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Pope John Paul II

John Paul II
Name Karol Józef Wojtyła
Papacy began October 16, 1978
Papacy ended April 2, 2005
Predecessor Pope John Paul I
Successor Pope Benedict XVI
Born May 18, 1920
Place of birth Wadowice, Poland
Died April 2, 2005
Place of death Apostolic Palace, Vatican City

The Venerable Pope John Paul II (Latin: Sevorum Dei Ioannes Paulus P.P. II), born Karol Józef Wojtyła [1] (May 18 1920April 2 2005), was Pope of the Roman Catholic Church for almost 27 years, from 16 October 1978 until his death.

He was the first non-Italian to serve in office since the Dutch-German Pope Adrian VI died in 1523. John Paul II's reign was the third-longest in the history of the Papacy, after those of Saint Peter (about 35 years) and Blessed Pius IX (31 years). This is in a distinctive contrast with that of his predecessor Pope John Paul I, who died suddenly after only 33 days in office, and in whose memory John Paul II named himself. The reign was marked by a continuing decline of Catholicism in industrialized nations and expansion in the third world.

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

He affirmed, explained and defined Catholic teachings on life by opposing abortion, contraception, capital punishment, embryonic stem-cell research, human cloning, euthanasia, war and accepted evolution. He also defended traditional teachings on marriage and gender roles by opposing divorce, same-sex marriage and the ordination of women. Defending Roman Catholic positions on sexual orientation he affirmed that all humans are naturally heterosexual, rejecting mainstream science and opposing gay-rights. He dissented from the modern understanding of separation of church and state by calling upon Catholics to vote according to their beliefs, even if they were based on their religion and suggested that politicians who strayed be denied the eucharist.

John Paul became known as the "Pilgrim Pope" for having travelled greater distances than had all his predecessors combined. According to John Paul II, the trips symbolized bridge-building efforts (in keeping with his title as "Pontifex Maximus", literally "Master Bridge Builder") between nations and religions, attempting to remove divisions created through history.

It is reported that as of October 2004, he had beatified 1,340 people, more people than any previous pope. The Vatican asserts he canonized more people than the combined tally of his predecessors during the last five centuries, and from a far greater variety of cultures. Whether he had canonised more saints than all previous popes put together, as is sometimes also claimed, is difficult to prove, as the records of many early canonisations are incomplete, missing or inaccurate. However, it is known that his abolition of the office of Promotor Fidei (Promoter of the Faith, a.k.a. Devil's Advocate) streamlined the canonisation process.

Pope John Paul II died on 2 April, 2005 after a long fight against Parkinson's disease and other illnesses. Immediately after his death, many of his followers demanded that he be elevated to sainthood as soon as possible, shouting "Santo Subito". Both L'Osservatore Romano and Pope Benedict XVI, Pope John Paul II's successor, referred to John Paul II as "great." Six weeks later, on May 13, Pope Benedict formally opened the cause for beatification for his predecessor, which now allows Catholics to refer to Pope John Paul as "Servant of God."

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

Table of contents


Main article: Biography of Pope John Paul II

Early life

Karol Wojtyla at 12 years old

Karol Józef Wojtyla was born on 18 May, 1920 in Wadowice in southern Poland. His mother died in 1929, and his father supported him so that he could study. His youth was marked by intensive contacts with the then thriving Jewish community of Wadowice.

Karol enrolled at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków. He worked as a volunteer librarian and did compulsory military training in the Academic Legion. In his youth, he was an athlete, actor, and playwright, and he learned as many as eleven languages.

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

Pope Paul VI with Karol Cardinal Wojtyla, later to become Pope John Paul II

Church career

In 1942, he entered the underground seminary run by the Archbishop of Kraków, Cardinal Sapieha. Karol Wojtyla was ordained a priest on 1 November 1946.

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

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

A Pope from Poland

In August 1978, following Paul's death, he voted in the Papal Conclave that elected Pope John Paul I, who, at 65, was considered a young man by papal standards. Nobody could have expected that his second conclave would come so soon, for on 28 September 1978, after only 33 days as Pope, John Paul I was discovered dead in the papal apartments.

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

He became the 264th Pope according to the Vatican (265th according to sources that count Pope Stephen II). At only 58 years of age, he was the youngest pope elected since Pope Pius IX in 1846.

Like his immediate predecessor, Pope John Paul II dispensed with the traditional Papal Coronation and instead received ecclesiastical investiture with the simplified Papal Inauguration.

Assassination attempts

On 13 May 1981, John Paul II was shot and critically wounded by Mehmet Ali Ağca, a Turkish gunman, as he entered St. Peter's Square to address an audience. Ağca was eventually sentenced to life imprisonment. Two days after Christmas 1983, John Paul visited the prison where his would-be assassin was being held. The two spoke privately for some time. 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."

The Pope was shot while riding in popemobile

Another assassination attempt took place on 12 May, 1982, in Fatima, Portugal when a man tried to stab John Paul II with a bayonet, but was stopped by security guards. The assailant, an ultraconservative Spanish priest named Juan María Fernández y Krohn, reportedly opposed the reforms of the Second Vatican Council and called the pope an "agent of Moscow." He served a six-year sentence, followed by his expulsion from Portugal.


Pope John Paul II in old age.

John Paul II entered the papacy as a healthy, relatively young man of 58, who hiked, swam and went skiing. However, after over twenty-five years on the papal throne, two assassination attempts (one of which resulted in severe physical injury to the Pope), and a number of cancer scares, John Paul's physical health declined.

The 1981 assassination attempt was costlier to his overall health than was generally known by the public at the time. On the operating table his blood pressure fell dangerously low and his heartbeat was extremely weak, prompting a doctor to advise administration of the Anointing of the Sick (formerly known as "Last Rites"). There were difficulties with blood transfusions and it is believed cytomegalovirus (CMV) was transmitted, complicating recovery. The bullet had passed completely through the body, puncturing the stomach and necessitating a colostomy. Seven weeks later, discussions were held about reversing the colostomy and eight of nine doctors voted against it, arguing the Pope was still too weak from the CMV infection. Saying "I don't want to continue half dead and half alive", the Pope effectively overruled his physicians and the reversal was done successfully on August 5, 1981.

An orthopaedic surgeon confirmed in 2001 that Pope John Paul II was suffering from Parkinson's disease, as international observers had suspected for some time; this was acknowledged publicly by the Vatican in 2003. Despite difficulty speaking more than a few sentences at a time, trouble hearing and severe arthritis, he continued to tour the world, although rarely walking in public. Those who met him late in his life said that although physically he was in poor shape, mentally he remained fully alert.

However that claim was disputed by among others Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and Mary McAleese, the President of Ireland, in their accounts of meetings with him in 2003. After John Paul II's death, Williams told the Sunday Times of a meeting with the Pope, during which he had paid tribute to one of John Paul's encyclicals. According to Williams, John Paul II showed no recognition. An aide whispered in the pope's ear, but was overheard reminding John Paul about the encyclical. However the Pope still showed no recognition. Papal historian John Cornwell recounted from other sources that, after Williams and his entourage left, the Pope turned to an aide and asked "tell me, who were those people". [2] Mary McAleese told the British Catholic newspaper The Universe of a visit as President of Ireland to John Paul where he struggled to talk about the Irish College in Rome, where Irish seminarians in the city are trained and to which the Pope prior to his election had often travelled. "He wanted to be reminded of where the Irish College was, and when he heard that it was very close to St. John Lateran's basilica he wanted to be reminded where that was too."[3].

On 1 February, 2005, the Pope was taken to the Gemelli Hospital in Rome suffering from acute inflammation of the larynx, brought on by a bout of influenza. He was released, but in late February 2005 he began having trouble breathing, and he was rushed back. A tracheotomy was performed. His doctors advised him not to try speaking.

On Palm Sunday (20 March) the Pope made a brief appearance at his window and silently waved an olive branch to pilgrims. Two days later there were renewed concerns for his health after reports stated that he had taken a turn for the worse and was not responding to medication. By the end of the month, speculation was growing, and was finally confirmed by the Vatican officials, that he was nearing death.


On 31 March, 2005 the Pope developed a "very high fever" (BBC News, 1 April, 2005 [4]), but was neither rushed to the hospital, nor offered life support, apparently in accordance with his wishes to die in the Vatican. Later that day, Vatican sources announced that John Paul II had been given the Anointing of the Sick. During the final days of the Pope's life, the lights were kept burning through the night where he lay in the Papal apartment on the top floor of the Apostolic Palace.

Thousands of people rushed to the Vatican, filling St Peter's Square and beyond, and held vigil for two days. In his private apartments, at 21:37 CEST (19:37 UTC) on 2 April, Pope John Paul II died 46 days short of his 85th birthday.

A crowd of over two million within Vatican City, over one billion Catholics world-wide, and many non-Catholics mourned John Paul II. The Poles, who had a deep sense of devotion towards the pontiff and referred to him as their "father," were particularly devastated by his death. The massive gathering of young people at the funeral of Pope John Paul II was referred to on the BBC as Holy Woodstock. The public viewing of his body in St. Peter's Basilica drew over four million people to Vatican City and was one of the largest pilgrimages in the history of Christianity. Many world leaders expressed their condolences and ordered flags in their countries lowered to half-mast. Numerous countries with a Catholic majority, and even some with only a small Catholic population, declared mourning for John Paul II.


Main article: Funeral of Pope John Paul II

©Associated Press
Two million people reportedly viewed Pope John Paul II's body lying in state.

The death of Pope John Paul II set into motion rituals and traditions dating back to medieval times. The Rite of Visitation took place from 4 April and extended through the morning of 8 April at St. Peter's Basilica. So many people came to see him in state that the line had to be cut off with many people still waiting. On 8 April, the Mass of Requiem was conducted by the Dean of the College of Cardinals, Josef Cardinal Ratzinger (who would become the next pope).

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


Main article: Papal conclave, 2005

Following the funeral of Pope John Paul II, the Conclave to elect his successor began on April 18th. On April 19th, during the fourth round of voting, Josef Cardinal Ratzinger of Germany was elected, and chose the name Benedict XVI. For more information regarding the election process, see Papal election.

John Paul "The Great"

Since the death of John Paul II, a number of clergy at the Vatican, including Angelo Cardinal Sodano in the written form of his homily at the Mass of Repose, have been referring to the late pontiff as "John Paul the Great"—only the fourth pope to be so acclaimed, and the first since the first millennium. His successor, Pope Benedict XVI, referred to him as "the great Pope John Paul II" in his first address from the loggia of St Peter's church. One Italian newspaper, Corriere della Sera, even called him "The Greatest".

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


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Pope Benedict XVI begins process for sainthood of Pope John Paul II

Pope Benedict XVI waived the five-year waiting period normally required before a beatification process may begin, and on May 13, 2005, (the 24th anniversary of John Paul II's assasination attempt,) he started the process for his predecessor. Like other people whose beatification process is underway, the late pope is now styled Servant of God John Paul II. However, the road to sainthood is much longer, usually taking at least fifty years.

Life's work


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

A great achievement of John Paul II was the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which became an international best-seller. Its purpose, according to the Pope's Apostolic Constitution Fidei Depositum was to be "a statement of the Church's faith and of catholic doctrine, attested to or illumined by Sacred Scripture, the Apostolic Tradition and the Church's Magisterium." He declared "it to be a sure norm for teaching the faith" to "serve the renewal" of the Church.[5]

His first encyclical letters focused on the Triune God; the very first was on Jesus the Redeemer ("Redemptor Hominis"). He maintained this focus on God throughout his pontificate. Right after being elected as Pope, he told the cardinals who elected him that he saw that his main work was to implement the teachings of the Second Vatican Council, an important centrepiece of which is a universal call to holiness. This is the basis for his canonization of saints from all walks of life, as well as for establishing and supporting the personal prelature of Opus Dei, whose mission is to spread this call to laity and to secular priests through its association the Priestly Society of the Holy Cross.

Coat of Arms of Pope John Paul II
The letter M is for Mary, Jesus' mother.

In his master plan for the new millennium, the Apostolic Letter At the beginning of the third millennium, ("Novo Millennio Ineunte") a "program for all times", he emphasised the importance of "starting afresh from Christ": "No, we shall not be saved by a formula but by a Person." Thus, the first priority for the Church is holiness: "All Christian faithful...are called to the fullness of the Christian life." Christians, he writes, contradict this when they "settle for a life of mediocrity, marked by a minimalist ethic and a shallow religiosity." He highlighted "the radical message of the gospels," whose demands should not be watered down. The "training in holiness calls for a Christian life distinguished above all in the art of prayer." His last Encyclical is on the Holy Eucharist, which he says "contains the Church's entire spiritual wealth: Christ himself." Building on his master plan further, he emphasised the need to "rekindle amazement" on the Eucharist and to "contemplate the face of Christ."

In The Splendour of the Truth ("Veritatis Splendor"), a crucial papal encyclical on morality, 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."

John Paul II also wrote extensively about workers and the social doctrine of the Church, which he discussed in three encyclicals and which the Vatican brought to the fore through the recently published Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church. Through his encyclicals, John Paul also talked about the dignity of women and the importance of the family for the future of mankind.

Other important documents include The Gospel of Life ("Evangelium Vitae"), Faith and Reason ("Fides et Ratio"), and Orientale Lumen ("Light of the East").

John Paul II was also considered to have halted the progressive efforts of Vatican II, becoming a standard-bearer for the conservative side of the Catholic Church. He continued his staunch opposition to contraceptive methods, abortion and homosexuality. His book Memory and Identity claimed that the push for homosexual marriage might be part of a "new ideology of evil ... which attempts to pit human rights against the family and against man." However, he laid the groundwork to end the priestly celibacy requirement by welcoming many married Episcopal priests into the Church, who join those in the Eastern Rite already married.

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

Pastoral trips

Pope John Paul II visiting The Great Synagogue of Rome in April 1986

During his reign, Pope John Paul II ("The Pilgrim Pope") made over 100 foreign trips, more than all previous popes put together. In total he logged more than 1,167,000 km (725,000 miles). He consistently attracted large crowds on his travels, some amongst the largest ever assembled in human history. While some of his trips (such as to the United States and the Holy Land) were to places previously visited by Pope Paul VI (the first pope to travel widely), many others were to places that no pope had ever visited before. All these travels were paid by the money of the countries he visited, not by the Vatican's money.

One of John Paul II's earliest official visits was to Poland, in June 1979.[6] While there he held mass in Victory Square in Warsaw before over two million of his countrymen.

He became the first reigning pope to travel to the United Kingdom, where he met Queen Elizabeth II, the Supreme Governor of the Church of England. This trip was in danger of being cancelled due to the then current Falklands War, against which he spoke out during the visit. In a dramatic symbolic gesture, he knelt in prayer alongside the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Runcie, in the See of the Church of England, Canterbury Cathedral, founded by St Augustine of Canterbury.

Throughout his trips, he stressed his devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary through visits to various shrines to the Virgin Mary, notably Knock in Ireland, Fátima in Portugal, Guadalupe in Mexico, and Lourdes in France. His public visits were centred on large Papal Masses; one million people, one quarter of the population of the island of Ireland, attended his Mass in Dublin's Phoenix Park in 1979.

In 1984, John Paul became the first Pope to visit Puerto Rico. Stands were especially erected for him at Luis Munoz Marin International Airport in San Juan, where he met with governor Carlos Romero Barceló, and at Plaza Las Americas.

There was a plot to assassinate the Pope during his visit to Manila in January 1995, as part of Operation Bojinka, a mass terrorist attack that was developed by Al-Qaeda members Ramzi Yousef and Khalid Sheik Mohammed. A suicide bomber dressed as a priest and planned to use the disguise to get closer to the Pope's motorcade so that he could kill the Pope by detonating himself. Before 15 January, the day on which the men were to attack the Pope during his Philippine visit, an apartment fire brought investigators led by Aida Fariscal to Yousef's laptop computer, which had terrorist plans on it, as well as clothes and items that suggested an assassination plot. Yousef was arrested in Pakistan about a month later, but Khalid Sheik Mohammed was not arrested until 2003. During this trip to Philippines, on 15 January 1995, he offered mass to an estimated crowd of 4–5 million in Luneta Park, Manila, the largest papal crowd ever. [7]

On 22 March 1998, during his second Papal visit to Nigeria, he canonized the Nigerian monk [8] Cyprian Michael Tansi. This was a canonisation that greatly endeared the Pope to many African Catholics.

Also in 1999, John Paul II made another of his multiple trips to the United States, this time celebrating mass in St. Louis in the Edward Jones Dome. Over 104,000 people attended the mass, making it the biggest indoor gathering in United States history.

In 2000, he became the first modern Catholic pope to visit Egypt, where he met with the Coptic pope and the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Alexandria.

In May 2001, the Pontiff took a pilgrimage that would trace the steps of his co-namesake, Saint Paul, across the Mediterranean, from Greece to Syria to Malta.
Pope John Paul II meets with Archbishop Christodoulos of Greece.
John Paul II became the first Pope to visit Greece in 1291 years. The visit was controversial, and the Pontiff was met with protests and snubbed by Eastern Orthodox leaders, none of whom met his arrival.

In Athens, the Pope met with Archbishop Christodoulos, the head of the Greek Orthodox Church in Greece. After a private 30 minute meeting, the two spoke publicly. Christodoulos read a list of "13 offences" of the Roman Catholic Church against the Orthodox Church since the Great Schism, including the pillaging of Constantinople by crusaders in 1204. He also bemoaned the lack of any apology from the Roman Catholic Church, saying that "until now, there has not been heard a single request for pardon" for the "maniacal crusaders of the 13th century".

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 also said that the sacking of Constantinople was a source of "deep regret" for Catholics.

Pope John Paul II and Archbishop Christodoulos issue a "common declaration".
Later, John Paul 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." The two leaders then said the Lord's Prayer together, breaking an Orthodox taboo against praying with Catholics.

However, during the visit the Pope avoided any mention of Cyprus, still a source of tension between the two faiths.

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

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

Relations with other religions

The Pope kisses the Qur'an, the sacred book of over one billion Muslims.
The Pope meets Tenzin Gyatso, 14th Dalai Lama at the Vatican in 1999.

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

In contrast, the Northern Irish Protestant leader Ian Paisley has repeatedly accused John Paul II of being the Antichrist.

Relations with the Jewish people

Main article: Relations of Pope John Paul II with the Jewish People

The Pope at the Holocaust memorial of Yad Vashem.

Relations between Catholicism and Judaism improved during the pontificate of John Paul II. He spoke frequently about the Church's relationship with Jews. In 1979 he became the first Pope to visit the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland, where many of his countrymen had perished under Nazi rule. Shortly afterward, he became the first modern Pope to visit a synagogue when he visited the Synagogue of Rome on 13 April, 1986. In March 2000, John Paul II went to the Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem in Israel and touched the holiest shrine of the Jewish people, the Western Wall in Jerusalem. In October 2003, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) issued a statement congratulating John Paul II on entering the 25th year of his papacy.

The Pope prays and expresses sorrow for past Catholic mistreatment of Jews at the Western Wall.

On 18 January 2005, in what would be his last public meeting, a group of 141 Jewish leaders from around the world met with Pope John Paul II in the Clementine Hall of the Apostolic Palace, to thank the Pontiff for all he had done for the Jewish People and for the State of Israel.

Immediately after the pope's death, the ADL issued a statement that Pope John Paul II had revolutionised Catholic-Jewish relations, saying that "more change for the better took place in his 27 year Papacy than in the nearly 2000 years before." (Pope John Paul II: An Appreciation: A Visionary Remembered). A number of points of dispute still exist between the Catholic Church and the Jewish community, including World War II-related issues and issues of doctrine. Nonetheless, the number of issues that divide Jewish groups and the Vatican has dropped significantly during the last forty years.

Relations with the Eastern Orthodox Church

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

On 9 May, the Pope and the Patriarch each attended a worship service conducted by the other (an Orthodox Liturgy and a Catholic Mass, respectively). A crowd of hundreds of thousands of people turned up to attend the worship services, which were held in the open air. The Pope told the crowd, "I am here among you pushed only by the desire of authentic unity. Not long ago it was unthinkable that the bishop of Rome could visit his brothers and sisters in the faith who live in Romania. Today, after a long winter of suffering and persecution, we can finally exchange the kiss of peace and together praise the Lord." A large part of Romania's Orthodox population has shown itself warm to the idea of Christian reunification.

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

With regard to the relations with the Serb Orthodox Church, Pope John Paul II could not escape the controversy of the involvement of Croatian Catholic clergy with the Ustasa regime of World War II. He beatified Aloysius Stepinac in 1998, the Croatian war-time Archbishop of Zagreb, a move seen negatively by those who believe that he was an active collaborator with the Ustaše fascist regime. On June 22, 2003, he visited Banja Luka in Bosnia and Herzegovina, a city inhabited by many Catholics before the 1992–1995 war, but since then predominantly Orthodox. He held a mass at the Petrićevac monastery, a place of considerable controversy and distress, both during World War II and during the Yugoslav wars.

Catholics in Belarus (at least 10–15% of the population) had hoped for the Pope to visit their country, a trip he himself wished to make. Resistance from the Russian Orthodox Church and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, however, meant the visit never happened.

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

The Pope for youth

Pope John Paul II met a quarter of a million young people in Toronto in 2002

John Paul II had a special relationship also with the Catholic youth and is known by some as "The Pope for Youth." He was a hero to many of them.

He established World Youth Day in 1984 with the intention of bringing young Catholics from all parts of the world together to celebrate their faith. These week-long meetings of the youth happen every two or three years, attracting hundreds of thousands of young people, who go there to sing, party, have a good time and deepen their faith.

His most faithful youths gathered themselves in two organizations: papaboys and papagirls.


John Paul was not ignorant of Church history, and realized that various peoples had been wronged by the Church throughout the years. He publicly apologised for for over 100 of these mistakes, including:

  • On 31 October 1992, he apologised for the persecution of the Italian scientist and philosopher Galileo Galilei in the trial by the Roman Catholic Church in 1633.
  • On 9 August, 1993, he apologised for Catholic involvement with the African slave trade.
  • In May, 1995, in the Czech Republic, he begged forgiveness for the Church's role in burnings at the stake and the religious wars that followed the Protestant Reformation.
  • On 10 July, 1995, he released a letter to "every woman" to apologise for the injustices committed against women in the name of Christ, the violation of women's rights and for the historical denigration of women.
  • On 16 March, 1998, he apologised for the inactivity and silence of Roman Catholics during the Holocaust.
  • On 18 December, 1999, he apologised for the execution of Jan Hus in 1415.
  • During a public Mass of Pardons on 12 March, 2000, he asked forgiveness for the sins of Catholics throughout the ages for violating "the rights of ethnic groups and peoples, and [for showing] contempt for their cultures and religious traditions."
  • On 4 May, 2001, he apologised to the Patriarch of Constantinople for the sins of the Crusader conquest of Constantinople in 1204.
  • On 22 November, 2001, he apologised, via the Internet, for missionary abuses in the past against indigenous peoples of the South Pacific.
  • He also apologized for the massacre of Aztecs and other tribes by the Spanish in the name of the Church.

Social and political stances

Pope John Paul II becomes the first pope ever to preach in a Lutheran church; Rome, December 1983

John Paul II was a conservative on doctrine and issues relating to reproduction and the ordination of women. His collected writings on human sexuality, called the Theology of the Body, are an extended meditation on the nature of masculinity on human life. He also extended it to condemnation of abortion, euthanasia, and virtually all uses of capital punishment, calling them all a part of the "culture of death" that is pervasive in the modern world. His stands on warfare, capital punishment, world debt forgiveness, and poverty issues were considered politically liberal, showing that 'conservative' and 'liberal' political labels are not easily assigned to religious leaders.

The Pope, who began his papacy when the Soviets controlled his homeland Poland, as well as the rest of the Eastern Europe, was a harsh critic of communism and offered support to those fighting for change, like the Polish Solidarity movement. Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev once said the collapse of the Iron Curtain would have been impossible without John Paul II [9]. This view is shared by many people of the post-Soviet states, who view him, as well as Ronald Reagan, as the heroes responsible for bringing an end to the communist tyranny. In later years, Pope has also criticised some of the more extreme versions of corporate capitalism.

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

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

In European Union negotiations for a new constitution in 2003 and 2004, the Vatican's representatives failed to secure any mention of Europe's "Christian Heritage", one of the Pope's cherished goals.

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

The Pope also criticised transsexual and transgender people, as the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which he supervised, banned them from serving in church positions, as well as considering them to have "mental pathologies".


Pope John Paul II with Chilean military President Augusto Pinochet

Despite his popularity, John Paul II had many critics. One charge sometimes levelled at the Pope was that his opposition of Communism led him to support anti-Marxist right-wing dictators. John Paul occasionally met with—and, some say, supported—dictators such as Augusto Pinochet of Chile. John Paul II invited Pinochet to restore democracy, but, critics note, not in as firm terms as the ones he used against communist countries. He allegedly endorsed Pío Cardinal Laghi, who critics say supported the "Dirty War" in Argentina and was on friendly terms with the Argentinian generals of the military dictatorship, allegedly playing regularly tennis matches with general Jorge Rafael Videla. When the Cold War ended some conservatives in turn argued that the Pope moved too far left on foreign policy, and had pacifist views that were too extreme. His opposition to the 2003 Iraq War was thus criticized for this reason. Some on the right would also denounce the Pope's belief that unregulated laissez-faire capitalism was just as harmful as socialism, arguing against any statements in which the Pontiff was seen to imply a moral equivalency between the two philosophies.

John Paul was also criticised for his support of the Opus Dei prelature and the canonization of its founder, Josemaría Escrivá, whose opponents call him an admirer of Spanish dictator Francisco Franco. Some argue that Opus Dei is essentially a cult operating within the Church; John Paul saw it as part of a larger return to the Church's founding principles and his thrust to remind people of the universal call to holiness.

Besides Escrivá, several of his other canonisations and beatifications have been criticised because the people in question allegedly supported fascist political parties. The Pope's supporters respond that these allegations are false and some were deliberately misconstrued by their enemies. John Paul II made advocates of Liberation Theology unhappy by his opposition to it. Other criticism centred on his beliefs. In particular, John Paul's beliefs about gender roles and sexuality came under attack. Some feminists criticised his positions on the role of women, and gay-rights activists disagreed with his enunciation of the Church position that homosexual desires are "objectively disordered", and particular opposition to same-sex marriage.

His beliefs about contraception were particularly controversial to many people. John Paul followed traditional Catholic teaching and believed that one of the essential purposes of sex for a potentially fertile couple is procreation. Accordingly, he argued that using a contraceptive was an immoral act. Many people disagreed with this belief, but even some who agreed suggested that it was impractical to condemn use of condoms when sexually transmitted AIDS is spreading. A separate but related claim is that John Paul's administration spread an unproven belief that condoms do not block the spread of HIV; between these two claims, many critics have blamed him for contributing to AIDS epidemics in Africa and elsewhere [10]. His supporters say that John Paul's stress on abstinence and fidelity has been very effective in the battle against AIDS in countries like Uganda (a recent study challenges this[11]).

John Paul II was also sometimes criticised for the way he administered the Church; in particular, critics charged that he failed to respond quickly enough to the Roman Catholic Church sex abuse scandal. He was also criticised for recentralizing power back to the Vatican following the earlier decentralisation of Pope John XXIII. As such he was regarded by some as a strict authoritarian who would accept no dissent from within the church, the excommunication of Father Tissa Balasuriya being seen as a prime example of this by his critics.

Besides all the criticism from those demanding modernisation, Traditional Catholics were at times equally vehement in denouncing him from the right, demanding a return to the Tridentine Mass and repudiation of the reforms instituted after the Second Vatican Council. Some took their opposition to the point of sedevacantism while others remained within John Paul's obedience while decrying his policies as not conservative enough.


Pope John Paul II appears on the Vatican's €1 coin.
  • According to a New York Post article of 19 February, 2002, John Paul II personally performed three exorcisms during his tenure as pope. The first exorcism was performed on a woman in 1982. His second was in September 2000 when he performed the rite on a nineteen-year-old woman who had become enraged in St Peter's Square. A year later, in September 2001, he performed an exorcism on a twenty-year-old woman.
  • The Harlem Globetrotters visited Pope John Paul II at the Vatican in November of 2000 and named the Pontiff an Honorary Harlem Globetrotter.

Further reading

Books by John Paul II

In chronological order:

Meditations and philosophy

  • Memory and Identity – Conversations at the Dawn of a Millennium, published by Rizzoli (22 March, 2005), ISBN 0847827615 – conversational presentation of John Paul II's views on many secular topics, such as evil, freedom, contemporary Europe, nationalism, democracy. Included in the book is also a transcript of the Pope's discussion on his assassination attempt in 1981.
  • Rise, Let Us Be On Our Way, Warner Books (28 September, 2004), ISBN 0446577812 – mostly addressed to his bishops, however a rich source of inspiration for everyone having knowledge of Christianity.
  • Pope John Paul II – In My Own Words, Gramercy (6 August, 2002), ISBN 0517220849 – best-seller, a compilation book of carefully selected words and prayers of John Paul II, compiled by Anthony F. Chiffolo.
  • Gift and Mystery – On the Fiftieth Anniversary of My Priestly Ordination, Image (20 April, 1999), ISBN 0385493711 – about being a priest.
  • Crossing the Threshold of Hope, Knopf (19 September, 1995), ISBN 0679765611 – edited by Vittorio Messori. John Paul II makes many of his teachings and ideas more accessible.
  • The Way to Christ – Spiritual Exercises, HarperSanFrancisco (7 October, 1994), ISBN 0060642165 – conversational presentation of two retreats Karol Woytła gave 10 years apart before becoming pope. In that time he served in Kraków as bishop and cardinal. A direct and touching book.
  • Person and Act, by Karol Wojtyla; before his papacy, (28 February, 1979), ISBN 9027709858. In depth phenomenological work tied to Thomistic Ethics, apparently there is a bad translation entitled "the Acting Person".
  • Love and Responsibility, by Karol Woytła before his papacy, Ignatius Press; Rev. edition (1 April, 1993), ISBN 0898704456 – in depth philosophical analysis of human love and sexuality.

Plays by John Paul II

Both of these plays were filmed:

Poetry by John Paul II

Biographies of Pope John Paul II

Films about Pope John Paul II

See also


  1. Pronounced KARR-ol YOO-zef voy-TIH-wah, IPA /ˈkarɔl ˈjuzef vɔjˈtɨwa/,  Polish pronunciation.
  2. ^  John Cornwell, The Pope in Winter: The Dark Side of John Paul II's Papacy (Penguin, 2005) p.267.
  3. ^  ibid.


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Pope John Paul II
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Pope John Paul II dies
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Johannes Paulus II
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Jan Paweł II

External links

Official site

Media coverage


Directory categories

Preceded by:
John Paul I
Succeeded by:
Benedict XVI

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