Pope John Paul II

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John Paul II
Name Karol Józef Wojtyła
Papacy began October 16, 1978
Papacy ended April 2, 2005
Predecessor John Paul I
Successor Benedict XVI
Born May 18, 1920
Place of birth Wadowice, Poland
Died April 2, 2005
Place of death Apostolic Palace, Vatican City
Styles of
Pope John Paul II
Reference style His Holiness
Spoken style Your Holiness
Religious style Holy Father
Posthumous style Servant of God

Pope John Paul II (Latin: Ioannes Paulus PP. II), born Karol Józef Wojtyła [1] (May 18, 1920April 2, 2005) reigned as pope of the Catholic Church for almost 27 years, from 16 October 1978 until his death, making his the second-longest pontificate (or the third-longest, as enumerated by Roman Catholic tradition). On 13 May 2005, Pope Benedict XVI, John Paul II's successor, waived the five year waiting period for a cause for beatification to be opened. The official process for beatification began in the Diocese of Rome on June 28, 2005. [2]

He was the first non-Italian to reign since the 16th century. His early reign was marked by his opposition to communism, and he is often credited as one of the forces which brought about the fall of the Soviet Union. In other domains, he refused to alter the long-standing doctrine that abortion, homosexual sex, and contraception were always evil. He upheld the consistent tradition of ordaining only men to the priesthood, while teaching that men and women are of equal dignity yet are very different (masculine and feminine) by divine design. Likewise, he did not alter the long-standing teaching that divorced persons could not take a second spouse, and he retained the teaching that valid sacramental marriage could only exist between one man and one woman. He emphasized the benefits of retaining the discipline of mandatory priestly celibacy. He opposed secularism and emphasized that fides (faith) and ratio (reason) are by necessity inextricably intertwined. His emphasis on concern for the poor, the weak and those who suffer, and his stands on warfare, capital punishment, and world debt forgiveness were considered by some to be proof that he was "progressive", but others considered some of those same views (e.g. concern for the weak unborn or those weakened by severe disabilities), as evidence that he was "conservative," showing that political labels are not easily assigned to this pope. During his reign, the pope travelled extensively, visiting over 100 countries, more than any of his predecessors. He canonized more people than all popes before him put together. During his reign Catholicism's influence declined in developed countries but expanded in the Third World. Pope John Paul II was extremely popular worldwide, attracting the largest crowds in history (at times attracting crowds of over one million people in a single venue [over four million people at the World Youth Day in Manila]), and being respected by many even outside of the Catholic Church, despite strident criticism from some quarters. John Paul II was fluent in Polish, Italian, French, German, English, Spanish, Portuguese, and Latin.

Although he was known at first as "God's athlete" due to his sportsmanlike attitude and athletic bent, the 1981 attempt on his life had a lasting impact on his vigour. He never fully recovered, and the years afterward were marked by slow decline. In the late 1990s, he was diagnosed as having Parkinson's disease. On 2 April 2005 at 9:37 pm Vatican Time, Pope John Paul II died. The last years of his reign had been marked by his fight against the various diseases ailing him, provoking some concerns that he should abdicate, but in retrospect his determination was widely seen as an exemplary display of courage.



Pope John Paul II
Pope John Paul II

The man from Poland will be remembered as the "people's Pope." Respected around the world by both Christians and non-Christians, the reach of Pope John Paul II extended across the globe.

His papacy is remembered by his tireless ecumenical approach to accommodate other Christian sects as well as to forge a better understanding with the Islamic world. At his funeral, many non-Christian faiths were represented, including representatives from Islam and Buddhism.

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.

John Paul II affirmed traditional Catholic teachings by opposing abortion, contraception, capital punishment, embryonic stem cell research, human cloning, euthanasia, and war. He also defended traditional teachings on marriage and gender roles by opposing divorce, same-sex marriage and the ordination of women. His conservative views were sometimes criticized as regressive. John Paul II called upon followers to vote according to Catholic teachings, and suggested that politicians who strayed be denied the Eucharist.

John Paul II became known as the "Pilgrim Pope" for travelling 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.

He 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 canonized more saints than all previous popes put together, as is sometimes also claimed, is difficult to prove, as the records of many early canonizations are incomplete, missing, or inaccurate. However, it is known that his abolition of the office of Promotor Fidei ("Promoter of the Faith" and the origin of the term Devil's Advocate) streamlined the process. He has been criticized by many for doing this.

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" (meaning "Saint immediately" in Italian). Both L'Osservatore Romano and Pope Benedict XVI, Pope John Paul II's successor, referred to John Paul II as "Great".

John Paul II 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 II.


Main article: Biography of Pope John Paul II

Early life

Karol Wojtyła at 12 years old
Karol Wojtyła at 12 years old

Karol Józef Wojtyła 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.

Church career

Pope Paul VI greets Karol Cardinal Wojtyła.
Pope Paul VI greets Karol Cardinal Wojtyła.
Pope John Paul I greets Karol Cardinal Wojtyła.
Pope John Paul I greets Karol Cardinal Wojtyła.

In 1942 he entered the underground seminary run by the Archbishop of Kraków, Cardinal Sapieha. Karol Wojtyła 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 Wojtyła found himself at 38 the youngest bishop in Poland.

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

A Pope from Poland

Main article: Papal conclave, 1978 (October)

In August 1978 following Paul's death, he voted in the Papal Conclave that elected Pope John Paul I, who at 65 was considered young by papal standards. However John Paul I was in poor health and he died after only 33 days as pope, thereby precipitating another conclave.

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 Wojtyła secured election as a compromise candidate, in part through the support of Franz Cardinal König and others who had previously supported 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 II 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."

Another assassination attempt took place on 12 May 1982, just a day before the anniversary of the last attempt on his life, 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, and was expelled from Portugal afterwards.


Main article: Health of Pope John Paul II

When he first entered the papacy in 1978, John Paul II was an avid sportsman, enjoying hiking and swimming. In addition, John Paul II travelled extensively after becoming pope; at the time, the 58-year old was extremely healthy and active.

In 1981, though, John Paul II's health suffered a major blow after a failed assassination attempt. The bullet-wound caused severe bleeding, and the Pope's blood pressure dropped. In addition, a colostomy was also performed. He nevertheless maintained an impressive physical condition throughtout the 1980s.

Starting about 1992, John Paul II's health slowly declined. He began to suffer from an increasingly slurred speech and difficulty in hearing. In addition, the Pope rarely walked in public. Though not officially confirmed by the Vatican until 2003, most experts agreed that the frail pontiff suffered from Parkinson's Disease.

In February 2005 John Paul II was taken to the hospital with an inflammation of the larynx, the result of influenza. Though later released from the hospital, he was taken back later that month after difficulty breathing. A tracheotomy was performed, limiting the pope's speaking abilities.

In March of 2005, speculation was high that the Pope was near-death; this was confirmed by the Vatican days before John Paul II passed away.


On 31 March 2005 the Pope developed a very high fever, but was neither rushed to the hospital, nor offered life support, apparently in accordance with his wishes to die in the Vatican.[3] Later that day Vatican sources announced that John Paul II had been given the Anointing of the Sick by his friend and secretary Archbishop Stanisław Dziwisz. 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. At about 15:30 CEST, John Paul II spoke his final words, "Let me go to the house of the Father", to his aides in his native Polish and fell into a coma about four hours later.[4] He died in his private apartments, at 21:37 CEST (19:37 UTC) on 2 April, 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 were particularly devastated by his death. 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.


©Associated PressTwo million people reportedly viewed Pope John Paul II's body lying in state.
©Associated Press
Two million people reportedly viewed Pope John Paul II's body lying in state.
Main article: Funeral of Pope John Paul II

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 through 22:00 CET (20:00 UTC) on 7 April at St. Peter's Basilica. On 8 April the Mass of Requiem was conducted by the Dean of the College of Cardinals, Joseph Ratzinger, who would become the next pope. It has been estimated to have been the largest attended funeral of all time.

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.

John Paul "The Great"

Since the death of John Paul II, a number of clergy at the Vatican 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. Pope Benedict has continued to refer to John Paul II as "the Great." At the 2005 World Youth Day in Germany, Pope Benedict, speaking in Polish, John Paul's native language, said, "As the great Pope John Paul II would say: keep the flame of faith alive in your lives and your people." The Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera even called him "the Greatest."

Scholars of canon law say 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, after whom the Gregorian Chant is named; and Nicholas I, 858867, who also withstood a siege of Rome (in this case from Carolingian Christians, over a dispute regarding marriage annulment).

Historically, the title "the Great" has been reserved to the first pope (or sovereign) in a line bearing a name. John Paul II would, by this criterion, be unlikely to be dubbed "the Great." However, there are exceptions. For example, Alexander the Great, was also Alexander III. The fact that, until John Paul II, no popes after the first, have received this title is likely more a function of the fact that so few popes have been acclaimed "the Great" at all, and as such this is not a title that is limited to only the first pope of a given name.


Pope John Paul II.
Pope John Paul II.

On 13 May 2005 Benedict XVI made his first promulgation of the beatification process choosing to honour his predecessor, John Paul II. Normally five years pass before the beatification process begins for a person after his or her death but due to the popularity of John Paul II—devotees chanted "Santo subito!" ("Saint now!") during the late pontiff's funeral—Benedict XVI waived the custom and officially styled the late pope with the title given to all those being scrutinized in the beatification process, Servant of God.

Upon the confirmation after scrutiny that the late pontiff's life is found morally clean and manifest heroic virtues, a decree will be proclaimed and John Paul II will be declared Venerable on the road to beatification. Before changes in canon law in 1917, the title Venerable was given at the same time a person was declared Servant of God. Today, the titles are separate. Upon the confirmation of miracles attributed to the honoree, John Paul II would then be declared Blessed. A person is strictly prohibited from being officially celebrated in Mass until he or she achieves the title of Blessed.

Life's work


Main article: Teachings of Pope John Paul II

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 notable achievement of John Paul II was the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which became an international bestseller. 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." His first encyclical letters focused on the Triune God; the very first was on Jesus the Redeemer ("Redemptor Hominis").

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

In his Apostolic Letter At the beginning of the third millennium (Novo Millennio Ineunte), he emphasized the importance of "starting afresh from Christ": "No, we shall not be saved by a formula but by a Person." In what he calls a "program for all times," he placed "sanctity" as the single most important priority of all pastoral activities in the entire Catholic Church. Thus, he canonized many saints around the world as exemplars for his vision and he supported the prelature of Opus Dei, whose aim is to spread the message of the universal call to holiness and the sanctification of secular activities, which he said is a "great ideal."

In The Splendour of the Truth (Veritatis Splendor) he emphasized 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 skepticism, 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. 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), where he issued unprecedented teachings on moral matters like on murder, euthanasia and abortion, statements which, according to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, were "infallible", Faith and Reason (Fides et Ratio), and Orientale Lumen (Light of the East).

John Paul II, who was present and very influential at the Vatican II, constantly affirmed the teachings of that Council and did much to implement them. Nevertheless, his critics often wished aloud that he would embrace the so-called "progressive" agenda that some hoped would evolve as a result of the Council. John Paul II refused to declare that contraception, abortion, and homosexual acts were no longer sinful. Instead, he exalted marital sexual intercourse as a sacramental and religious act that was, in every instance, profaned by contraception, abortion, divorce followed by a second marriage, and homosexual acts. He also rejected calls to break with the constant tradition of the Church by ordaining women to the priesthood. In addition, John Paul II chose not to do away with the discipline of mandatory priestly celibacy, though he did encourage married clergymen of other Christian traditions who later became Catholic to be ordained as Catholic priests. In fact, the Council did not advocate "progressive" changes in these areas, and went so far as to condemn abortion as an "unspeakable crime".

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

Pastoral trips

Main article: Pastoral trips of Pope John Paul II
Map indicating countries which were visited by John Paul II.
Map indicating countries which were visited by John Paul II.

During his pontificate, Pope John Paul II made 104 foreign trips, more than all previous popes put together. In total he logged more than 1.1 million 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 and not by the Vatican.

Millions cheer Pope John Paul II during his first visit to Poland as pontiff in 1979
Millions cheer Pope John Paul II during his first visit to Poland as pontiff in 1979

One of John Paul II's earliest official visits was to Poland, in June 1979.[5] In 1982 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.

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.

In 1984 John Paul II became the first Pope to visit Korea and Puerto Rico. On 15 January 1995 he offered mass to an estimated crowd of 4.5 million in Luneta Park, Manila, Philippines, the largest papal crowd ever. On 22 March 1998 he paid a second visit to Nigeria. Also in 1999 John Paul II made another of his multiple trips to the United States. 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.

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 11 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

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. Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama and 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 repeatedly accused John Paul II of being the Antichrist.

Relations with the Jewish people

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 Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland, where many of his countrymen (mostly Polish Jews) had perished under Nazi rule. Shortly afterwards, he became the first pope known to have made an official papal visit to a synagogue, when he visited the Synagogue of Rome on 13 April 1986.

In March 2000, John Paul II visited Yad Vashem, (the Israeli national Holocaust memorial) in Israel and later touched the holiest site in Judaism, 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.

Immediately after the pope's death, the ADL issued a statement that Pope John Paul II had revolutionized Catholic-Jewish relations, saying that "more change for the better took place in his 27 year Papacy than in the nearly 2,000 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 40 years.

Relations with the Eastern Orthodox Church

Main article: Pope John Paul II's relations with the Eastern Orthodox Church

In May 1999, John Paul II visited Romania on the invitation from 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. 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."

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.

Pope John Paul II could not escape the controversy of the involvement of Croatian Catholic clergy with the Ustasa regime of World War II in his relations with the Serb Orthodox Church. 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 22 June 2003 he visited Banja Luka in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

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
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 Catholic youth and is known by some as The Pope for Youth. He was a hero to many of them. Indeed, at gatherings, young Catholics, and conceivably non-Catholics, were often fond of chanting the phrase "JP Two, We Love You", and occasionally John Paul would retort "No. JP Two, He Loves YOU!"

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 youth occur 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."


Over the later parts of his reign, John Paul II made several apologies to various peoples that had been wronged by the Catholic Church through the years. Even before he became the Pope, he was a prominent supporters of initiatives like the Letter of Reconciliation of the Polish Bishops to the German Bishops from 1965. During his reign as a Pope, he publicly made apologies for over 100 of these mistakes, including:

Social and political stances

John Paul at the Holocaust memorial of Yad Vashem.
John Paul at the Holocaust memorial of Yad Vashem.

John Paul II was a conservative on doctrine and issues relating to reproduction and the ordination of women.

A series of 129 lectures given by John Paul during his Wednesday audiences in Rome between September 1979 and November 1984 were later compiled and published as a single work entitled "Theology of the Body," an extended meditation on the nature of human sexuality and masculinity in 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. He was a pacifist, opposed to capital punishment. He campaigned for world debt forgiveness and social justice.

Lech Wałęsa, leader of Solidarność, received by Pope John Paul II in the Vatican in January 1981
Lech Wałęsa, leader of Solidarność, received by Pope John Paul II in the Vatican in January 1981

The pope, who began his papacy when the Soviets controlled his native country of Poland, as well as the rest of 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.[6] 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, John Paul II also criticized 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 former Apostolic Pro-Nuncio to the United States Pío Cardinal Laghi to talk with American 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 European 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 criticized 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".


Main article: Criticism of Pope John Paul II

When the Cold War ended, some conservatives 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 criticized for this reason.

John Paul II was also criticized 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.

John Paul II's beliefs about gender roles and sexuality also came under attack. Some feminists criticized his positions on the role of women, and gay-rights activists disagreed with criticism of homosexuality and same-sex marriage.

His opposition to artificial contraception was particularly controversial. Claims were made that John Paul II's papacy 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 in which millions have died.[7] His supporters disagree and stress the importance of sexual abstinence in preventing the spread of AIDS. Critics have also claimed that the large families caused by lack of contraception have exacerbated Third World poverty and problems such as street children in South America.

John Paul II was also criticized 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 criticized for recentralizing power back to the Vatican following the earlier decentralization of Pope John XXIII. As such he was regarded by some as a strict authoritarian.

Besides all the criticism from those demanding modernization, 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, such as the use of the vernacular language in Mass.

Because of the many criticisms he received during this lifetime, including many assassination attempts, some led by communists, and due to the downfall of his detractors in contrast with his fame of sanctity after his death, John Paul II has been called by theologians a sign of contradiction (a sign that is spoken against), which John Paul II suggests in his book of the same title as "a distinctive definition of Christ and of his Church."


Pope John Paul II appears on the Vatican's €1 coin.
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.
  • John Paul II has been featured on at least seven popular albums in his native Poland. Most notably singer/songwriter Stanislaw Sojka’s 2003 album, “Jan Pawel II -- Tryptyk Rzymski”, a ten-track collection of the Pope's poems set to music, reached No. 1.[8]
  • In 2003, his death was incorrectly announced by CNN when his pre-written obituary (along with those of several other famous figures) was inadvertently published on CNN's web site due to a lapse in password protection.
  • A popular story in chess circles states that a certain Karol Wojtyla had published a chess problem in 1946. Although the young Wojtyla was indeed an accomplished chess player, the story of this publication appears to be a hoax whose roots were uncovered by Tomasz Lissowski.
  • The entertainment industry also made references to John Paul II by having him appear as a character in some television shows and motion pictures. His "appearances" include "The Simpsons" and "Family Guy" television shows, and in movies, "Hot Shots!" and "Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult"

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, and 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.
  • Roman Triptych (Meditation) - March 6 (2003), in Italy published by Libreria Editrice Vaticana ISBN 8820974517
  • 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.
  • The Theology Of The Body; Human Love In The Divine Plan, Pauline Books and Media, 1997, ISBN 0819873942 - a compilation of weekly lectures from 1979 to 1984 to married couples about the deep meaning of human love and sexuality.
  • 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/, .
  2. ^  "Frail Pope suffers heart failure," BBC News, April 1, 2005 (accessed June 11, 2005).
  3. ^  "John Paul's last words revealed, BBC News, 18 September 2005 (accessed 18 September 2005).
  4. ^  "1979: Millions cheer as the Pope comes home," from "On This Day, June 2, 1979," BBC News (accessed June 11, 2005).
  5. ^  Ryan Chilcote, "Gorbachev: Pope was 'example to all of us'," CNN, April 4, 2005 (accessed June 11, 2005).
  6. ^  Polly Toynbee, "False paeans to the Pope," The Guardian , October 17, 2003 (accessed June 11, 2005).
  7. ^  "Pope rocks Polish pop music charts," MSNBC News, May 14, 2005 (accessed June 11, 2005).


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Preceded by:
Eugeniusz Baziak
Archbishop of Kraków
Succeeded by:
Franciszek Macharski
Preceded by:
John Paul I
Succeeded by:
Benedict XVI

Pope John Paul II Pope John Paul II

Biography | Health | Funeral | 1978 Conclave | 2005 Conclave | Teachings | Pastoral trips |
Relations with Eastern Orthodox Church | Criticism

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