John Paul II’s pontificate broke many records. But, beyond the numbers, the leadership of the Polish Pope guided the Catholic Church through many rising challenges in modern times.
FIGHT FOR FREEDOM
“Don’t be afraid!”
One of the greatest challenges was the Cold War, and the two blocs that pitted the world against each other. John Paul II had suffered first hand from the oppression of Nazi and Communist regimes. His role was fundamental in the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe. One of his first trips was to his native Poland in 1979. It became a defining point that encouraged Poles to fight for freedom.
John Paul II was a seasoned traveler and reached all corners of the world. He made 104 international trips, and visited 130 countries. In terms of mileage, it’s enough to go around the world 30 times. But there were two countries he was unable to visit, China and Russia
DIALOGUE WITH MUSLIMS AND JEWS
John Paul II referred to Jews as “older brothers,” and became the first Pope to step inside a synagogue since the times of Jesus. He also prayed before the Western Wall. He was also the first Pope to kiss a Koran, and step inside a mosque.
Speaking of spurring inter-religious dialogue, John Paul II was a pioneer in calling for joint prayer in favor of peace, as he did so in Assisi. The first joint prayer was in 1986. More than 150 delegates from 12 religions heeded his call.
NO TO WAR
During his pontificate, several major conflicts made international headlines: Rwanda, Kosovo, Sudan, Iraq and the Balkan wars. The Pope, who had survived World War II, did not remain silent. He became the voice of humanity, actively advocating against violence.
“War, never again.”
When it came to proclaiming saints, the Polish Pope looked to modern times. He raised to the altars hundreds of people who led exemplary lives for Christians today. For example, and for the first time, he jointly beatified a married couple: Luigi and Maria Beltrame.
LETTER TO WOMEN
John Paul II took a particular concern for women. He was the first Pope to write an apostolic letter directed to women, Mulieris Dignitatem. In it, he urged them to reflect on their personal, cultural, social and ecclesiastical responsibilities.
DIGNITY OF THE SICK
Weakened by sickness himself, John Paul II remained active until his very last moments. He used his personal experience as a teaching tool for a world already under the influence of the “throw-away” culture.
In the Jubilee for the Year 2000, John Paul II formally apologized for the Church’s past errors. It was a historic moment, which the Pope defined as a purification of memory, which allowed Christians to enter the Third Millennium more open to God.
A POPE FOR YOUNG PEOPLE
John Paul II understood that young people needed special attention and guardianship. He came up with a gathering dedicated exclusively to them: World Youth Day. The Pope said he felt like another young person in the crowd.
“If you live with youth, you have to become young.”
Over the course of his 27 year pontificate, John Paul II overcame many obstacles and reached many goals. But above all, he was able to reach millions of Christians, talking to them one on one, from heart to heart.