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On October 16, 1978, the Cardinals of the Catholic Church gathered in the Sistine Chapel and elected the first non-Italian Pope in 456 years! Many people know him as Karol Wojtyła but the world knows him now as Pope Saint John Paul II.
When he first appeared at the balcony of Saint Peter’s basilica Oct. 16, 1978, Catholics all around the world felt as if they were meeting an old friend: “If I make a mistake in your – in our – Italian language – please correct me!” Since that day, nothing was the same in the course of the papacy.
The new pope chose the name John Paul II in honor of his immediate predecessor, Archbishop Albino Luciani of Venice, who resigned as John Paul I for just 34 days before his death Sept. 28.
For a church in a deep crisis in the Western world, the choice of a cardinal from the most fervently Catholic country in Eastern Europe seemed to be both a tribute to the way Poland has clung to its religious faith through three decades of Communist rule bid to infuse a new spirit in a flagging faith elsewhere.
It was a bound to have a major effect on the Roman Catholic Church’s relations with the Communist world. Wojtyła was known as a political liberal and a theological moderate. He was one of the most active participants in the Vatican II Council that liberalized the church’s orientation in the 1960s.
The new pope seemed immediately to win the hearts of cheering Romans as he spoke from the central window of St. Peter’s Basilica to be expectant thousands below. When John Paul II said that he came from a distant land, someone shouted in Italian, “It’s a good thing.” The reaction of the crowd seemed to be immediate acceptance. Vatican priests who have met the new pope said they found him friendly, approachable and easy to talk to.
At the window, one of the new pope’s first statements was, “We are still saddened by the death of our beloved John Paul I.”
“I was afraid to receive this call,” said the new Pope, “but I accepted it in the spirit of obedience to God.”
The words of John Paul II have long inspired Christians throughout the world. People of faith often turn to his wisdom in trying or difficult times.
It was a privilege and real honor to meet this wonderful human in person when I was visiting Rome as a teenager! The moment He walked in into a basilica in Rome was truly spectacular. I was shivering and that moment just didn’t seem real. I never thought He will walk up so close to me, start speaking to me and touch my face. He was an amazing person who will be in memory of millions forever.