Friday, April 6, 2018
Pope John Paul II : A Great Conservative Pope whose Messages Are Still Relevant in a Troubled World
POPE JOHN PAUL II, WHO DIED 13 YEARS AGO THIS WEEK, IS ALWAYS NEWS. Even 13 years after his death on April 2, 2005, the life and teachings of Pope John Paul II -- Pope Saint John Paul -- have many things to say to the world. • • • WHO WAS POPE JOHN PAUL II. Pope John Paul II was born Karol Józef Wojtyla on May 18, 1920, in Wadowice, Poland. He was ordained in 1946, became the bishop of Ombi in 1958, and became the archbishop of Krakow in 1964. He was made a cardinal by Pope Paul VI in 1967, and in 1978 became the first non-Italian pope in more than 400 years. At his death vigil in Saint Peter's Square in 2005, when the word was given that the beloved Pope had died, the spontaneous cry went up from the faithful mass assembled -- Santo Subito -- Sainthood Now. Pope John Paul II was beatified May 1, 2011. He was canonized on April 27, 2014. His Feast Day is celebrated on October 22. • John Paul -- Karol Józef Wojtyla -- was fortunate to have been born and raised in the only really free portion of Polish history after 1777 -- the period between 1920 when Poland had inflicted a crushing defeat on the Red Army at the Battle of Warsaw, halting Lenin's westward march, and 1939, when the Nazis invaded Poland. In October, 1942, while World War II continued, Wojtyla knocked on the door of the Bishop's Palace in Kraków and asked to study for the priesthood. Soon after, he began courses in the clandestine underground seminary run by the Archbishop of Kraków, Adam Stefan Cardinal Sapieha. On February 29, 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 August 6, 1944, a day known as "Black Sunday," the Gestapo rounded up young men in Kraków to curtail the uprising there, similar to the recent uprising in Warsaw. Wojtyła escaped by hiding in the basement of his uncle's house at 10 Tyniecka Street, while the German troops searched above. More than eight thousand men and boys were taken that day, while Wojtyła escaped to the Archbishop's Palace, where he remained until after the Germans had left. On the night of January 17, 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. He also helped a 14-year-old Jewish refugee girl named Edith Zierer, who had escaped from a Nazi labor camp in Częstochowa. Edith had collapsed on a railway platform, so Wojtyła carried her to a train and stayed with her throughout the journey to Kraków. Edith credits Wojtyła with saving her life that day. 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 its 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 a young Polish priest named Karol Wojtyła, the future Pope John Paul II, to baptize the boy. The future pope refused, claiming that the child should be raised in the Jewish faith of his birth parents and nation, not as a Catholic. In September 2003, Emmanuelle Pacifici, the head of Italy's Jewish community, proposed that John Paul II receive the medal of a Righteous Among the Nations for saving a two-year-old Jewish boy by giving him to a Gentile Polish family to be hidden in 1942, when Karol Wojtyła was just a seminarian. After the war, this boy's Christian adopted parents asked the future Pope John Paul II to baptize the boy, yet once again he refused, as with Berger. After the war, Karol Wojtyła did everything he could to ensure that this Jewish boy he saved leave Poland to be raised by his Jewish relatives in the United States. In April 2005, shortly after John Paul II's death, the Israeli government created a commission to honor the legacy of John Paul II. One of the proposed ways of honoring him was to give him the medal of the Righteous Among the Nations. In Pope John Paul's last book, Memory and Identity, he described the 12 years of the Nazi régime as "bestiality," quoting from the Polish theologian and philosopher Konstanty Michalski. • • • JOHN PAUL, A MAN OF MANY FIRSTS. He was the first non-Italian pope in 455 years -- since the Dutch Pope Adrian VI, who served from 1522 to 1523. • Pope John Paul II was the first pope from a Slavic country. • His pontificate of more than 26 years was the third longest in history, and the second longest in modern history after Pope Pius IX, who served for nearly 32 years from 1846 to 1878. • John Paul II's cause for canonisation commenced in 2005 one month after his death with the traditional five-year waiting period waived. On December 19, 2009, John Paul II was proclaimed Venerable by his successor Pope Benedict XVI and was beatified on May 1, 2011, after the Congregation for the Causes of Saints attributed one miracle to his intercession, the healing of a French nun from Parkinson's disease. A second miracle attributed to John Paul II's intercession was approved on July 2, 2013, and confirmed by Pope Francis two days later (two miracles must be attributed to a person's intercession to be declared a saint). John Paul II was canonized on April 27, 2014, together with Pope John XXIII. On September 11, 2014, Pope Francis added John Paul II's optional memorial feast day to the worldwide General Roman Calendar of saints, in response to worldwide requests. It is traditional to celebrate saints' feast days on the anniversary of their deaths, but that of John Paul II (22 October) is celebrated on the anniversary of his papal inauguration. • As part of his effort to promote greater understanding between nations and between religions, he undertook numerous trips abroad, traveling far greater distances than had all other popes combined, extending his influence beyond the church by campaigning against political oppression and criticizing the materialism of the West. He also issued several unprecedented apologies to groups that historically had been wronged by Catholics, most notably Jews and Moslems. • He travelled to the moon 3 times during his lifetime -- well, the same distance : 775,000 miles! John Paul II was on a mission, and he felt that his call as shepherd to a universal Church meant that he really needed to get out there and meet the universal flock : “Aren’t I supposed to be Pope for all the world?” he said. • He was the first pope ever to visit several countries in one year, starting in 1979 with Mexico and Ireland. 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, as well as holding several large- scale open air masses, including one at Wembley Stadium, which was attended by some 80,000 people. 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. In 2000, he was the first modern pope to visit Egypt, where he met with the Coptic pope, Pope Shenouda III and the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Alexandria. 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 buried, where he made a speech calling for Moslems, Christians and Jews to live together. • Pope John Paul II was the first pope to reach out regularly to the world's youth. On January 15, 1995, during the X World Youth Day, he offered Mass to an estimated crowd of between five and seven million in Luneta Park, Manila, Philippines, which was considered to be the largest single gathering in Christian history. • In March 2000, while visiting Jerusalem, John Paul became the first pope in history to visit and pray at the Western Wall. In September 2001, amid post-11 September concerns, he travelled to Kazakhstan, with an audience largely consisting of Moslems, and to Armenia, to participate in the celebration of 1,700 years of Armenian Christianity. • As part of his special emphasis on the universal call to holiness, he beatified 1,340 people and canonised 483 saints, more than the combined tally of his predecessors during the preceding five centuries. • By the time of his death, he had named most of the College of Cardinals, consecrated or co-consecrated a large number of the world's bishops, and ordained many priests. • A key goal of John Paul's papacy was to transform and reposition the Catholic Church. His wish was "to place his Church at the heart of a new religious alliance that would bring together Jews, Moslems and Christians in a great religious armada." • • • JOHN PAUL, POLISH SOLIDARITY, AND THE COLLAPSE OF THE SOVIET UNION. His outspoken Polish nationalism and his emphasis on nonviolent political activism aided the Solidarity movement in communist Poland in the 1980s and ultimately contributed to the peaceful dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. In June 1979, Pope John Paul II travelled to Poland, where ecstatic crowds constantly engulfed him. During his June 1979 watershed trip back to Poland as Pope, Jean Paul celebrated Pentecost Mass in Victory Square to a crowd of 300,000 people. At one point, their wild applause wouldn’t stop for 14 minutes straight. Imagine that - the Polish people repressed by a Communism that denied their human dignity as persons were standing with one of their own, a Polish boy from Wadowice whio came back, as Pope, to his homeland, with a message of freedom and hope. John Paul told that crowd : “Send down your Spirit! Send down your Spirit! And renew the face of the Earth! Of his land!” 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. 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. It was just one more misjudgment of the the Communist government in Poland, which had agreed to the nomination by the church in Poland of its own candidates to replace bishopric vacancies, while they asserted the right to reject any candidates they didn’t like. They actually picked Karol Wojtyla to be a bishop -- they continued to veto names placed before them until they got him. What an awkward moment it was when the man the Polish communist regime had selected later became Pope John Paul II and returned to Poland to topple Communism -- one of the worst underestimation in history ever. The Polish Communist regime should have known what the future Pope would do -- he had already used a James Bond move to evade the Polish secret police who constantly followed him when he was a bishop in Poland during the Communist reign, keeping tabs on him and trying to study him (by the time he became pope, they had amassed 18 cartons of reports on him.) Once, when the archbishop needed to have a secret meeting with him, Wojtyla’s chauffeur pulled a little traffic weaving stunt which cut off their pursuer’s line of sight; he swapped cars without them knowing, and was able to meet with the archbishop in peace. The government also bugged his residence with listening devices, which he knew about and so he played off of it, talking extra loud when he wanted them to hear something, and saving the private conversations for his secret wilderness excursions. • John Paul II has often been credited with being instrumental in bringing down Communism in Central and Eastern Europe -- 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. 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'." It has also been widely alleged that the Vatican Bank covertly funded Solidarity. • 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." • 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." 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." • On June 4, 2004, US President George W. Bush presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States' highest civilian honor, to John Paul II during a ceremony at the Apostolic Palace. The President read the citation that accompanied the medal, which recognized "this son of Poland," whose "principled stand for peace and freedom has inspired millions and helped to topple Communism and tyranny." After receiving the award, John Paul II said : "May the desire for freedom, peace, a more humane world symbolized by this medal inspire men and women of goodwill in every time and place." Pope 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 other 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." • "The pope won that struggle by transcending politics, by 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, ultimately to Communism." • John Lewis Gaddis, one of the most influential historians of the Cold War, said of the 1979 trip by Pope John Paul to Poland : "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. • On later trips to Poland, he gave tacit support to the Solidarity organization. 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). • We must add that Pope John PAul had the mroal and personal courage that elped him prevail and build his reputation while priest, bishop and Cardinal in Poland under Communist rule. His charisma was an over-arching aspect of his call to all people to unite and be free -- "Do not be afraid" became his universal call to freedom. But, he had two extraordinary political leaders standing with him -- Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. That triumverate drove the Soviet Union out of existence. • • • POPE JOHN PAUL -- A CONSERVATIVE THEOLOGIAN. 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. • 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. In it, Pope John Paul condemned abortion, euthanasia and virtually all capital punishment, calling them all a part of the "culture of death" pervasive in the modern world. He campaigned for world debt forgiveness and social justice. In his book "Memory and Identity," he referred to the "strong pressures" by the European Parliament to recognize homosexual unions as an alternative type of family, with the right to adopt children. In the book, 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." • 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." 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. • Liberation theology was also a target of Pope John Paul. 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 South America. Visiting Europe, Óscar Romero unsuccessfully attempted to obtain a Vatican condemnation of El Salvador's regime, for violations of human rights and its support of death squads. In his travel to Managua, Nicaragua, in 1983, John Paul II harshly condemned what he dubbed the "popular Church" -- "ecclesial base communities" supported by the Liberation theology group -- and the Nicaraguan clergy's tendencies to support the leftist Sandinistas, reminding the clergy of their duties of obedience to the Holy See. 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 Cardenal's face, and told him, "You must straighten out your position with the church." • Pope John Paul II was the first pontiff to actively fight against 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!" 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. • • • POPE JOHN PAUL'S FINAL YEARS AND DEATH. 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. International observers had suspected this, and it was 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. • John Paul II was hospitalized with breathing problems caused by a bout of influenza on February 1, 2005. He left the hospital on February 10, but was subsequently hospitalized again with breathing problems two weeks later and underwent a tracheotomy. • On March 31, 2005, following a urinary tract infection, he developed septic shock, a form of infection with a high fever and low blood pressure, but was not hospitalized. 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. 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. • 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." • On Saturday, April 2, 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. The Mass of the vigil of the Second Sunday of Easter had just been celebrated at his bedside, presided over by Stanisław Dziwisz and two Polish associates. Present at the bedside was a cardinal 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. Pope John Paul II died in his private apartment at 21:37 CEST of heart failure from profound hypotension and complete circulatory collapse from septic shock, 46 days before his 85th birthday. His death was verified when an electrocardiogram that ran for 20 minutes showed a flatline. He had no close family by the time of his death. Stanisław Dziwisz later said he had not burned the pontiff's personal notes despite the request being part of the will. • The Requiem Mass held on April 8, 2005, was said to have set world records both for attendance and number of heads of state present at a funeral. It was the single largest gathering of heads of state in history, surpassing the funeral of Winston Churchill in 1965. Four kings, five queens, at least 70 presidents and prime ministers, and more than 14 leaders of other religions attended, along with the faithful. It is likely to have been the largest single pilgrimage of Christianity ever -- with numbers estimated in excess of four million mourners gathering in and around Vatican City. Between 250,000 and 300,000 watched the event from within the Vatican's walls. • • • POPE JOHN PAUL THE GREAT. Upon the death of John Paul II, a number of clergy at the Vatican and laymen throughout the world began 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. 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, 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. Pope John Paul II's successor, Benedict XVI, referred to him as "the great Pope John Paul II" in his first address from the loggia of St. Peter's Basilica, and Cardinal Angelo Sodano referred to John Paul as "the Great" in his published written homily for the Pope's funeral Mass of Repose. Since giving his homily at the funeral of Pope John Paul, Pope Benedict XVI continued to refer to John Paul II as "the Great. • • • DEAR READERS, I hope you've learned some things that will give you a fuller appreciation of a man who was "Great" in every sense of the word. I have been devoted to John Paul since he became Pope, praying for his help while he was still alive -- as we often call out to our departed mothers or grandmothers or other cherished family members or mentors for help in difficult times. I think that is not a "Catholic thing," but a universal human instinct to reach out for help to those we revere when we are in trouble. John Paul reached out to all of us -- and to each of us. He was a brilliant theologian who wrote hundreds of treatises and books about being a good Christian. But, he did what many brilliant people can't do -- he translated that advice into concrete action by himself and urged us on to "goodness" in words that we could act upon. John Paul didn't pigeonhole religion. He wrapped the world in it by making us all his fellow believers.He didn't back away from the challenging issues of our time -- abortion, euthanasia, sexual promuiscuity, homosexuality used as a political tool to defeat western civilization, enslavement of the human spirit by godless regimes. "Do not be afraid" is for me the best modern statement of faith in God ever spoken. Pope John Paul the Great. A man with a message for the world -- 13 years after his death, and for a long time to come.