Over 1.5 million people recently lined the streets of Rome, attending the Beatification of the late Pope John Paul II 1978-2005. John Paul has been acclaimed as one of the most influential leaders of the 20th Century. It is widely held that he was instrumental in ending communism in his native Poland and throughout Eastern Europe. He significantly improved the Catholic Church’s relations with Judaism, the Eastern Orthodox Church, and the Anglican Communion. He is criticised by some commentators for his opposition to contraception and the ordination of women. His conservative perspective perhaps can be understood, from the fierce coercion he endured as a young Pole, denied the right to practice his faith. Religious freedom became a major theme of his Pontificate. John Paul was one of the most travelled world leaders in history, visiting 129 countries during his Pontificate. He was fluent in many languages: Italian, French, German, English, Spanish, Portuguese, Ukrainian, Ancient Greek and Latin as well as his native language Polish. One of his outstanding legacies was promoting humanities “call to holiness”. Pope John Paul, believed that holiness was grounded in wholesomeness. Honouring men and women whose lives were heroic and inspirational, the late Pope offered many role models for the Christian way of life. John Paul II Beatified 1,340 people and Canonised 483 saints, more than the combined tally of his predecessors during the last five centuries.
On the 14th October, 1978 Karol Wojtyla became the 264th Pope. His leadership and charisma certainly has made him one of the greatest iconic figures of modern history. “The future starts today, not tomorrow”. His mission carried an urgency and hectic pace.
As Pope John Paul II teachings focused on the gift of human life from the cradle to the grave, at all times he held the Gospel against the culture of death. The Gospel of life “evangelium vitae” he explicitly reasserted catholic moral teachings against, murder, abortion and euthanasia. One of the key principles of John Paul II ministry was solidarity, particularly empowering those who lacked freedom to find their voice. Perhaps that is why young people found his message so attractive. John Paul also understood the reality of suffering. His bruised and broken body offered empathy and encouragement to those who were sick and destitute in the final years of his public life. The frail pontiff, living with Parkinson’s disease, Colon Cancer and Arthritis, became a champion of endurance and resilience. In a culture that promoted life’s meaning in terms of health and energy John Paul was in stark contrast. When visiting Ireland in 1979 Pope John Paul II declared, “Every generation is a new continent for Christ”.
John Paul II embraced the modern era with enthusiasm and relish. His charming personality and charismatic spirit, certainly allowed him to be ‘media friendly’. He opened up the church from the walls of the Vatican to the streets of Calcutta and the valleys of Central America. He made the Good News of Jesus Christ, deeply relevant to all people, especially to those who were poor and marginalised; struggling to find meaning and purpose of life. I have no doubt that John Paul will soon be called Saint. I suggest that this holy and wholesome man will be a great intercessor for the young and the old, the sick and especially to all who carry the cross of suffering.
Blessed John Paul II, pray for us.