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Pope John Paul II

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Official papal image of John Paul II
Official papal image of John Paul II

His Holiness John Paul II, né Karol Józef Wojtyła (born May 18, 1920 in Wadowice, Poland), is the current Pope — the Bishop of Rome and head of the Roman Catholic Church. He was elected in 1978, becoming the first non-Italian pope in 455 years and the first pope ever of Slavic origin.

His crusades against political oppression have been praised, but his conservative social positions been more controversial. His trips abroad — 100 by the year 2003 — have attracted enormous crowds (some of the largest ever assembled). With these trips, John Paul has covered a distance far greater than that traveled by all other popes combined. They have been an outward sign of the efforts at global bridge-building between nations and between religions that have been central to his pontificate.

Pope John Paul II has beatified and canonised far more persons than any other previous pope in history. It is reported that as of October 2004, he has beatified 1,340 people. Whether he has canonised more saints than all his predecessors put together, as is sometimes claimed, is difficult to prove, as the records of many early canonisations are incomplete or missing.

On 14 March 2004 his pontificate overtook Leo XIII's as the longest in the history of the Papacy other than Pius IX and St. Peter. In February 2010, if still the Pope, he will overtake Pius IX as having the longest papal reign ever. The length of his term is in extreme contrast with that of his predecessor John Paul I, who died suddenly after only 33 days in office (and in whose memory John Paul II named himself).

At the height of his Pontificate, 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 March 2000, promoting Christian-Jewish reconciliation.


Personal background

Karol Józef Wojtyła (pronounced: voy-TEE-wah) was born in Wadowice, Southern Poland, a son of a former officer in the Habsburg army. His youth is marked by intensive contacts with the then-thriving Jewish community of Kraków, and the experience of Nazi occupation, during which he worked in a quarry and a chemical factory. An athlete, actor, and playwright in his youth, Karol Wojtyła was ordained a priest on November 1, 1946. He taught ethics at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków and subsequently at the Catholic University of Lublin. In 1958 he was named auxiliary bishop of Kraków and four years later he assumed leadership of the diocese with the title of vicar capitular.

On December 30, 1963, he was named Archbishop of Kraków by Pope Paul VI. As both bishop and archbishop, Wojtyła participated in the Second Vatican Council, making contributions to the documents that would become the Decree on Religious Freedom (Dignitatis Humanae) and the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes), two of the most historic and influential products of the council.

In 1967 Pope Paul VI elevated him to cardinal. In August 1978, following Paul's death, he participated in the Papal Conclave that elected Albino Luciani, the Cardinal Patriarch of Venice, as Pope John Paul I. At 65, Luciani was a young man by Papal standards. While Wojtyła at 58 could have expected to participate in another Papal conclave before reaching the age of eighty (the upper age limit for cardinal electors), he could hardly have expected that his second conclave would come so soon, for on 28 September 1978, after only 33 days in the papacy, Pope John Paul I died, in circumstances that still remain mysterious. In October 1978 Wojtyła returned to Vatican City to participate in the second conclave in less than two months.

The second Conclave of 1978

John Paul II's Coat of ArmsThe Letter M is for Mary, the mother of Jesus, to whom he holds strong devotion
John Paul II's Coat of Arms
The Letter M is for Mary, the mother of Jesus, to whom he holds strong devotion

The conclave itself was divided between two particularly strong candidates: Giuseppe Siri, the conservative Archbishop of Genoa , and Giovanni Benelli, the liberal Archbishop of Florence and close associate of Pope John Paul I. In early ballots Benelli came within nine votes of victory. Wojtyła however secured election as the compromise candidate, in part through the support of liberal cardinals like Franz König and conservatives who had previously supported Siri. On election, the first non-Italian pope for nearly half a millennium was referred to by many simply as the man from a far country. In terms of his age, his nationality, and his rugged health, the former athlete and playwright broke all the papal rules. He was to become, arguably, the dominant twentieth-century pope of the Catholic Church, eclipsing Pope Paul VI in travels, and, to some, eclipsing Pope Pius XII in intellectual vigour, and Pope John XXIII in charisma.

The first Polish playwright-Pope

On October 16, 1978, at age 58, he succeeded Pope John Paul I, fulfilling a prophecy made to him decades earlier by Padre Pio that he would one day be pope. There was also another part to the prediction. The monk also predicted that Wojtyła's reign would be short and end in blood, a prophecy that almost came true when on May 13, 1981, he was shot and nearly killed by Mehmet Ali Agca, a Turkish gunman, as he entered St. Peter's Square to address a general audience. But far from having a short reign, John Paul II became one of the longest reigning popes in history.

There was, unsurprisingly, unproven speculation that the assassination was ordered by the Soviet Union. The source of this speculation is one of the case studies in Manufacturing Consent by Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky. The Mitrokhin Archive reveals that the KGB was as surprised as the rest of the world by the attempted murder; the KGB's archivist never came across a document that suggested the KGB was involved. Two days after Christmas in 1983, John Paul went to the prison and met with his would-be assassin. The two spoke privately for a time, and the conversation between the two men remains secret to this day.

Like his predecessor, John Paul II opted to simplify his office to make it a less regal institution. He chose not to use the Royal Plural, referring to himself as "I" instead of "We". John Paul also opted for a simple inauguration ceremony instead of the formal papal coronation. And he has not worn the Papal Tiara during his term in office. This was done to emphasize the servant role that is expressed in the title Servus Servorum Dei (Servant of the Servants of God).


Pope John Paul II visiting a synagogue in Rome in April 1983
Pope John Paul II visiting a synagogue in Rome in April 1983

During his reign, Pope John Paul II has made more foreign trips than all previous popes put together. While some of his trips (to the United States and the Holy Land) were to places previously visited by Pope Paul VI ("The Pilgrim Pope"), many others were to places that no pope had ever visited before. 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. In a dramatic symbolic gesture, he knelt in prayer in Canterbury Cathedral, founded by Augustine of Canterbury and the See of the Church of England, alongside the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Runcie. Throughout his trips, he stressed his devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary through visits to various shrines to the Virgin Mary, notably Knock in the Republic of Ireland, Fatima in Portugal and Lourdes in France. His public visits were centered around large Papal Masses; one million people, one quarter of the population of the island of Ireland, attended his Mass in Phoenix Park in 1979.

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-Qaida members Ramzi Yousef and Khalid Sheik Mohammed. A suicide bomber would dress up as a priest. He would then use the disguise to get closer to the Pope's motorcade so that he could kill the Pope by detonating himself. Before January 15, 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 would be arrested in Pakistan about a month later, but Khalid Sheik Mohammed was not arrested until 2003.

Relations with the Jewish people

At the Western Wall
At the Western Wall

John Paul II has written and delivered a number of speeches on the subject of the Church's relationship with Jews, and has often paid homage to the victims of the Holocaust in many nations. One of the few popes to have grown up in a climate of flourishing Jewish culture, one of the key components of pre-war Kraków, his interest in Jewish life dates from early youth. His visit to the Synagogue of Rome was the first by a pope since the founding of the Catholic Church.

The Anti-Defamation League recently stated, "The Anti-Defamation League congratulates Pope John Paul II on the 25th anniversary of his papacy. His deep commitment to reconciliation between the Catholic Church and the Jewish people has been fundamental to his papacy. Jews throughout the world are deeply grateful to the Pope. He has defended the Jewish people at all times, as a priest in his native Poland and during his pontificate....We pray that he remains healthy for many years to come, that he achieves much success in his holy work and that Catholic-Jewish relations continue to flourish." [1]

Social and political stances

He is considered a conservative on doctrine and issues relating to reproduction and the ordination of women, and has been critical of Liberation Theology and those who regard themselves Catholics while questioning the church's teachings on faith and morals. In the 1995 encyclical Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life) he reasserted the church's condemnation of abortion, euthanasia, and capital punishment, calling them all a part of the "culture of death" that is pervasive in the modern world. His stands on capital punishment, world debt forgiveness, and poverty issues are considered politically liberal, showing that 'conservative' and 'liberal' labels are not easily assigned to religious leaders. In 2003, John Paul II also became a prominent critic of the 2003 US invasion of Iraq. He sent his Peace Minister, Pío Cardinal Laghi , to talk with George W. Bush to express opposition to the war. The Catholic Church says that it is 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.

Serious health problems

As the youngest pope elected since Pope Pius IX in 1846, John Paul entered the papacy as an exceptionally healthy, relatively young man who, unlike previous popes, swam and skied. However, after over twenty-five years on the papal throne, two serious assassination attempts, the first of which injured him, and a number of cancer scares, John Paul's physical health has declined. In May 2003, the Vatican confirmed that, as international observers had suspected, Pope John Paul is suffering from Parkinson's disease. He has difficulty speaking more than a few sentences at a time and also has difficulty hearing. He also has severe arthritis in his right knee, which he developed following a hip replacement and no longer walks. Nevertheless, he has continued to tour the world. Despite speculation that he may resign, he appears determined to remain in office until his death or until he becomes irrevocably mentally impaired. Those who have met him say that, though physically in poor shape, he remains mentally in full health.

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

In 2000, he publicly endorsed the Jubilee 2000 campaign on African debt relief fronted by Irish rock stars Bob Geldof and Bono. Indeed, the nature of the relationship between the pope and Bono was revealed when someone working at the Dublin recording studio for Bono's band U2 stated that a recording session was interrupted on at least one occasion by a phone call from the pope, who wanted to talk to Bono about the campaign.


Archbishop Stanisław Dziwisz is the pope's private secretary.

According to a New York Post article of February 19, 2002, John Paul II has personally performed three exorcisms during his tenure as pope. The first exorcism was performed on a woman in 1982 who writhed on the ground. 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.


For antipopes during his papacy, see

Encyclicals of Pope John Paul II

Pope John Paul II on the Vatican's €1 coin
Pope John Paul II on the Vatican's €1 coin

The Pope has written fourteen encyclicals in his papacy:

  1. "Redemptor Hominis " ("The Redeemer of Man") - March 4, 1979
  2. "Dives in Misericordia " - The Father of mercies and God of all comfort November 30, 1980
  3. "Laborem Exercens " - On Human Work on the 90th anniversary of Pope Leo XIII's encyclical "Rerum Novarum" September 14, 1981
  4. "Slavorum Apostoli " ("The Apostles of the Slavs") - In commemoration of Saints Cyril and Methodius June 2, 1985
  5. "Dominum et Vivificantem " ("The Lord and Giver of Life") - May 18, 1986
  6. "Redemptoris Mater " ("Mother of the Redeemer") - March 25, 1987
  7. "Sollicitudo Rei Socialis " - On Social Concerns December 30, 1987
  8. "Redemptoris Missio " - On the Permanent Validity of the Church's Missionary Mandate December 7, 1990
  9. "Centesimus Annus " ("The Hundredth Year") - On the 100th anniversary of "Rerum Novarum;" on Capitol and Labor; on Catholic social teaching May 1, 1991
  10. "Veritatis Splendor " ("The Splendor of Truth") - Regarding Certain Fundamental Question of the Church's Moral Teaching August 6, 1993
  11. "Evangelium Vitae " ("The Gospel of Life") - March 25, 1995
  12. "Ut Unum Sint " ("That They May Be One") - On Commitment to Ecumenism May 25, 1995
  13. "Fides et Ratio " ("Faith and Reason") - condemned both atheism and faith unsupported by reason and affirmed the place of reason and philosophy in religion September 14, 1998
  14. "Ecclesia de Eucharistia " ("The Church of the Eucharist") - April 17, 2003

Pastoral visits outside Italy

Pope John Paul II in old age
Pope John Paul II in old age
  1. January 25 - February 1 1979 - Dominican Republic, Mexico, the Bahamas
  2. June 2 - June 10 1979 - Poland
  3. September 29 - October 8 1979 - Republic of Ireland and the United States
  4. November 28 - November 30 1979 - Turkey
  5. May 2 - May 12 1980 - Zaire, Congo, Kenya, Ghana, Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire
  6. May 30 - June 2 1980 - France
  7. June 30 - July 12 1980 - Brazil
  8. November 15 - November 19 1980 - Germany
  9. February 16 - February 27 1981 - Pakistan, the Philippines, Guam (USA), Japan, Anchorage (USA)
  10. February 12 - February 19 1982 - Nigeria, Benin, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea
  11. May 12 - May 15 1982 - Portugal
  12. May 28 - June 2 1982 - United Kingdom
  13. June 10 - June 13 1982 - Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), Argentina
  14. June 15 1982 - Geneva (Switzerland)
  15. August 29 1982 - San Marino
  16. October 31 - November 9 1982 - Spain
  17. March 2 - March 10 1983 - Lisbon (Portugal), Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Panama, El Salvador, Guatemala, Belize, Haiti
  18. June 16 - June 23 1983 - Poland
  19. August 14 - August 15 1983 - Lourdes (France)
  20. September 10 - September 13 1983 - Austria
  21. May 2 - May 12 1984 - Fairbanks (USA), Republic of Korea, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Thailand
  22. June 12 - June 17 1984 - Switzerland
  23. September 9 - September 21 1984 - Canada
  24. October 10 - October 13 1984 - Zaragoza (Spain), Santo Domingo (Dominican Republic), San Juan (Puerto Rico)
  25. January 26 - February 6 1985 - Peru, Ecuador, Venezuela, Trinidad and Tobago
  26. May 11 - May 21 1985 - the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Belgium
  27. August 8 - August 19 1985 - Togo, Côte d'Ivoire, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Zaire, Kenya, Morocco
  28. September 8 1985 - Kloten (Switzerland), Liechtenstein
  29. January 31 - February 11 1986 - India
  30. July 1 - July 8 1986 - St. Lucia, Colombia
  31. October 4 - October 7 1986 - France
  32. November 18 - December 1 1986 - Bangladesh, Singapore, Fiji, New Zealand, Australia, the Seychelles
  33. March 31 - April 13 1987 - Chile, Uruguay, Argentina
  34. April 30 - May 4 1987 - Germany
  35. June 8 - June 14 1987 - Poland
  36. September 10 - September 21 1987 - United States (including New Orleans and Detroit), Fort Simpson (Canada)
  37. May 7 - May 18 1988 - Uruguay, Bolivia, Lima (Peru), Paraguay, Curacao
  38. June 23 - June 27 1988 - Austria
  39. September 10 - September 19 1988 - Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland, Mozambique
  40. October 8 - October 11 1988 - France
  41. April 28 - May 6 1989 - Madagascar, Réunion, Zambia, Malawi
  42. June 1 - June 10 1989 - Norway, Iceland, Finland, Denmark, Sweden
  43. August 19 - August 21 1989 - Santiago de Compostela and Asturias (both Spain)
  44. October 6 - October 16 1989 - Seoul (Republic of Korea), Indonesia (East Timor), Mauritius
  45. January 25 - February 1 1990 - Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Burkina Faso, Chad
  46. April 21 - April 22 1990 - Czechoslovakia
  47. May 6 - May 14 1990 - Mexico, Curacao
  48. May 25 - May 27 1990 - Malta
  49. September 1 - September 10 1990 - Luqa (Malta), Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda, Yamoussoukro (Côte d'Ivoire)
  50. May 5 - May 13 1991 - Portugal
  51. June 1 - June 9 1991 - Poland
  52. August 13 - August 20 1991 - Czestochowa (Poland), Hungary
  53. October 12 - October 21 1991 - Brazil
  54. February 19 - February 26 1992 - Senegal, Gambia, Guinea
  55. June 4 - June 10 1992 - Angola, Săo Tomé and Príncipe
  56. October 9 - October 14 1992 - Dominican Republic
  57. February 3 - February 10 1993 - Benin, Uganda, Khartoum (Sudan)
  58. April 25 1993 - Albania
  59. June 12 - June 17 1993 - Spain
  60. August 9 - August 16 1993 - Jamaica, Merida (Mexico), Denver (USA)
  61. September 4 - September 10 1993 - Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia
  62. September 10 - September 11 1994 - Zagreb (Croatia)
  63. January 11 - January 21 1995 - Manila (Philippines), Port Moresby (Papua New Guinea), Sydney (Australia), Colombo (Sri Lanka)
  64. May 20 - May 22 1995 - Czech Republic, Poland
  65. June 3 - June 4 1995 - Belgium
  66. June 30 - July 3 1995 - Slovakia
  67. September 14 - September 20 1995 - Yaoundé (Cameroon), Johannesburg (Republic of South Africa), Nairobi (Kenya)
  68. October 4 - October 9 1995 - Newark, East Rutherford, New York, United Nations, Yonkers, Baltimore (all USA)
  69. February 5 - February 12 1996 - Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Venezuela
  70. April 14 1996 - Tunisia
  71. May 17 - May 19 1996 - Slovenia
  72. June 21 - June 23 1996 - Germany
  73. September 6 - September 7 1996 - Hungary
  74. September 19 - September 22 1996 - France
  75. April 12 - April 13 1997 - Sarajevo (Bosnia-Herzegovina)
  76. April 25 - April 27 1997 - Czech Republic
  77. May 10 - May 11 1997 - Beirut (Lebanon)
  78. May 31 - June 10 1997 - Poland
  79. August 21 - August 24 1997 - Paris (France)
  80. October 2 - October 6 1997 - Rio de Janeiro (Brazil)
  81. January 21 - January 26 1998 - Cuba
  82. March 21 - March 23 1998 - Nigeria
  83. June 19 - June 21 1998 - Austria
  84. October 2 - October 4 1998 - Croatia
  85. January 22 - January 28 1999 - St. Louis (USA), Mexico
  86. May 7 - May 9 1999 - Romania
  87. June 5 - June 17 1999 - Poland
  88. September 19 1999 - Slovenia
  89. October 5 - October 9 1999 - New Delhi (India), Georgia
  90. February 24 - February 26 2000 - Mount Sinai (Egypt)
  91. March 20 - March 26 2000 - Jordan, the West Bank, Israel
  92. May 12 - May 13 2000 - Fatima (Portugal)
  93. May 5 - May 9 2001 - Malta, Greece, Syria
  94. June 23 - June 27 2001 - Ukraine, including Babi Yar, where many Jews were massacred in the Holocaust
  95. September 22 - September 27 2001 - Kazakhstan, Armenia
  96. May 22 - May 26 2002 - Azerbaijan, Bulgaria
  97. July 23 - August 2 2002 - Canada, Guatemala (including Antigua Guatemala), Mexico
  98. August 18 - August 19 2002 - Poland
  99. May 3 - May 4 2003 - Spain
  100. June 5 - June 9 2003 - Croatia
  101. June 22 2003 - Bosnia and Herzegovina
  102. September 11 - September 14 2003 - Slovakia
  103. June 5 2004 - - Switzerland
  104. August 14 - August 15 2004 - Lourdes (France)


[1] Statement from the Anti-Defamation League on the 25th Anniversary of Pope John Paul II's Papacy

Related articles

External links

  • John Paul II at
  • Internet Movie Database
  • Writings

Preceded by
John Paul I
Succeeded by

Last updated: 02-07-2005 08:15:05
Last updated: 02-18-2005 14:11:21