Pope John Paul II
The Roman Catholic Church beatified the late Pope John Paul II in Rome on Sunday 30 April 2011. The ceremony is the second step on the road to Catholic sainthood for one of the most popular pontiffs in history. During his 26 years as head of the Roman Catholic Church, John Paul II is credited with helping to bring down communism, energizing young Catholics and bolstering the church presence in the developing world. There are three degrees in the canonization process, to which severally belong the titles of venerable, blessed, and holy - Venerabilis, Beatus, Sanctus. Among popes since the year 1800, Pius XII
On 19 December 2009 Pope Benedict XVI signed decrees designating Pope Pius XII and Pope John Paul II as as "Venerable" - the first step towards sainthood [before beatification, which immediately precedes canonisation]. There are three degrees in the canonization process, to which severally belong the titles of venerable, blessed, and holy - Venerabilis, Beatus, Sanctus.
On the afternoon of 8 October 1978, Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, Archbishop of Cracow, who was in Rome to attend the conclave which would elect Pope John Paul's successor, visited the pontifical estates seeking to spend a few hours in serenity and tranquillity without knowing it would soon become his summer residence. Eight days later on the afternoon of 16 October 1978, he was elected Pope. Taking the name John Paul II.
John Paul, whose given name was Karol Wojtyla (pronounced voy-TEE-wah) was born in 1920 Poland. His father was a lieutenant in World War I, and although Karol missed the century's first major event, he nevertheless felt the war's devastating impact on the "lost generation" that was nearly obliterated by it.
Karol's childhood was touched by tragedy early; his mother died when he was eight. His older brother, Edmund, whom Karol adored, died of scarlet fever in 1932, just after graduating from medical school. Later in life, John Paul said that the impact of Edmund's death was "perhaps even deeper than my mother's." The shared tragedies forged a close bond between Karol and his father.
As a teenager during the Second World War, Karol Wojtyla experienced, first-hand, the horrors of Nazism, the Holocaust, and soon thereafter, Communist totalitarianism. ``I have carried with me the history, culture, experience and language of Poland,'' said the Pope once. ``Having lived in a country that had to fight for its existence in the face of the aggressions of its neighbors, I have understood what exploitation is. I put myself immediately on the side of the poor, the disinherited, the oppressed, the marginalized and the defenseless,'' said the Pope.
As a schoolboy, Karol was an excellent student and athlete. He played goalie on his soccer team, skated on his hometown river in the winter and swam in it in the summer. He hiked in the mountains and learned to ski there; pursuing the sport into his seventies, he would later be known as the skiing pope. In high school and university, Karol - a gifted actor - was drawn to the stage rather than the pulpit.
Shortly after he and his father moved to Krakow , where Karol attended university, the next major event of the century came right to his doorstep - the Germans invaded Poland and World War II began. Suddenly Karol was living under Nazi oppression. His university was shut down, many of his professors were rounded up and shot or deported, and Karol saw Polish Jews herded into ghettoes like animals. It was an experience that would affect the rest of his life.
During the Nazi occupation, personal tragedy struck once more; Karol's father died. As pope, John Paul II told an interviewer, "At twenty I had already lost all the people I loved, and even those I might have loved, like my older sister who.died before I was born."
Karol drew strength from the one source of stability and hope in his life - the Church. He began studying theology at a clandestine seminary. He also participated in several secret cultural resistance groups, while managing to avoid imprisonment by working in a quarry, which the Germans considered a vital industry.
The end of the war meant the end of Nazi occupation for Poland. But deliverance from that evil only marked the beginning of a new and much longer nightmare for Karol and his countrymen - the iron hand of Soviet rule. Communist oppression during the Cold War, the century's next big event, would dominate Karol's life for more than forty years.
After considering a career as an actor, and even petitioning three times to become a Catholic monk, he was persuaded by the then- Archbishop of Cracow -- who recognized his charisma, oratorical talents, and potential to help people directly--to pursue the priesthood. In 1946 Karol was ordained as a priest. Although the communists tried to crush religion, the believers kept the faith alive. Karol was among the religious leaders who defied the communists and helped the Church survive behind the Iron Curtain. Those years marked a turning point in his life - he was beginning to sense his capacity to shape events.
Karol made a remarkable ascendancy through the church hierarchy, becoming Archbishop of Cracow in 1958. By 1967 he had risen to the position of cardinal. The only step higher was pope, and that wasn't likely for Karol - there hadn't been a non-Italian pope in 456 years, and there had never been a Polish pontiff. But when Pope John Paul I died only 33 days after succeeding Pope Paul VI, Karol was the surprise choice to replace him. Tt the age of 58 he was the first non-Italian Pope since 1522.
Since the beginning of the pontificate of John Paul II, the Vatican state displayed increased activity in the international arena. The Catholic Church, not content with purely spiritualand theological questions, was, as it were, turning to wordly affairs. The expansion of Catholicism into the social-political, moral-political and educational-pedagogic sphere expressed the desire of the Vatican to adapt itself to dynamically changing reality and, on the other hand, to exert an influence on it along the direction required by the Holy See. John Paul II stated that he would continue his predecessor's course. Progressive public opinion placed a positive evaluation upon a number of his statements for peace and against the arms race and the threat of a thermonuclear war. As is noted by foreign political observers, John Paul II felt that the peaceful coexistence of the states in the West and East created the most favorable conditions for intensifying the influence of the Catholic Church in the modern world.
Over the years, he denounced the excesses, and affronts to human dignity, of the two major competing social systems of the 20th century, communism and capitalism. He condemned the atheistic and dehumanizing forces of Communism, which he experienced in Poland. And he denounced the more unsavory aspects of modern capitalism, such as greed, abject poverty, selfishness, and secular atheism.
On November 26, 1983, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a declaration regarding Masonic associations, with the approval of Pope John Paul II who ordered its publication. The declaration responded to the question whether the judgment of the Church had changed regarding Masonic associations, since they were not expressly mentioned in the 1983 Code of Canon Law, as they were in the 1917 Code of Canon Law. The response given in the declaration contains four points: 1) the Church's negative judgment regarding Masonic associations remains unchanged because the principles of the associations are irreconcilable with the Church's teaching; 2) membership, therefore, in them remains forbidden; 3) members of the faithful who join Masonic associations fall into serious sin; and 4) they may not approach for Holy Communion.
In a visit to Israel, the Holy Father prayed at the Western Wall, one of Judaism's holiest sites. His prayer, an unprecedented act of contrition on behalf of Catholic Christians, read as follows: ``We are deeply saddened by the behavior of those who in the course of history have caused these children of Yours to suffer and, asking Your forgiveness, we wish to commit ourselves to genuine brotherhood with the people of the Covenant.''
In 1986 John Paul II said, "No ancestral or collective blame can be imputed to the Jews as a people for what happened in Christ's Passion: not indiscriminately to the Jews of that time, nor to those who came afterwards, nor to those of today."
In 1979, only eight months after being named pope, John Paul II made a historic visit back to his native country. For nine days the pope traveled through Poland speaking to millions of people of all faiths. He stood before them as the newly-elected pope, but also as a man whose life had been forged in the blast furnace of family tragedy, broad human suffering and prolonged oppression. Through that personal odyssey he formed his unflinching belief in the dignity and sanctity of the individual, and his conviction that every human has the right to be free. That visit to Poland is now recognized as the beginning of the end for the Soviet Union. The Solidarity movement that germinated in Poland shortly after his visit, blossomed and spread through the rest of the Eastern Bloc, followed by the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union.
During the very first year of his pontificate, during a visit to Poland, John Paul II gave a speech in which he called for the "rebirth of Christianity throughout Europe - from the Atlantic to the Urals." In this summons there lay concealed the principle aimed at extending the ideological offensive of Catholicism both in Western and in Eastern Europe, that is, in the socialist countries. John Paul II called for the struggle for the spiritual unity of Europe on a Christian basis. In his statements John Paul II asserted that the "Christianization" of Europe was a very important and decisive condition for preventing the thermonuclear catastrophe. Mankind, he asserts, which is threatened with atomic self-annihilation, needed Europe: Europe can make its decisive contribution to the overcoming of the current world crisis, but that required Europe itself to be renewed on a Christian basis; Europe, which must be saved from the threatening catastrophe, needed Christ and the Gospel.
The principle espoused by John Paul II for the "Christianization" of Europe - "from the Atlantic to the Urals" - was reflected in the Eastern policy of the Vatican leadership, which posed as its most important task the increase in the activities of the church organizations in the socialist countries. In the clerical plans for the "Christianization" of Europe, a special place was assigned to the Polish Catholic Church.
As for the attitude toward the Soviet Union, the Vatican leadership was striving to expand and reinforce the contacts with the Russian Orthodox Church, and, on the other hand, it was striving persistently to increase the activities of the Catholic Church in the Soviet Union. John Paul II also maintained close ties with the clerical-nationalistic circlesŁ the Ukrainian emigre groups which were striving to restore the Uniate Church in the Soviet Ukraine.
John Paul II was an exemplar of the power of faith against the forces of intolerance and corruption. His support of the Solidarity trade union in his native Poland in the early 1980s, combined with his unwavering support of Catholics living in the former Soviet Bloc nations and his steadfast opposition to the communist regimes suppressing their beliefs, contributed immeasurably to the eventual collapse of those oppressive systems.
In 1981, Pope John Paul II survived an assassination attempt after being shot twice by Mehmet Ali Agca in St. Peter's Square, whom the Pope later personally met and forgave.
Tensions between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Vatican throughout the 1990s were an irritant. The Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) accused the Catholic Church of proselytizing and encroaching on its traditional territoryand objects to the loss of various churches in western Ukraine to the Ukrainian Catholics. The Vatican responded by invoking freedom of religion and noted that the restoration of Ukrainian Catholic churches undid the damage caused by Stalin's banning of the Ukrainian Catholic Church during the 1940s. Pope John Paul II paid a historic visit to Ukraine in June 2001, a visit that was strongly opposed by the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Alexei II. In February 2002, the Vatican's upgrading of the provisional dioceses in Russia to the status of full permanent dioceses led to strong reactions by the Russian Orthodox Church and the Russian government. The Russian Orthodox Church saw this actionas a provocation involving encroachment, proselytizing, and with no consultation.
John Paul II undertook 104 pastoral visits outside Italy, the last of which was to Lourdes in August 2004, and 143 trips within Italy and nearly 700 within his diocese of Rome, including visits to 301 of the 325 diocesan parishes, in addition to religious institutes, universities, seminaries, hospitals, rest homes, prisons and schools. With his 247 foreign and Italian pastoral visits, Pope John Paul II logged 700,380 miles, which equals 28 times the earth's circumference or three times the distance between the earth and moon.
Pope John Paul did not single-handedly defeat communism, but his role in its demise cannot be overstated. The revolution that culminated in 1989 began during those nine pivotal days of 1979. And his reach went well beyond Eastern Europe. His unwavering commitment to human rights and his insistence that the only legitimate nations are those governed by the rule of law helped topple dictatorships in countries such as Paraguay, Chile and the Philippines.
Pope John Paul II died on April 2, 2005, after heroically proclaiming the value and dignity of human life through his long physical illness and suffering.
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