Saint John Paul II died in 2005, the year he had earlier proclaimed as Year of the Eucharist—“the source and summit of life and mission of the church.”
The requiem Mass for him on April 28, 2005, set “world records both for attendance and number of heads of state at a funeral.” Four million mourners, which included about a hundred dignitaries—kings, queens, presidents, prime ministers and leaders of other religions. Broadcasted globally, it was one of the greatest media event in history.
When he was canonized on April 27, 2014, Divine Mercy Sunday, a sea of humanity converged in Vatican City to rejoice. In attendance were “more people than all his predecessors had during the previous 400 years.”
Bishop Jean Zeibo of Bamaki Mali sums up the reason: “He went all over the world [129 countries during his pontificate]. Today, they were coming to him.”
Pope for the world
Why is he so loved wherever he went? Because he was a “pope for the people of all nations. A pope one could love and touch.”
In his homily at the inauguration of his pontificate on October 22, 1978, John Paul articulated his vision and mission and shared it to the world: “Open wide the doors for Christ…help the pope and all who serve Christ…and with Christ’s power…serve mankind.”
Two of the major hallmarks of his pontificate were the launching in 1992 of the New Catechism of the Catholic Church and the introduction of the Mysteries of Light in the Rosary.
As shepherd of the Church, his legacy includes 14 encyclicals, 15 apostolic exhortations, 45 apostolic letters and 11 apostolic constitutions.
As co-patron, he gathered the young people of the world to celebrate World Youth Day, urging the young people to construct and “free history from the false paths it is pursuing.”
Aware of the role of families in a modern world, he is co-patron, too, of the World Meeting of Families. He emphasized: “As the family goes, so goes the nation and so goes the whole world in which we live.”
Rejecting anti-Semitism among the Polish, he called the Jews our older brothers. Having helped save the lives of Jews, the Jewish Community in Italy honored him as “Righteous Among Nations,” a title the Israeli government adapted in April 2006 to honor his legacy.
He provided the leadership to resist persecution under the Communist regime and helped end the Communist rule in Poland and all of Europe. As bishop of Rome, he visited 317 of the 332 parishes of his diocese. As head of the Catholic Church, he made 146 pastoral visits in Italy and more than a hundred outside.
As pontiff, he improved church relations with Eastern Orthodox churches, Anglican communities, Judaism and even Islam.
In consonance with his emphasis on universal call to holiness, he declared 1,338, beatified and proclaimed 482 as saints, more than the combined tally of his predecessors during five centuries.
Dubbed as “Pilgrim Pope” he made 250 trips, some 775,321 miles and visited several times all continents except Antarctica.
That he is literate in 12 languages and used nine extensively was a tremendous plus factor during his visits in 129 countries. His sojourns drew huge crowds, but the largest was the closing ceremony of the 10th World Youth Day in the city of Manila on January 15, 1995.
About 4 million people were gathered at Quirino Grandstand in Rizal Park in Intramuros, Manila, that to reach the altar in his pope mobile was impossible. So, he was airlifted by a helicopter to the back of the Grandstand.
By the time he died, he had named most of the members of the College of Cardinals—231 in all.
Karol Josef Wojtyla was born on May 18, 1920, in Wadowice, Poland. This makes him the first non-Italian pope after 400 years and the first from a Communist country. His father, Karol, an ethnic Pole, is a Polish Army lieutenant. Emilia, his mother, is a schoolteacher.
A sister died before his birth, his mother died when he was 9, and his brother also died when he was 12.
At an early age, he was taught how to live the Catholic faith, work hard and be self-disciplined. He lived with his father in an apartment behind the parish church.
As a working student of drama in Jagiellonian University, he was in stage plays and was one of the pioneers of Rhapsodic theater. When his father died, he lost all the people he loved; he was 20 years old.
When the Nazi German forces invaded Poland in 1939, the university was closed, and he worked in a quarry, then in a chemical factory to avoid deportation to Germany. He hid in the basement of his uncle’s house when the Gestapo rounded 8,000 men in Krakow on August 6, 1944, to curtail uprising.
During the 12 years of Nazi regime in Poland, he helped the Jewish community and saved a 2-year-old Jewish boy by giving him to a Gentile Polish.
Cardinal Stefan Sapieha encouraged him to be a priest, so he attended courses in secret in the Episcopal Palace, an underground seminary under the Archbishop of Krakow, while an actor in clandestine plays.
On November 1, 1946, Cardinal Sapieha ordained him. Aware of his exceptional attributes, the cardinal sent Wojtyla to study in Rome where he obtained a doctorate in sacred theology, defending successfully his doctoral thesis on the Doctrine of Faith of Saint John of the Cross on June 19, 1948.
In Poland he was assigned as chaplain in different parishes and in charge of university students in Krakow. As president of the Solidarity of Mary, he organized students in discussion groups to pray, help communities, and spend leisure activities together, hiking, camping, bicycling and kayaking while teaching moral theology and social ethics in major seminaries in Krakow.
He wrote literary articles with the pseudonym Andrezej Jaweri or Stanislaw Andrezej Jaweri. His numerous works included five books, Crossing the Threshold of Hope in 1994, the first; and Memory and Identity in 2005, his fifth book.
He was appointed bishop in 1958 and cardinal in 1967.
‘I am all yours’
As pope, his coat of arms had the letter “M” to signify his devotion to the Blessed Mother. His motto is Totus, Tuus (I am all yours).
He kissed the soil of host countries he visited as a sign of respect and humility. And wherever he went, he carried a portable altar—his breviary.
Leading the church in the Great Jubilee 2000, which was attended by 8 million pilgrims, he prepared Christians to “celebrate it with faith, in the hope which does not disappoint in the love which seeks nothing in return.”
As Pope John Paul II entered Saint Peter’s Square on May 13, 1981, Mehmet Ali Agca, a Turkish gunman and member of the militant fascist group Grey Wolves, shot him.
John Paul instructed doctors not to remove his brown scapular during surgery. He said that Our Lady of Fatima helped him since May 13, the date of first appearance of Our Lady to the three children of Fatima in 1917.
John Paul visited Agca in prison on December 27, 1983, spoke to Agca as a brother and forgave him.
John Paul died in the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace on April 2, 2005, on the Vigil of the Sunday in Albis, also commemorated as Divine Mercy Sunday, which he earlier instituted. Following his passing “Santo subito! (Saint now!) were heard loudly in Saint Peter’s Square. Proclaimed Venerable on December 19, 2009, he was declared saint on May 1, 2011. Saint John Paul II’s feast day is on October 22, the anniversary of his papal inauguration.
Santiago is a former regional director of the Department of Education National Capital Region. She is currently a faculty member of Mater Redemptoris Collegium in Calauan, Laguna, and Mater Redemptoris College in San Jose City, Nueva Ecija.