As we approach the beatification of Pope John Paul II, Fr. Tadeusz Durajczyk, our Polish chaplain, reflects on the remarkable life and legacy of the first Polish Pope.

Blessed John Paul II – man, who opened the doors to Christ!

The first Sunday after Easter – May 1 (Feast of Divine Mercy) Catholics from around the world will gather in Rome to celebrate the beatification of Pope John Paul II. The necessary miracle required for his beatification has been confirmed by the Church. It is that of a 49 years old nun who was cured of Parkinson’s disease (from which of course John Paul II himself also suffered).

Karol Wojtyla was elected pope on 16 October 1978, becoming the first non-Italian pontiff in over 450 years and the first Polish Pope in the history of the Church. He took the name John Paul II in honour of his predecessor, John Paul I, whose term lasted only one month. John Paul II became known particularly for his globetrotting ways. As Pope he visited more than 130 countries worldwide. He travelled 748,568 miles in pastoral visits. During his pontificate 87 countries established diplomatic relations with the Vatican for the first time. He spoke 7 languages fluently.

He was a very exceptional person, a charismatic figure. The postulator of his cause said of John Paul II that he was

“a man who lived in the presence of God and who let himself be guided by the Holy Spirit”.

He was a mystic who built his whole life around the Question Christ asked Peter “Do you love me?” Never before was a pope so well-known and so well-loved. He skilfully opposed the Communist regime which he later helped to destroy. He himself insisted he had only “shaken a tree that was already rotten”. He always seemed to abound in tireless energy even in the face of physical pain and suffering. He was a man of God and had a sense of being on a divine mission.

In 1981 an attempt was made on his life. John Paul II believed the Virgin Mary averted the bullet intended to kill him. That bullet extracted from his body may be seen now in the crown on the statue of the Madonna of Fatima. John Paul II had a profound devotion to Our Lady to whom he gave himself totally taking as his papal motto “totus tuus”.

He was a consummate actor and knew how to use the media not to promote himself but to inspire faith and hope both in and beyond the Christian world.

John Paul II is known by some as The Pope for Youth. He had a great relationship with young people who looked on him as a Father. However he always set high standards for them. Before he was pontiff, he used to camp and mountain hike with the youth. He still went mountain hiking when he was Pope. He established World Youth Day in 1984 with the intention of bringing young Catholics from all parts of the world together to celebrate the faith. On 15 January 1995, during the tenth World Youth Day, he offered Mass for 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. John Paul II was a rock of hope and moral authority for youth in a troubled and insecure world.

John Paul II always supported his brothers in the faith. He knew that is the most important mission of the Pope. He did not have any political ambitions. His ambitions was greater, to open the doors to Christ.

On Saturday 2 April 2005, at about 15:30, John Paul II spoke his final words, “pozwólcie mi odejść do domu Ojca”, (“Let me depart to the house of the Father”). He died in his private apartment, at 21:37 on the Second Sunday of Easter, Divine Mercy Sunday.

His beatification is the accomplishment of our expectations. Many of us personally listened to him, met him, had a chat with him or touched this remarkable man. His love for Christ and for all people was particularly intense. Always after meeting him, our personal desire for sanctity increased. His proximity always brightened our lives and our labours and gave us the energy to come closer to Christ.

Blessed John Paul II – pray for us.

Fr. Tadeusz Durajczyk