“[I kiss the soil] as if I placed a kiss on the hands of a mother, for the homeland is our earthly mother. I consider it my duty to be with my compatriots in this sublime and difficult moment.” – quotation taken from http://thinkexist.com
On this day in 1920, Karol Józef Wojtyła was born in Wadowice, Poland. Poles recognize this name immediately, however, most of the world knew him better as Pope John Paul II (Jan Paweł II), the first and only Polish Pope. This man of humble beginnings would mature to be one of the most respected world leaders of the twentieth century. His achievements are countless, and he may reach his greatest glory posthumously if granted sainthood in the Catholic faith.
Pope John Paul II was a respected writer and an accomplished linguist, knowing thirteen languages. In 1999, in his Papal address on Christmas Day, I witnessed a fragile but determined Pope John Paul deliver his message in six languages. He was applauded by the hoards of pilgrims that surrounded my younger sister and me in St. Peter’s Square that morning, and was motivated with chants in several languages, including his native Polish.
To provide even a brief synopsis of his lifetime would be a challenge, so I thought I would bullet a handful of fast facts about this great man.
- The early part of his life was clouded in tragedy, losing his mother at a young age, then his brother Edmund followed by his father. By the time he turned twenty-one, he had lost his entire immediate family. (Side note, he was one of three children; an older sister died in infancy.)
- He was ordained a priest on All Saint’s Day (Wszystkich Świętych), November 1, 1946.
- As Bishop Wojtyła, he wrote the encyclical Humanae Vitae, which centered on human life and the church’s standing on issues such as abortion and artificial contraception. It was decreed into doctrine by Pope Paul VI in July of 1968.
- In 1978, at a relatively young age of fifty-eight, the then Cardinal Wojtyła was elected to the papacy. He took the name Pope John Paul II, honoring his immediate predecessor Pope John Paul I, who had died only thirty-three days into office.
- Used the motto Totus tuus, Latin meaning “Totally Yours”, referring to his devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary.
- Pope John Paul logged over a million kilometers in travel visiting one hundred twenty-nine countries during his twenty-six year pontificate. I would guess he was also the Pope with the most frequent flyer miles. (Sorry, I had to.)
- In 1986, he initiated World Youth Day, which he celebrated nineteen times during his papacy, including celebrating in his homeland of Poland in the city of Częstochowa in 1991.
- In addition to his role in ending communism, he was credited with improving relations with other faiths, including Judaism.
- There were two assassination attempts made on his life, and a third attempt was discovered and foiled prior to enactment.
- In 2003, the Vatican confirmed that the pontiff suffered from Parkinson’s Disease, an illness that had crippled the Pope’s health for nearly twelve years.
On a visit to Gniezno on June 3, 1997, Pope John Paul made a statement that stays with me to this day:
Po upadku jednego muru, tego widzialnego, jeszcze bardziej odsłonił się inny mur, niewidzialny, który nadal dzieli nasz kontynent – mur, który przebiega przez ludzkie serca. Jest on zbudowany z lęku i agresji, z braku zrozumienia dla ludzi o innym pochodzeniu, kolorze skóry, przekonaniach religijnych, z egoizmu politycznego i gospodarczego oraz z osłabienia wrażliwości na wartość życia ludzkiego i godność każdego człowieka. Nawet niewątpliwe osiągnięcia ostatniego okresu na polu gospodarczym, politycznym i społecznym nie przesłaniają istnienia tego muru. Jego cień kładzie się na całej Europie.
- cytat zaczerpnięty ze strony internetowej http://papiez.polska.pl
Roughly translated, this quotation speaks of walls. Pope John Paul said that after one wall falls, the one that is visible, it uncovers even more so another wall, one that is not visible, that continues to divide our continent – a wall that runs through the human heart. It is built of fear and aggression, lack of understanding for people of other origin, skin color, religious beliefs, the egotism of politics and economics and the weakening sensitivity to the value of human life and the dignity of every person. Even the undoubted achievements of the last period in the areas of economics, politics and society do not conceal the existence of this wall. Its shadow casts itself on all of Europe.
I think this statement clearly identifies what this man’s mission in life was; to break down walls and to unify. He was a key leader in bringing down the Berlin Wall and freeing his homeland of communism. He acknowledges his success, but poetically points out his personal struggle in helping the world breakdown these less visible walls that continue to divide mankind. Ultimately, he knew he could not eliminate all the factors that divide people and nations, so he worked diligently to unify. And perhaps his greatest success in unifying the world was with its youth. The video below highlights his work to unify the world through its youth.
Again, though I have referred to him as a hero of Poland, I like to think that he was more a hero of the world. I think he was dedicated to live his life in the best manner he could to bring about overall good, regardless of origin, color, religious belief or socio-economic standing. So thank you for reading this blog today, and, in a small way, helping me celebrate a human being who loved his native Poland so much and dedicated his life to working for the greater good.
Do następnego czytania…