named Time magazine's "Man of the Year."

1997: Names St. Therese of Lisieux a doctor of the church presides at synod for America, one of a series of regional synods.

1998: Historic Cuba visit is 81st trip abroad starts first permanent Catholic-Muslim dialogue.

1999: Unseals Holy Door in St. Peter's to start jubilee year 2000.

2000: Presides at numerous jubilee year events in Rome makes historic visit to Holy Land.

2003: Marks 25th anniversary as pope beatifies Mother Teresa of Kolkata, one of record number of beatifications and canonizations under his pontificate.

2004: Opens Year of the Eucharist.

2005: Publishes new book, "Memory and Identity: Conversations Between Millenniums" hospitalized, undergoes tracheotomy. Dies April 2.

John Paul II Biography

Pope John Paul II, born Karol Józef Wojtyła was pope of the Catholic Church from 16 October 1978 until his death on 2 April 2005. In Catholicism, since his canonisation, he is referred to as Pope Saint John Paul II or Saint John Paul the Great, for example as a name for institutions. He was the second longest-serving pope in modern history after Pope Pius IX, who served for nearly 32 years from 1846 to 1878. Born in Poland, John Paul II was the first non-Italian pope since the Dutch Pope Adrian VI, who served from 1522 to 1523.

John Paul II is recognised as helping to end Communist rule in his native Poland and eventually all of Europe. John Paul II significantly improved the Catholic Church's relations with Judaism, Islam, the Eastern Orthodox Church, and the Anglican Communion. He upheld the Church's teachings on such matters as artificial contraception and the ordination of women, but also supported the Church's Second Vatican Council and its reforms.

He was one of the most travelled world leaders in history, visiting 129 countries during his pontificate. Source: Wikipedia

Watch the video: Conspiracy Theories: The Mysterious Death of Pope John Paul I Part 1