St. John Capistran, or, of Capistran, Confessor
[BUTLER'S LIVES OF THE SAINTS]
JOHN, the father of this saint, was a gentleman of Anjou, who going to serve
in the army of the kingdom of Naples, settled at Aquila, and soon after at
Capistran, a neighbouring town, where he took a young lady to wife. Our saint
was born at Capistran, in 1385, and after learning Latin in his own country,
studied the civil and canon law at Perugia, in which faculty he commenced doctor
with great applause. By his fortune and abilities he soon made a figure in that
city, and one of the principal men of the town gave him his daughter in
marriage. In 1413, a grievous dissension fell out between the city of Perugia
and Ladislas, king of Naples. John used his best endeavours to bring his
fellow-citizens to a peace, and carried on a negotiation for some time with
success, for which he undertook some journeys. Those who were more violent in
this quarrel, taking it into their heads that he betrayed his citizens in favour
of his former master, a party belonging to one of these factions, seized his
person on the road, and confined him in the castle of Bruffa, five miles from
Perugia. In this prison he had much to suffer, being loaded with chains, and
being allowed no other subsistence than bread and water. Seeing himself here
abandoned by King Ladislas himself, and from his own feeling experience
meditating on the inconstancy of human things, and the treachery and falsehood
of a vain and sinful world, he began seriously to enter into himself, and to
become a new man. His lady dying in that interval of time, he resolved to
embrace a penitential state in the holy Order of St. Francis. Impatient of
delays, he begged to be immediately admitted; but the guardian refused to send
him the habit whilst he continued a prisoner. He therefore cut his clothes into
the shape of a religious habit, and his hair so as to form a tonsure. Obtaining
his liberty shortly after, he went to Capistran, and selling his estate, with
part of the price he paid his ransom, and the remaining part he distributed
among the poor. Then returning to Perugia, he took the habit in the convent of
the Franciscans De Monte at Perugia, in 1415, being thirty years old. The
guardian, who understood how full he had been of a worldly spirit, the more
effectually to try his vocation, and to extinguish in him secular pride and
self-love, ordered him to ride on an ass, in a ridiculous dress, through all the
streets of Perugia, with a paper cap on his head, on which many grievous sins
were written in capital letters. This must appear a severe trial to a man of
birth and reputation; but such was the fervour of the saint in his penitential
course, that it seemed to cost him nothing. He was moreover twice expelled the
convent without any reason, and admitted again on very hard conditions. 1
The perfect spirit with which he underwent all humiliations and austerities
that were imposed upon him, gave him in a short time so complete a victory over
himself, that he never afterwards found any difficulty in the severest trials.
Such was his ardour in the practice of penance, that to those enjoined by his
rule or by obedience he added the most austere voluntary mortifications. To
prepare himself for the first communion, which he made after his general
confession upon taking the habit, he spent three days in prayer and tears,
without taking any nourishment. From the time that he made his religious
profession he ate only once a day, except in long fatiguing journeys, when he
took an exceedingly small collation at night. For thirty-six years he never
tasted flesh, except a very little out of obedience, when he was sick. Pope
Eugenius IV. having commanded him in his old age to eat a little flesh meat, he
obeyed, but took so very small a quantity that his holiness left him at liberty
to use his own discretion. He slept on the boards, and took only three or
sometimes four hours a night for his rest, employing the remaining part in
prayer and contemplation; which exercises he for many years seemed never to
interrupt but by preaching to the people, or short necessary repose. It would be
too long to relate the admirable instances which are recorded of his perfect
mortification, obedience, and humility, and the most profound sentiment of
contempt of himself, which made him delight in the meanest employments. His
spirit of compunction and gift of tears astonished and strongly affected those
that conversed with him. He said mass every day with the most edifying devotion.
By his zeal and ardent desire of the glory of God and the salvation of souls he
seemed, in his actions and preaching, another St. Paul. Wherever he came, by his
powerful words, or rather by that wonderful spirit of zeal and devotion with
which he spoke, he beat down the pride and obstinacy of hardened sinners, filled
their souls with holy fear, and softened their hearts into compunction. At the
end of a sermon which he made at Aquila against the vanity, dangers, and
frequent sins of the world with regard to dress, and amusements, the ladies
brought together a great quantity of fine handkerchiefs, aprons, artificial
heads of hair, 1 perfumes, cards, dice, and other such things, and made of them
a great bonfire. The same was done at Nuremberg, Leipsic, Frankfort, Magdeburg,
and several other places. He had a singular talent at reconciling the most
inveterate enemies, and inducing them from their hearts to forgive one another.
He made peace between Alphonsus of Arragon and the city of Aquila; also between
the families of Oronesi and Lanzieni, and between many cities which were at
variance, and he appeased the most violent seditions. 2
St. Bernardin of Sienna established a reformation of the Franciscan Order,
and was appointed by the general, William of Cassal, in 1437, and confirmed by
Pope Eugenius IV., in 1438, the first vicar-general of the Observantin or
Reformed Franciscans in Italy, in which office he continued six years from his
nomination by his general in 1437, and five from his confirmation by the pope.
St. John was twice chosen to the same office, each time for the space of three
years, and exceedingly promoted this reformation. By one sermon which he
preached on death and the last judgment in Bohemia, one hundred and twenty young
men were so moved, as with great fervour to devote themselves to God in
different religious Orders, of which sixty embraced his penitential institute.
He inherited St. Bernardin’s singular devotion to the holy name of Jesus, and to
the glorious Mother of God. The marquisate of Ancona, Apulia, Calabria, and
Naples, were the first theatres of his zeal; he afterwards preached frequently
in Lombardy and the Venetian territories; then in Bavaria, Austria, Carinthia,
Moravia, Bohemia, Poland, and Hungary. 3
St. John was often employed in important commissions by the Popes Martin V.,
Eugenius IV., Nicholas V., and Calixtus III. The council of Basil, which had
been called by Martin V., assembled in July, 1431, under Eugenius IV., and was
in the first sessions approved by him, till this pope, alleging that the place
was at too great a distance to suit the convenience of the Greek emperor and the
oriental prelates, removed it to Ferrara, in 1437. 2 Those prelates who
obstinately opposed this removal proceeded at length to an open schism. The pope
employed St. John in several important commissions to stem this evil, and many
great personages, particularly Philip, duke of Burgundy, to whom his holiness
sent the saint for that purpose, were withdrawn by his exhortations from the
schism. The saint was sent nuncio by the same pope to the Duke of Milan, to
Charles VII., king of France, and into Sicily, and his endeavours met everywhere
with the desired success. He was one of the theologians employed by his holiness
at the council of Florence in promoting the union of the Greeks. Certain
vagabond friars called Frerots and Beroches, the remains of the Fratricelli,
whose heresy was condemned by Boniface VIII. and John XXII. in the beginning of
the fourteenth century, filled the marquisate of Ancona with disturbances, till
St. John, having received a commission from Eugenius to preach against them,
entirely cleared Italy of that pestilential seditious sect. Many parts of
Germany being at that time full of disorders and confusion, the Emperor
Frederick III., Æneas Sylvius, legate and bishop of Sienna, (afterwards Pope
Pius II.,) and Albert, duke of Austria, the emperor’s brother, solicited Pope
Nicholas that St. John might be sent into those countries, that the force of his
example, zeal, and eloquence might give a check to the overflowings of vice and
heresy. St. John, therefore, was invested with the authority of apostolic
legate, and, attended with one colleague, travelled by Venice and Friuli into
Carinthia, Carniola, Tirol, Bavaria, and Austria, preaching everywhere with
incredible fruit. His sermons he delivered in Latin, and they were afterwards
explained by an interpreter to those who did not understand that language. The
like blessings attended his labours in Moravia, Bohemia, Poland, and Hungary. 3
He converted in Moravia four thousand Hussites. Rockysana, the head of that
party in Bohemia, invited him to a conference; but King Pogebrac, fearing the
consequences of such a disputation, would not allow him the liberty. St. John
was mortified at this disappointment, and wrote a book against Rockysana. 4 It
would be too long to follow the saint in his progresses through the provinces
above-mentioned; also, through Brandenburg, Poland, and Hungary, or to mention
the honours with which he was received by the electors and other princes,
especially the Dukes of Bavaria and Saxony, the Marquess of Brandenburg, and the
emperor himself, who often assisted at his sermons. 4
Mahomet II. having taken Constantinople by assault on the 26th of May, 1453,
Pope Nicholas V. sent a commission to St. John to exhort the Christian princes
to take up arms to check the progress of the common enemy; which the saint
executed with great success in several assemblies of princes of the empire.
Nicholas V. dying in 1455, and Calixtus III. succeeding in the pontificate, St.
John returned to Rome to receive the orders of the new pope. His holiness
appeared more earnest than his predecessor had been to engage the Christians to
undertake a general expedition against the infidels, who were carrying their
victorious arms into the heart of Europe, 5 and he sent preachers to different
parts to excite the princes to this war. St. John returned with ample powers to
preach up the crusade in Germany and Hungary. Mahomet, after the taking of
Constantinople, counted the western empire as already his own, and looked upon
himself as master of all Christendom. Not doubting but he should soon plant the
Ottoman crescent in the cities of Vienna and Rome, he marched his numerous
victorious army into Hungary, and sat down before Belgrade on the 3d of June, in
1456. King Ladislas V. fled to Vienna; but John Corvin, commonly called
Hunniades, 6 the brave Vayvode of Transylvania, and governor of Hungary, who had
so often beat the Turks under Amurath, in Hungary, Transylvania, and Thrace,
assembled his forces with all possible expedition, and sent to entreat St. John
Capistran to hasten the march of forty thousand crusards, whom he had raised, to
his assistance. The Turks covered the Danube with a fleet of two hundred ships
of a particular construction for the navigation of that river, and had embarked
on them an army of resolute veteran troops. Hunniades, with a fleet of a hundred
and sixty saics, or small vessels, which were much lighter and much better
commanded than those of the infidels, entirely discomfited them after a most
obstinate and bloody engagement, and entered the town, which stands upon the
confluence of the Danube and the Save. St. John Capistran attended him,
animating the soldiers in the midst of all dangers, holding in his hands the
cross that he had received from the pope. The Turks made several furious
assaults upon the town, notwithstanding the slaughter of their bravest men was
so great that they marched upon heaps of their own dead to the very walls. Thus
at length they got into the town, and the Christians gave way before them. All
things were despaired of, when St. John, appearing in the foremost rank, with
his cross in his hand, encouraged the soldiers to conquer or die martyrs, often
crying, with a loud voice, “Victory, Jesus, victory.” The Christians, thus
animated, cut the infidels in pieces, threw them down from the ramparts, and
drove them out of the town. In the sallies which the Christians made, they slew
the Turks like sheep, and on every side repulsed their most determined and
experienced troops. Mahomet, flushed with conquests and confidence of victory,
became furious, and omitted nothing after every check to reanimate his troops,
till at length, having lost his best officers and soldiers, and his own dearest
friends, with sixty thousand soldiers, being himself wounded slightly in the
thigh, and seeing the shattered remains of his great and haughty army, which he
thought invincible, so dispirited, that he was no longer able, either by
promises or severity, to make them face the Christians, shamefully raised the
siege on the 6th of August; and, leaving behind him all his heavy artillery and
baggage, and the greater part of his booty, retreated with precipitation. The
next year he turned his arms, first against Trebizonde, and afterwards against
the Persians; though, some time after, he again fell upon the West, when the
brave Hunniades was no more. The glory of this victory is ascribed by historians
not less to the zeal, courage, and activity of St. John Capistran than to the
conduct of Hunniades. This great prince, who possessed the virtues of a
Christian and all the qualifications of an accomplished general, was admirable
for his foresight and precautions against all events, for his consummate
knowledge of all the branches of the complicated art of war, for his undaunted
courage in dangers, his alacrity, ardour, and cool presence of mind in action,
and his skill in seizing the happy moments in battle upon which the greatest
victories depend; which skill is so much the result of genius, improved by
experience and deep reflection, that it may be called a kind of instinct, no
less than the skill of able practitioners in physic in discerning the fatal,
critical moments for applying powerful remedies in dangerous diseases, for
strengthening nature in her efforts, or in checking, dissolving, correcting, or
expelling morbid humours, &c. 5
It is not, however, detracting in the least from the glory of this Christian
hero, to give equal praise to the zeal, activity, address, and courage of a
religious man, in whose authority, prudence, and sanctity the soldiers placed an
entire confidence. After all, it was the finger of the Almighty which overthrew
phalanxes that seemed invincible. God employs second causes, but in them his
mercy and power are not less to be adored. The divine assistance in this happy
deliverance was, doubtless, obtained by the prayers of the servants of God,
especially of St. John Capistran, whose name was then famous for many miracles
which had been wrought by him. The brave Hunniades was taken ill of a fever,
which he contracted by the fatigues of this campaign, and died at Zemplin on the
10th of September the same year. When he lay dying, he would absolutely rise,
and go to church to receive the viaticum, saying, he could not bear the thoughts
that the King of kings should come to him. St. John Capistran never quitted him
during his last sickness, and pronounced his funeral sermon. At the news of his
death Pope Calixtus III. wept bitterly, and all Christendom was in tears:
Mahomet himself grieved, saying, in his boast, there was no longer any prince
left in the world whom it would be either an honour or a pleasure to vanquish.
St. John did not long survive him, being seized with a fever, incurable
dysentery, and bloody flux, with the gravel. Whilst he lay sick in his convent
at Willech or Vilak, near Sirmich, in the diocess of Five Churches, he was
honoured with the visits of King Ladislas, the queen, and many princes and
noblemen. Under his pains he never ceased praising and glorifying God;
frequently confessed his sins, and received the viaticum and extreme unction
with many tears. He often repeated that God treated him with too great lenity,
and would never be laid on a bed, but on the hard floor. In this posture he
calmly expired on the 23d of October, in 1456, being seventy-one years old. When
Willech fell into the hands of the Turks, his body was removed by the friars to
another town where the Lutherans afterwards (having plundered the shrine) threw
it into the Danube. The relics were taken out of the river at Illoc, and are
preserved there to this day. Pope Leo X. granted an office in his honour, to be
celebrated at Capistran, and in the diocess of Sulmona. The saint was canonized
by Alexander VIII. in 1690, and Benedict XIII. published the bull of his
canonization in 1724. See his life compiled at length by F. Christopher of
Variso, a Milanese, a disciple and companion; and again by F. Gabriel of Verona,
another disciple. See also the letter of his religious companions, containing a
relation of his death, to Card. Æneas Sylvius; Bonfinius, Dec. 3, l. 7; Æneas
Sylvius, Hist. Boem. c. 65, and in Descr. Europæ, c. 8; Gonzaga in Austriacâ et
Argentinâ Provincia, p. 451. F. Henry Sedulius, in Historia Seraphica, seu S.
Francisci et aliorum hujus ordinis qui relati sunt inter sanctos, fol. Antv.
1611; and F. Wadding’s Annals, in eight vols. Fresnoy mistakes when he says,
Wadding’s catalogue of writers makes his eighth volume: for there is an eighth
volume of his annals printed at Rome, in 1654, after the others, very scarce
before the new Roman edition. 6
Note 1. Artificial heads of hair were used by some before bonnets became the
Note 2. The council of Basil was continued eighteen years, first at Basil,
afterwards at Lausanne. Its proceedings in 1433 concerning the Hussites, and
some points of ecclesiastical discipline, were approved and confirmed by Pope
Eugenius IV. and this council is allowed to have been legal and general in the
beginning, says Bellarmin; most theologians and canonists say, to the tenth
session, held in 1433. During this session the pope, by a message, ordered it to
be removed; and from this time the synod refused to admit his legates. By a few
French theologians (whose number is very inconsiderable among those of that
nation) it has been esteemed legal beyond this term to the twenty-sixth session,
in 1437, when it was solemnly and finally dissolved by a bull of Eugenius, and
the general council at the same time opened at Ferrara, to which Turrecramata,
and a considerable part of those prelates that were assembled at Basil, then
removed. Some, however, staid behind, and continued their sessions, but from
this time schismatically, during the forty-five last sessions. In the
thirty-sixth (schismatical) session, anno 1439, it was decreed, that the opinion
which affirms the Blessed Virgin to have been conceived without original sin, is
conformable to the Catholic faith, and to be held by all Catholics. The French
Pragmatic sanction of Charles VII. relating chiefly to the collation of
benefices, in 1438, was approved by this council. In the thirty-ninth session,
in 1439, Amedius VII. formerly duke of Savoy, was chosen antipope, under the
name of Felix V. This prince had governed his state with great prudence and
virtue, and, in 1416, first erected the county of Savoy into a duchy. In 1434 he
resigned his dominions to his two sons, and, turning hermit, retired to
Ripailles, a most pleasant priory and solitude near the lake of Geneva; whence
the proverb Faire Ripaille, for taking a pleasant country vacation. In 1439 he
was prevailed upon by the schismatical prelates at Basil to receive from them a
pretended pontificate; which he afterwards voluntarily resigned, in 1449, and,
being created cardinal by Nicholas V., died piously at Geneva. The presence of
the chief patriarchs, as principal prelates, (at least by their deputies,) and
of bishops from the different kingdoms of the Catholic Church, who represent the
body of the first pastors of the whole church, are conditions necessary to
constitute a general council; which were wanting at Basil after the tenth
session; these were even then holding a general council at Florence. The
confirmation of the pope is also required by most canonists and theologians to a
general council. If doubts arise whether a council be general, we are to
consider whether it be looked upon by the church as such, and as the
representative of the whole; or whether the whole church receives ex post facto,
as they say, and acquiesces in its decisions. Thus the frivolous objection that
the conditions of certain councils are ambiguous, falls to the ground, and we
cannot in practice be at a loss where to fix this authority, though this may
sometimes be obscure till circumstances are cleared up.
The true general council of Florence met first at Ferrara in 1437; and
thither John Palæologus, the Greek emperor, with his prelates, repaired. After
sixteen sessions, a contagious distemper breaking out at Ferrara, the council
was removed by Eugenius IV. to Florence, in 1439, and the same year, in the
twenty-fifth session, (which was the tenth that was held at Florence,) on the
6th of July, the Greeks having renounced their schism and errors, (except Mark
of Ephesus,) the decree of union was signed. After the departure of the Greeks
the Armenians abjured their heresy, and subscribed a decree of union proposed by
Eugenius IV. This council lasted three years after this, and was at length
concluded at Rome, in the Lateran palace, in 1442. See Nat. Alex. Hist. Sæc. 15,
Diss. 8, 9; Macquer; Le Fevre in Cont. Fleury, t. 22, l. 3, Graveson; Leo
Allatius, de Consensu Eccl. Occid. et Orient; Berthier, Hist. l’Egl. Gallic t.
16, &c. [back]
Note 3. Bohemia was at that time overrun with Hussites, and from the year
1415 had been a scene of blood and tumults. To revenge the death of John Huss,
Zisca, (whose true name was John of Trocznou,) a veteran general, assembled an
army of his followers, and plundered the whole country with unheard-of
barbarity. After the death of King Wenceslas, in 1417, he opposed the election
of Sigismund, who was Emperor of Germany, defeated his armies eight times, built
the strong fortress which he called Thabor, amidst waters and mountains, and
died in 1424. Sigismund had made peace with him before his death, and at the
council of Basil promised the archbishopric of Prague to John Rockysana, a
clergyman, who had been deputed by the Hussites to the council of Basil, but who
abjured that heresy, upon condition that the laity in Bohemia might be allowed
to communicate in both kinds. The deputies of the council of Basil, and the
Catholic assembly at Iglaw, in the diocess of Olmutz, in 1436, acquiesced; but
required this condition, that, in case of such a concession, the priest should
declare before giving the communion in both kinds, that it is an error to
believe that Christ’s body or blood is alone under either kind. This Rockysana
boggled at: nor would the pope ever grant him his bulls. His partisans, however,
styled him archbishop, and he appeared at their head till his death, which
happened a little before that of George Pogebrac, in 1471, who had been king of
Bohemia from the year 1458: though secretly a Hussite, he demolished the
fortress of Thabor, that it might not serve for a retreat to rebels. [back]
Note 4. The chief works of St. John Capistran are, A Treatise on the
Authority of the Pope against the Council of Basil; The Mirror of Priests; A
Penitential; On the Last Judgment; On Antichrist and the Spiritual Warfare; with
some tracts on points of the civil and canon law. His books on the conception of
the Blessed Virgin Mary, on Christ’s passion, (on which see Benedict XIV. de
Canoniz. Sanct.) several against Rockysana, and the Hussites, &c., have never
been printed. [back]
Note 5. The victories of Tamerlane over Bajazet, in 1399, had not so weakened
the Turks, but they raised their heads again in the reign of Mahomet I. who
wrested from the Venetians several places of which they were then possessed on
the coasts of Asia Minor and in Europe; for their dominions at that time
extended from the Capo d’Istria to the walls of Constantinople. In 1420 this
conqueror took from them Salonica, the capital of Macedon; which the Greek
emperor had given them, because he was not in a condition himself to defend it.
Mahomet’s two immediate successors, Amurath II. and Mahomet II. were the
greatest conquerors that nation ever produced. The former, nevertheless, met
with great checks from Hunniades and Scanderbeg. Hunniades defeated two armies,
which he sent to invade Hungary, in 1442, and obtained for King Ladislas IV. a
good peace. But that prince, thinking the opportunity of the crusade favourable,
broke his treaty, by the advice of the legate, Cardinal Julian, on this false
pretence, that the infidels never observed treaties with Christians, when it
seemed their interest to break them; as if the injustice of others could excuse
in them the same crimes. In punishment, whilst Hunniades routed the left wing of
the Turks, the king, by his own rashness, lost the victory with his life, in the
plains of Varne, in Bulgary, in 1444. Ladislas V. the son of Albert of Austria,
a child only five years old, being chosen king, Hunniades was appointed governor
of the kingdom, which he protected by his valour. At the same time reigned in
Epirus the famous George Castriot, called by the Turks Scanderbeg, that is, Lord
Alexander, who passed his youth among them, an hostage from his father in the
court of Amurath II. His wonderful exploits and his victories over the numerous
armies of Amurath and Mahomet II. are as well known as the name of King Arthur.
(See his life written by Marinus Barlet, a contemporary priest of Epirus; and
that compiled in French by F. Poncet, Jesuit, in 1709.) Scanderbeg, on his
death-bed, in the sixty-third year of his age, with his children, recommended
his dominions to the care and protection of the Venetians; but they soon after
fell into the hands of the Turks. Matthias Corvinus, a son of the brave
Hunniades, was chosen king of Hungary in 1458, and, so long as he lived,
defended that kingdom from the insults of the infidels. [back]
Note 6. Or Hugniades, pronounced Hunniades. [back]
Saint Pope John Paul II
Saint John Paul II)
Pope Saint John Paul II (Latin:
Ioannes Paulus II;
Italian: Giovanni Paolo II;
Polish: Jan Paweł II; born
Karol Józef Wojtyła;[a]
18 May 1920 – 2 April 2005) was head of the
Catholic Church from 1978 to 2005. He is called Saint John Paul the
Great by some Catholics.
He was elected by the
second Papal conclave of 1978, which was called after
Pope John Paul I, who had been
elected in August to succeed
Pope Paul VI, died after thirty-three days. Cardinal Wojtyła was elected
on the third day of the conclave and adopted his predecessor's name in
tribute to him.
John Paul II is recognised as helping to end
Communist rule in his native Poland and eventually all of Europe.
John Paul II significantly improved the Catholic Church's relations with
Eastern Orthodox Church, and the
Anglican Communion. He upheld the Church's teachings on such matters as
contraception and the
ordination of women, but also supported the Church's
Second Vatican Council and its reforms.
He was one of the most travelled world leaders in history, visiting
129 countries during his pontificate. As part of his special emphasis on the
universal call to holiness, he
beatified 1,340 people and
canonised 483 saints,
more than the combined tally of his predecessors during the preceding five
centuries. By the time of his death, he had named most of the
College of Cardinals, consecrated or co-consecrated a large number of
the world's bishops, and ordained many priests.
A key goal of John Paul's papacy was to transform and reposition the
Catholic Church. His wish was "to place his Church at the heart of a new
religious alliance that would bring together
Jews, Muslims and Christians in a great religious armada".
John Paul II was the
second longest-serving pope in modern history after
Pope Pius IX, who served for nearly 32 years from 1846 to 1878. Born in
Poland, John Paul II was the first non-Italian pope since the
Pope Adrian VI, who served from 1522 to 1523. John Paul II's cause for
canonisation commenced in 2005 one month after his death with the
traditional five-year waiting period waived. On 19 December 2009, John
Paul II was proclaimed
Venerable by his successor
Pope Benedict XVI and was
beatified on 1 May 2011 (Divine
Mercy Sunday) after the
Congregation for the Causes of Saints attributed one miracle to his
intercession, the healing of a French nun from
Parkinson's disease. A second miracle attributed to John Paul II's
intercession was approved on 2 July 2013, and confirmed by
Pope Francis two days later (two miracles must be attributed to a
person's intercession to be declared a saint). John Paul II was canonised on
27 April 2014 (again
Divine Mercy Sunday), together with
Pope John XXIII.
On 11 September 2014, Pope Francis added John Paul II's optional memorial
feast day to the worldwide
General Roman Calendar of saints, in response to worldwide requests.
It is traditional to celebrate saints' feast days on the anniversary of
their deaths, but that of John Paul II (22 October) is celebrated on the
anniversary of his
The wedding portrait of John Paul II's parents, Emilia and Karol
Karol Józef Wojtyła was born in the Polish town of
He was the youngest of three children born to
Karol Wojtyła (1879–1941), an
Emilia Kaczorowska (1884–1929), whose mother's maiden surname was Scholz.
Emilia, who was a schoolteacher, died in childbirth in 1929
when Wojtyła was eight years old.
His elder sister Olga had died before his birth, but he was close to his brother
Edmund, nicknamed Mundek, who was 13 years his senior. Edmund's work as a
physician eventually led to his death from
scarlet fever, a loss that affected Wojtyła deeply.
As a boy, Wojtyła was athletic, often playing
During his childhood, Wojtyła had contact with Wadowice's large Jewish
School football games were often organised between teams of Jews and Catholics,
and Wojtyła often played on the Jewish side.
"I remember that at least a third of my classmates at elementary school in
Wadowice were Jews. At elementary school there were fewer. With some I was on
very friendly terms. And what struck me about some of them was their Polish
It was around this time that the young Karol had his first serious relationship
with a girl. He became close to a girl called Ginka Beer, described as "a Jewish
beauty, with stupendous eyes and jet black hair, slender, a superb actress."
In mid-1938, Wojtyła and his father left Wadowice and moved to
he enrolled at the
Jagiellonian University. While studying such topics as
and various languages, he worked as a volunteer librarian and was required to
compulsory military training in the
Academic Legion, but he
fire a weapon. He performed with various theatrical groups and worked as a
During this time, his talent for language blossomed, and he learned as many as
12 languages —
nine of which he used extensively as pope.
occupation forces closed the university after invading Poland.
Able-bodied males were required to work, so from 1940 to 1944 Wojtyła variously
worked as a messenger for a restaurant, a manual labourer in a limestone quarry
and for the
Solvay chemical factory, to avoid deportation to Germany.
In 1940 he was struck by a tram, suffering a fractured skull. The same year he
was hit by a lorry in a quarry, which left him with one shoulder higher than the
other and a permanent stoop.
His father, a former Austro-Hungarian
non-commissioned officer and later officer in the
Polish Army, died of a heart attack in 1941,
leaving Wojtyła as the immediate family's only surviving member.
"I was not at my mother's death, I was not at my brother's death, I was not at
my father's death," he said, reflecting on these times of his life, nearly forty
years later, "At twenty, I had already lost all the people I loved."
After his father's death, he started thinking seriously about the priesthood.
In October 1942, while the war continued, he knocked on the door of the
Bishop's Palace in Kraków and asked to study for the priesthood.
Soon after, he began courses in the
clandestine underground seminary run by the
Archbishop of Kraków,
Adam Stefan Cardinal Sapieha. On 29 February 1944, Wojtyła was hit by a
German truck. German
officers tended to him and sent him to a hospital. He spent two weeks there
recovering from a severe
and a shoulder injury. It seemed to him that this accident and his survival was
a confirmation of his vocation. On 6 August 1944, a day known as "Black Sunday",
rounded up young men in Kraków to curtail
the uprising there,
similar to the recent
uprising in Warsaw.
Wojtyła escaped by hiding in the basement of his uncle's house at 10 Tyniecka
Street, while the German troops searched above.
More than eight thousand men and boys were taken that day, while Wojtyła escaped
to the Archbishop's Palace,
where he remained until after the Germans had left.
On the night of 17 January 1945,
the Germans fled the city, and the students reclaimed the ruined
Wojtyła and another seminarian volunteered for the task of clearing away piles
of frozen excrement from the toilets.
Wojtyła also helped a 14-year-old Jewish refugee girl named Edith Zierer,
who had escaped from a Nazi
labour camp in
Edith had collapsed on a railway platform, so Wojtyła carried her to a train and
stayed with her throughout the journey to Kraków. Edith credits Wojtyła with
saving her life that day.
B'rith and other authorities have said that Wojtyła helped protect many
Polish Jews from the Nazis. During the
Nazi occupation of Poland, a Jewish family sent its son, Stanley Berger, to
be hidden by a
Gentile Polish family. Berger's biological Jewish parents died during the
Holocaust, and after the war Berger's new Christian parents asked a young Polish
priest named Karol Wojtyła, the future Pope John Paul II, to baptise the boy.
The future pope refused, claiming that the child should be raised in the Jewish
faith of his birth parents and nation, not as a Catholic.
In September 2003, Emmanuelle Pacifici, the head of Italy's Jewish community,
proposed that John Paul II receive the medal of a
Righteous Among the Nations for saving a two-year-old Jewish boy by giving
him to a Gentile Polish family to be hidden in 1942, when Karol Wojtyła was just
a seminarian. After the war, this boy's Christian adopted parents asked the
future Pope John Paul II to baptise the boy, yet once again he refused, as with
Berger. After the war, Karol Wojtyła did everything he could to ensure that this
Jewish boy he saved leave Poland to be raised by his Jewish relatives in the
In April 2005, shortly after John Paul II's death, the Israeli government
created a commission to honour the legacy of John Paul II. One of the proposed
ways of honouring him was to give him the medal of the Righteous Among the
In Wojtyła's last book,
Memory and Identity, he described the 12 years of the Nazi régime as "bestiality",
quoting from the Polish theologian and philosopher
Ordination history of
Pope John Paul II
After finishing his studies at the seminary in Kraków, Wojtyła was
as a priest on
All Saints' Day, 1 November 1946,
by the Archbishop of Kraków, Cardinal Sapieha.
Sapieha sent Wojtyła to Rome's Pontifical International Athenaeum Angelicum,
Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas, to study under the French
Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange beginning on 26 November 1946. He resided in the
Belgian Pontifical College during this time, under presidency of Mgr
Maximilien de Furstenberg.
Wojtyła earned a
licence in July 1947, passed his doctoral exam on 14 June 1948, and
successfully defended his doctoral thesis titled Doctrina de fide apud S.
Ioannem a Cruce (The Doctrine of Faith in St.
John of the Cross) in philosophy on 19 June 1948.
The Angelicum preserves the original copy of Wojtyła's typewritten
Among other courses at the Angelicum, Wojtyła studied Hebrew with the
Dutch Dominican Peter G. Duncker, author of the Compendium grammaticae
linguae hebraicae biblicae.
According to Wojtyła's schoolmate the future Austrian Cardinal
Alfons Stickler, in 1947 during his sojourn at the
Angelicum Wojtyła visited
Padre Pio, who heard his confession and told him that one day he would
ascend to "the highest post in the Church".
Cardinal Stickler added that Wojtyła believed that the prophecy was fulfilled
when he became a Cardinal.
Wojtyła returned to Poland in the summer of 1948 for his first
assignment in the village of
fifteen miles (24 kilometres) from Kraków, at the
Church of the Assumption. He arrived at Niegowić at harvest time, where his
first action was to kneel and kiss the ground.
He repeated this gesture, which he adapted from the French saint
Marie Baptiste Vianney,
throughout his papacy.
In March 1949, Wojtyła was transferred to the parish of
Saint Florian in Kraków. He taught ethics at
Jagiellonian University and subsequently at the
Catholic University of Lublin. While teaching, he gathered a group of about
20 young people, who began to call themselves Rodzinka, the "little
family". They met for prayer, philosophical discussion, and to help the blind
and sick. The group eventually grew to approximately 200 participants, and their
activities expanded to include annual
In 1953, Wojtyła's habilitation thesis was accepted by the Faculty of
Theology at the Jagiellonian University. In 1954, he earned a
Doctorate in Sacred Theology,
evaluating the feasibility of a Catholic ethic based on the ethical system of
Scheler with a dissertation titled "Reevaluation of the possibility of
founding a Catholic ethic on the ethical system of Max Scheler"
(Ocena możliwości zbudowania etyki chrześcijańskiej przy założeniach systemu
Scheler was a German philosopher who founded a broad
philosophical movement that emphasised the study of conscious experience.
However, the Communist authorities abolished the Faculty of Theology at the
Jagellonian University, thereby preventing him from receiving the degree until
Wojtyła developed a theological approach that combined traditional Catholic
the ideas of
personalism, a philosophical approach deriving from phenomenology, which was
popular among Catholic intellectuals in Kraków during Wojtyła's intellectual
development. He translated Scheler's Formalism and the Ethics of Substantive
During this period, Wojtyła wrote a series of articles in Kraków's Catholic
Tygodnik Powszechny ("Universal Weekly"), dealing with
contemporary church issues.
He focused on creating original
work during his first dozen years as a priest. War, life under Communism,
and his pastoral responsibilities all fed his poetry and plays. Wojtyła
published his work under two pseudonyms—Andrzej Jawień and Stanisław
distinguish his literary from his religious writings (under his own name), and
also so that his literary works would be considered on their merits.
In 1960, Wojtyła published the influential theological book
Love and Responsibility, a defence of traditional Church teachings on
marriage from a new philosophical standpoint.
While a priest in Kraków, groups of students regularly joined Wojtyła for
hiking, skiing, bicycling, camping and kayaking, accompanied by prayer, outdoor
Masses and theological discussions. In Stalinist-era Poland, it was not
permitted for priests to travel with groups of students. Father Wojtyła asked
his younger companions to call him "Wujek" (Polish for "Uncle") to prevent
outsiders from deducing he was a priest. The nickname gained popularity among
his followers. In 1958, when Wojtyła was named auxiliary bishop of Kraków, his
acquaintances expressed concern that this would cause him to change. Wojtyła
responded to his friends, "Wujek will remain Wujek," and he continued to live a
simple life, shunning the trappings that came with his position as Bishop. This
beloved nickname stayed with Wojtyła for his entire life and continues to be
affectionately used, particularly by the Polish people.
Where John Paul II once lived as priest and bishop on Kanonicza
Street, Kraków (now an Archdiocese Museum)
On 4 July 1958,
while Wojtyła was on a kayaking holiday in the lakes region of northern Poland,
Pius XII appointed him as the
Auxiliary Bishop of Kraków. He was then summoned to Warsaw to meet the
Primate of Poland,
Stefan Cardinal Wyszyński, who informed him of his appointment.
He agreed to serve as Auxiliary Bishop to Kraków's
Eugeniusz Baziak, and he received episcopal consecration (as Titular Bishop
Ombi) on 28 September 1958. Baziak was the principal consecrator. Principal
co-consecrators were Bishop
Boleslaw Kominek (Titular Bishop of
Vågå, auxiliary of
the Catholic Archdiocese of Wrocław, and future Cardinal and Archbishop of
Wrocław) and then-Auxiliary Bishop Franciszek Jop of the
Catholic Diocese of Sandomierz (Titular Bishop of
Daulia; later Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Wrocław and then Bishop
Catholic Diocese of Opole).
At the age of 38, Wojtyła became the youngest bishop in Poland. The following
year, 1959, Wojtyla held
first ever Mass, a
Midnight Mass on
Christmas Day. Baziak died in June 1962 and on 16 July Wojtyła was selected
as Vicar Capitular (temporary administrator) of the Archdiocese
until an Archbishop could be appointed.
In October 1962, Wojtyła took part in the
Second Vatican Council (1962–1965),
where he made contributions to two of its most historic and influential
products, the Decree on Religious Freedom (in Latin,
Dignitatis humanae) and the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in
the Modern World (Gaudium
Wojtyła and the Polish bishops contributed a draft text to the Council for
Gaudium et spes. According to the historian John W. O'Malley, the draft text
Gaudium et spes that Wojtyła and the Polish delegation sent "had some
influence on the version that was sent to the council fathers that summer but
was not accepted as the base text".
According to John F. Crosby, as pope, John Paul II used the words of Gaudium
et spes later to introduce his own views on the nature of the human person
in relation to God: man is "the only creature on earth that God has wanted for
its own sake", but man "can fully discover his true self only in a sincere
giving of himself".
He also participated in the assemblies of the
On 13 January 1964,
Paul VI appointed him Archbishop of Kraków.
On 26 June 1967, Paul VI announced Archbishop Karol Wojtyła's promotion to the
Sacred College of Cardinals.
Wojtyła was named
Cardinal-Priest of the
San Cesareo in Palatio.
In 1967, he was instrumental in formulating the
Humanae vitae, which dealt with the same issues that forbid
artificial birth control.
In 1970, according to a contemporary witness, Cardinal Wojtyła was against
the distribution of a letter around Kraków, stating that the Polish Episcopate
was preparing for the 50th anniversary of the
In 1973 Cardinal Wojtyła met philosopher
Anna-Teresa Tymieniecka, the wife of
Hendrik S. Houthakker, Professor of Economy at
Stanford University and
Harvard University, and member of President
Council of Economic Advisers
Tymieniecka collaborated with Wojtyła on a number of projects including an
English translation of Wojtyła's book
„Osoba i czyn” (Person and Act). Person and Act, one of Pope John Paul II's
foremost literary works, was initially written in Polish.
Tymieniecka produced the English-language version.
The two of them corresponded over the years, and grew to be good friends.
When Wojtyła visited New England, USA in summer 1976, Tymieniecka put him up as
a guest in her family home.
Wojtyła enjoyed his holiday in
Vermont kayaking and enjoying as he had done in his beloved Poland.
Photos of the two friends on holiday together; skiing, camping and picnicking,
show Cardinal Wojtyła in his shorts, in his most relaxed state.
During Wojtyła's visits to Pomfret, Tymieniecka also organised his
meeting with the
Cardinals through connections of her husband. These same Cardinals would be
the ones who would give him most support at his eventual
election to the papacy
In August 1978, following the death of Pope Paul VI, Cardinal Wojtyła voted
papal conclave, which elected
Pope John Paul I. John Paul I died after only 33 days as pope, triggering
The second conclave of 1978 started on 14 October, ten days after the
funeral. It was split between two strong
Giuseppe Cardinal Siri, the conservative
Archbishop of Genoa, and the liberal
Archbishop of Florence,
Giovanni Cardinal Benelli, a close friend of John Paul I.
Supporters of Benelli were confident that he would be elected, and in early
Benelli came within nine votes of success.
However, both men faced sufficient opposition for neither to be likely to
Giovanni Colombo, the Archbishop of Milan was considered as a compromise
candidate among the Italian cardinal-electors, but when he started to receive
votes, he announced that, if elected, he would decline to accept the papacy.
Archbishop of Vienna, suggested to his fellow electors another compromise
candidate: the Polish
Cardinal Karol Józef Wojtyła.
Wojtyła won on the eighth ballot on the third day (16 October) with, according
to the Italian press, 99 votes from the 111 participating electors.
Also among those cardinals who rallied behind Wojtyła were supporters of
Stefan Wyszyński, most of the
American cardinals (led by
moderate cardinals. He accepted his election with these words: "With
obedience in faith to Christ, my Lord, and with trust in the Mother of Christ
and the Church, in spite of great difficulties, I accept."
The pope, in tribute to his immediate predecessor, then took the
name of John Paul II,
also in honour of the late Pope Paul VI, and the traditional white smoke
informed the crowd gathered in
St. Peter's Square that a pope had been chosen. There had been rumours that
the new pope wished to be known as Pope Stanislaus I in honour of the
Polish saint of the name, but was convinced by the cardinals that it was not
a Roman name.
When the new pontiff appeared on the balcony, he broke tradition by addressing
the gathered crowd:
Dear brothers and sisters, we are saddened at the death of our beloved
Pope John Paul I, and so the cardinals have called for a new bishop of Rome.
They called him from a faraway land—far and yet always close because of our
communion in faith and Christian traditions. I was afraid to accept that
responsibility, yet I do so in a spirit of obedience to the Lord and total
faithfulness to Mary, our most Holy Mother. I am speaking to you in your—no,
our Italian language. If I make a mistake, please 'corrict'
mispronouncing the word 'correct']
Wojtyła became the 264th pope according to the chronological
of popes, the first non-Italian in 455 years.
At only 58 years of age, he was the youngest pope since
Pius IX in 1846, who was 54.
Like his predecessor, John Paul II dispensed with the traditional
Papal coronation and instead received ecclesiastical
investiture with a simplified
Papal inauguration on 22 October 1978. During his inauguration, when the
cardinals were to kneel before him to take their vows and kiss his ring, he
stood up as the Polish prelate Stefan Cardinal Wyszyński knelt down, stopped him
from kissing the ring, and simply hugged him.
During his pontificate, Pope John Paul II made trips to 129 countries,
travelling more than 1,100,000 kilometres (680,000 mi) while doing so. He
consistently attracted large crowds, some among the largest ever assembled in
human history, such as the
Manila World Youth Day, which gathered up to four million people, the
largest Papal gathering ever, according to the Vatican.
John Paul II's earliest official visits were to the Dominican Republic and
Mexico in January 1979.
While some of his trips (such as to the United States and the
were to places previously visited by Pope Paul VI, John Paul II became the first
pope to visit the
House in October 1979, where he was
greeted warmly by then-President
Carter. He was the first pope ever to visit several countries in one year,
starting in 1979 with Mexico
He was the first reigning pope to
travel to the United Kingdom, in 1982, where he met
Queen Elizabeth II, the
Supreme Governor of the Church of England. While in Britain he also visited
Canterbury Cathedral and knelt in prayer with
Robert Runcie, the
Archbishop of Canterbury, at the spot where
Thomas à Becket had been killed,
as well as holding several large-scale open air masses, including one at
Wembley Stadium, which was attended by some 80,000 people.
He travelled to Haiti in 1983, where he spoke in
Creole to thousands of impoverished Catholics gathered to greet him at the
airport. His message, "things must change in Haiti," referring to the disparity
between the wealthy and the poor, was met with thunderous applause.
In 2000, he was the first modern pope to visit Egypt,
where he met with the
Pope Shenouda III
Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Alexandria.
He was the first Catholic pope to visit and pray in an Islamic mosque, in
Syria, in 2001. He visited the
Umayyad Mosque, a former
Christian church where
John the Baptist is believed to be interred,
where he made a speech calling for Muslims, Christians and Jews to live
On 15 January 1995, during the X World Youth Day, he offered
Mass to an estimated crowd of between five and seven million in
Philippines, which was considered to be the largest single gathering in
In March 2000, while visiting
John Paul became the first pope in history to visit and pray at the
In September 2001, amid post-11
September concerns, he travelled to Kazakhstan, with an audience largely
consisting of Muslims, and to Armenia, to participate in the celebration of
1,700 years of
In June 1979, Pope John Paul II travelled to Poland, where ecstatic crowds
constantly surrounded him.
This first papal trip to Poland uplifted the nation's spirit and sparked the
formation of the
Solidarity movement in 1980, which later brought freedom and
rights to his troubled homeland.
Poland's Communist leaders intended to use the pope's visit to show the people
that although the pope was Polish it did not alter their capacity to govern,
oppress, and distribute the goods of society. They also hoped that if the pope
abided by the rules they set, that the Polish people would see his example and
follow them as well. If the pope's visit inspired a riot, the Communist leaders
of Poland were prepared to crush the uprising and blame the suffering on the
"The pope won that struggle by transcending politics. His was what
Nye calls 'soft
power' — the power of attraction and repulsion. He began with an
enormous advantage, and exploited it to the utmost: He headed the one
institution that stood for the polar opposite of the Communist way of life
that the Polish people hated. He was a Pole, but beyond the regime's reach.
By identifying with him, Poles would have the chance to cleanse themselves
of the compromises they had to make to live under the regime. And so they
came to him by the millions. They listened. He told them to be good, not to
compromise themselves, to stick by one another, to be fearless, and that God
is the only source of goodness, the only standard of conduct. 'Be not
afraid,' he said. Millions shouted in response, 'We want God! We want God!
We want God!' The regime cowered. Had the Pope chosen to turn his soft power
into the hard variety, the regime might have been drowned in blood. Instead,
the Pope simply led the Polish people to desert their rulers by affirming
solidarity with one another. The Communists managed to hold on as despots a
decade longer. But as political leaders, they were finished. Visiting his
native Poland in 1979, Pope John Paul II struck what turned out to be a
mortal blow to its Communist regime, to the Soviet Empire, [and] ultimately
John Lewis Gaddis, one of the most influential historians of the
the trip led to the formation of Solidarity and would begin the process of
Communism's demise in Eastern Europe:
When Pope John Paul II kissed the ground at the Warsaw airport he began
the process by which Communism in Poland—and ultimately elsewhere in
Europe—would come to an end.
On later trips to Poland, he gave tacit support to the
These visits reinforced this message and contributed to the collapse of East
European Communism that took place between 1989/1990 with the reintroduction of
democracy in Poland, and which then spread through Eastern Europe (1990–1991)
and South-Eastern Europe (1990–1992).
As pope, John Paul II wrote
14 papal encyclicals and taught about sexuality in what is referred as the "Theology
of the Body". Some key elements of his strategy to "reposition the Catholic
Church" were encyclicals such as
Ecclesia de Eucharistia,
Reconciliatio et paenitentia and
Redemptoris Mater. In his At the beginning of the new millennium
Millennio Ineunte), he emphasised the importance of "starting afresh
from Christ": "No, we shall not be saved by a formula but by a Person." In
The Splendour of the Truth (Veritatis
Splendor), he emphasised the dependence of man on God and His Law
("Without the Creator, the creature disappears") and the "dependence of freedom
on the truth". He warned that man "giving himself over to relativism and
scepticism, goes off in search of an illusory freedom apart from truth itself".
Fides et Ratio (On the Relationship between Faith and Reason)
John Paul promoted a renewed interest in philosophy and an autonomous pursuit of
truth in theological matters. Drawing on many different sources (such as
Thomism), he described the mutually supporting relationship between
faith and reason, and emphasised that theologians should focus on that
relationship. John Paul II wrote extensively about workers and the
social doctrine of the Church, which he discussed in three encyclicals:
Sollicitudo rei socialis, and
Centesimus annus. Through his encyclicals and many
Apostolic Letters and Exhortations, John Paul II talked about the
women and the importance of the family for the future of humanity.
Other encyclicals include The Gospel of Life (Evangelium
Vitae) and Ut Unum Sint (That They May Be One). Though
critics accused him of inflexibility in explicitly re-asserting Catholic moral
euthanasia that have been in place for well over a thousand years, he urged
a more nuanced view of
In his second encyclical
Dives in misericordia he stressed that
divine mercy is the greatest feature of
especially in modern times.
During a visit to Germany, 1980
John Paul II was considered a conservative on
and issues relating to human
sexual reproduction and the ordination of women.
While he was visiting the United States in 1977, the year before becoming
pope, Wojtyla said: "All human life, from the moments of conception and through
all subsequent stages, is sacred."
A series of 129 lectures given by John Paul II during his Wednesday audiences
in Rome between September 1979 and November 1984 were later compiled and
published as a single work titled
Theology of the Body, an extended meditation on
human sexuality. He extended it to the condemnation of abortion, euthanasia
and virtually all
calling them all a part of the "culture
of death" that is pervasive in the modern world. He campaigned for world
debt forgiveness and
He coined the term "social
mortgage", which related that all private property had a social dimension,
namely, that "the goods of this are originally meant for all."
In 2000, he publicly endorsed the
Jubilee 2000 campaign on African
relief fronted by Irish rock stars
and Bono, once
famously interrupting a U2
recording session by telephoning the studio and asking to speak to Bono.
Pope John Paul II, who was present and very influential at the 1962–65
Second Vatican Council, affirmed the teachings of that Council and did much
to implement them. Nevertheless, his critics often wished that he would embrace
the so-called "progressive" agenda that some hoped would evolve as a result of
the Council. In fact, the Council did not advocate "progressive" changes in
these areas; for example, they still condemned abortion as an unspeakable crime.
Pope John Paul II continued to declare that contraception, abortion, and
homosexual acts were gravely sinful, and, with Joseph Ratzinger (future
Pope Benedict XVI), opposed
Following the Church's exaltation of the marital act of sexual intercourse
between a baptised man and woman within sacramental marriage as proper and
exclusive to the
of marriage, John Paul II believed that it was, in every instance, profaned by
contraception, abortion, divorce followed by a 'second' marriage, and by
homosexual acts. In 1994, John Paul II asserted the Church's lack of authority
to ordain women to the priesthood, stating that without such authority
ordination is not legitimately compatible with fidelity to Christ. This was also
deemed a repudiation of calls to break with the constant tradition of the Church
by ordaining women to the priesthood.
In addition, John Paul II chose not to end the discipline of mandatory priestly
celibacy, although in a small number of unusual circumstances, he did allow
certain married clergymen of other Christian traditions who later became
Catholic to be ordained as Catholic priests.
Apartheid in South
Pope John Paul II was an outspoken opponent of
apartheid in South Africa. In 1985, while visiting the
Netherlands, he gave an impassioned speech condemning apartheid at the
International Court of Justice, proclaiming that "No system of apartheid or
separate development will ever be acceptable as a model for the relations
between peoples or races."
In September 1988, Pope John Paul II made a pilgrimage to ten Southern African
countries, including those bordering South Africa, while demonstratively
avoiding South Africa. During his visit to
John Paul II called for economic sanctions against South Africa's government.
After John Paul II's death, both
Nelson Mandela and
Archbishop Desmond Tutu praised the pope for defending human rights and
condemning economic injustice.
Pope John Paul II was an outspoken opponent of the
death penalty, although previous popes had accepted the practice. At a papal
St. Louis, Missouri, in the
United States he said:
A sign of hope is the increasing recognition that the dignity of human
life must never be taken away, even in the case of someone who has done
great evil. Modern society has the means of protecting itself, without
definitively denying criminals the chance to reform. I renew the appeal I
made most recently at Christmas for a consensus to end the death penalty,
which is both cruel and unnecessary.
During that visit, John Paul II convinced the then
governor of Missouri,
Carnahan, to reduce the death sentence of convicted murderer Darrell J.
Mease to life imprisonment without parole.
John Paul II's other attempts to reduce the sentence of
death-row inmates were unsuccessful. In 1983, John Paul II visited
and unsuccessfully asked the country's president,
Efraín Ríos Montt, to reduce the sentence for six left-wing guerrillas
sentenced to death.
In 2002, John Paul II again travelled to Guatemala. At that time, Guatemala
was one of only two countries in
Latin America (the other being
Cuba) to apply
capital punishment. John Paul II asked the Guatemalan president,
Alfonso Portillo, for a moratorium on executions.
Pope John Paul II pushed for a reference to Europe's Christian cultural roots
in the draft of the
European Constitution. In his 2003
apostolic exhortation Ecclesia in Europa, John Paul II wrote that he
"fully (respected) the secular nature of (European) institutions". However, he
wanted the EU Constitution to enshrine religious rights, including acknowledging
the rights of religious groups to organise freely, recognise the specific
identity of each denomination and allow for a "structured dialogue" between each
religious community and the EU, and extend across the European Union the legal
status enjoyed by religious institutions in individual member states. "I wish
once more to appeal to those drawing up the future European Constitutional
Treaty so that it will include a reference to the religion and in particular to
the Christian heritage of Europe," John Paul II said. The pope's desire for a
reference to Europe's Christian identity in the Constitution was supported by
non-Catholic representatives of the
Church of England and
Orthodox Churches from
John Paul II's demand to include a reference to Europe's Christian roots in the
European Constitution was supported by some non-Christians, such as
Joseph Weiler, a practising
Orthodox Jew and renowned constitutional lawyer, who said that the
Constitution's lack of a reference to Christianity was not a "demonstration of
neutrality," but, rather, "a Jacobin attitude".
At the same time, however, John Paul II was an enthusiastic supporter of
European integration; in particular, he supported his native Poland's entry
into the bloc. On 19 May 2003, three weeks before a referendum was held in
Poland on EU membership, the Polish pope addressed his compatriots and urged
them to vote for Poland's EU membership at St. Peter's Square in Vatican City
State. While some conservative, Catholic politicians in Poland opposed EU
membership, John Paul II said:
I know that there are many in opposition to integration. I appreciate
their concern about maintaining the cultural and religious identity of our
nation. However, I must emphasise that Poland has always been an important
part of Europe. Europe needs Poland. The Church in Europe needs the Poles'
testimony of faith. Poland needs Europe.
The Polish pope compared Poland's entry into the EU to the
Union of Lublin, which was signed in 1564 and united the
Kingdom of Poland and the
Grand Duchy of Lithuania into one nation and created an elective monarchy.
On 22 October 1996, in a speech to the
Pontifical Academy of Sciences
plenary session at the Vatican, John Paul II said of evolution that "this
theory has been progressively accepted by researchers, following a series of
discoveries in various fields of knowledge. The convergence, neither sought nor
fabricated, of the results of work that was conducted independently is in itself
a significant argument in favour of this theory." John Paul II's embrace of
evolution was enthusiastically praised by American palaeontologist and
Stephen Jay Gould,
with whom he had an audience in 1984.
Although generally accepting the theory of evolution, John Paul II made one
human soul. "If the human body has its origin in living material which
pre-exists it, the spiritual soul is immediately created by God."
In 2003 John Paul II criticised the
2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, saying in his State of the World address "No
to war! War is not always inevitable. It is always a defeat for humanity."
He sent Pío
Cardinal Laghi, the former
Apostolic Pro-Nuncio to the United States, to talk with
George W. Bush, the
American President, to express opposition to the war. John Paul II said that
it was up to the United Nations to solve the international conflict through
diplomacy and that a unilateral aggression is a
crime against peace and a violation of
international law. The pope's opposition to the Iraq War led to him being a
candidate to win the 2003
Nobel Peace Prize, which was ultimately awarded to
attorney/judge and noted human rights advocate,
In 1984 and 1986, through Cardinal Ratzinger (future
Pope Benedict XVI) as
Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, John Paul II
officially condemned aspects of liberation theology, which had many followers in
South America. Visiting Europe,
Romero unsuccessfully attempted to obtain a Vatican condemnation of El
Salvador's regime, for violations of human rights and its support of
squads. In his travel to
Nicaragua, in 1983, John Paul II harshly condemned what he dubbed the "popular
base communities" supported by the
CELAM), and the Nicaraguan clergy's tendencies to support the leftist
Sandinistas, reminding the clergy of their duties of obedience to the
During that visit
Ernesto Cardenal, a priest and minister in the Sandinista government, knelt
to kiss his hand. John Paul withdrew it, wagged his finger in Cardenal's face,
and told him, "You must straighten out your position with the church."
Pope John Paul II was the first pontiff to actively fight against
Mafia violence in
Southern Italy. In 1993, during a pilgrimage to
appealed to the Mafiosi: "I say to those responsible: 'Convert! One day, the
judgment of God will arrive!'" In 1994, John Paul II visited
told victims of Mafia violence to "rise up and cloak yourself in light and
In 1995, the Mafia bombed two historical churches in
believed that this was the mob's
the pope for his denounciations of organised crime.
Persian Gulf War
Between 1990 and 1991, a 34-nation coalition led by the United States waged a
Saddam Hussein's Iraq, which had invaded and annexed
John Paul II was a staunch opponent of the
Throughout the conflict, he appealed to the international community to stop the
war, and after it was over led diplomatic initiatives to negotiate peace in the
In his 1991 encyclical Centesimus Annus, John Paul II harshly condemned the
No, never again war, which destroys the lives of innocent people, teaches
how to kill, throws into upheaval even the lives of those who do the killing
and leaves behind a trail of resentment and hatred, thus making it all the
more difficult to find a just solution of the very problems which provoked
In April 1991, during his
et Orbi Sunday message at
St. Peter's Basilica, John Paul II called for the international community to
"lend an ear" to "the long-ignored aspirations of oppressed peoples". He
specifically named the
Kurds, a people
who were fighting a civil war against Saddam Hussein's troops in Iraq, as one
such people, and referred to the war as a "darkness menacing the earth". During
this time, the Vatican had expressed its frustration with the international
ignoring of the pope's calls for peace in the Middle East.
John Paul II was the first world leader to
describe as genocide the massacre by
Tutsis in the mostly Catholic country of Rwanda, which started in 1990 and
reached its height in 1994. He called for a ceasefire and condemned the
massacres on 10 April and 15 May 1990.
In 1995, during his third visit to
Kenya before an
audience of 300,000, John Paul II pleaded for an end to the violence in
pleading for forgiveness and reconciliation as a solution to the genocide. He
told Rwandan and Burundian refugees that he "was close to them and shared their
immense pain". He said:
What is happening in your countries is a terrible tragedy that must end.
During the African Synod, we, the pastors of the church, felt the duty to
express our consternation and to launch an appeal for forgiveness and
reconciliation. This is the only way to dissipate the threats of
ethnocentrism that are hovering over Africa these days and that have so
brutally touched Rwanda and Burundi.
Views on sexuality
While taking a traditional position on human sexuality, maintaining the
Church's moral opposition to homosexual acts, John Paul II asserted that people
with homosexual inclinations possess the same inherent dignity and rights as
In his book Memory and Identity he referred to the "strong pressures" by
European Parliament to recognise homosexual unions as an alternative type of
family, with the right to adopt children. In the book, as quoted by
wrote: "It is legitimate and necessary to ask oneself if this is not perhaps
part of a new ideology of evil, more subtle and hidden, perhaps, intent upon
exploiting human rights themselves against man and against the family."
A 1997 study determined that 3% of the pope's statements were about the issue of
Reform of canon law
John Paul II completed a full-scale reform of the Catholic Church's legal
system, Latin and Eastern, and a reform of the Roman Curia.
On 18 October 1990, when promulgating the
Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, John Paul II stated
By the publication of this Code, the canonical ordering of the whole
Church is thus at length completed, following as it does...the "Apostolic
Constitution on the Roman Curia" of 1988, which is added to both
Codes as the primary instrument of the Roman Pontiff for 'the communion that
binds together, as it were, the whole Church'
In 1998 Pope John Paul II issued the
Ad tuendam fidem, which amended two canons (750 and 1371) of the 1983
Code of Canon Law and two canons (598 and 1436) of the 1990 Code of Canons of
the Eastern Churches.
1983 Code of Canon Law
On 25 January 1983, with the Apostolic Constitution
Sacrae disciplinae leges John Paul II promulgated the current Code of
Canon Law for all members of the Catholic Church who belonged to the
Church. It entered into force the first Sunday of the following
which was 27 November 1983.
John Paul II described the new Code as "the last document of Vatican II".
Edward N. Peters has referred to the 1983 Code as the "Johanno-Pauline Code"
(Johannes Paulus is Latin for "John Paul"), paralleling the
"Pio-Benedictine" 1917 code that it replaced.
of Canons of the Eastern Churches
Pope John Paul II promulgated the
Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches (CCEO) on 18 October 1990, by the
document Sacri Canones.
The CCEO came into force of law on 1 October 1991.
It is the codification of the common portions of the
Canon Law for the 23 of the 24
churches in the
Catholic Church that are the
Eastern Catholic Churches. It is divided into 30 titles and has a total of
John Paul II promulgated the
Pastor bonus on 28 June 1988. It instituted a number of reforms in the
process of running the
Curia. Pastor Bonus laid out in considerable detail the organisation
of the Roman Curia, specifying precisely the names and composition of each
dicastery, and enumerating the competencies of each
It replaced the previous special law, Regimini Ecclesiæ universæ, which
was promulgated by Paul VI in 1967.
of the Catholic Church
On 11 October 1992, in his
apostolic constitution Fidei depositum (The Deposit of Faith),
John Paul ordered the publication of the
Catechism of the Catholic Church.
He declared the publication to be "a sure norm for teaching the faith … a
sure and authentic reference text for teaching Catholic doctrine and
particularly for preparing local catechisms". It was "meant to encourage and
assist in the writing of new local catechisms [both applicable and faithful]"
rather than replacing them.
the collapse of dictatorships
Pope John Paul II has been credited with inspiring political change that not
only led to the collapse of Communism in his native Poland and eventually all of
Eastern Europe, but also in many countries ruled by dictators. In the words of
Joaquín Navarro-Valls, John Paul II's press secretary:
The single fact of John Paul II's election in 1978 changed everything. In
Poland, everything began. Not in East Germany or Czechoslovakia. Then the
whole thing spread. Why in 1980 did they lead the way in Gdansk? Why did
they decide, now or never? Only because there was a Polish pope. He was in
Chile and Pinochet was out. He was in Haiti and Duvalier was out. He was in
the Philippines and Marcos was out. On many of those occasions, people would
come here to the Vatican thanking the Holy Father for changing things.
Before John Paul II's pilgrimage to Latin America, during a meeting with
reporters, he criticised
Augusto Pinochet's regime as "dictatorial". In the words of
The New York Times, he used "unusually strong language" to criticise
Pinochet and asserted to journalists that the Church in Chile must not only
pray, but actively fight for the restoration of democracy in Chile.
During his visit to Chile in 1987, John Paul II asked Chile's 31 Catholic
bishops to campaign for free elections in the country.
George Weigel and Cardinal
Stanisław Dziwisz, he encouraged Pinochet to accept a democratic opening of
the regime, and may even have called for his resignation
According to Monsignor Sławomir Oder, the postulator of John Paul II's
beatification cause, John Paul's words to Pinochet had a profound impact on
the Chilean dictator. The pope confided to a friend: "I received a letter from
Pinochet in which he told me that as a Catholic he had listened to my words, he
had accepted them, and he had decided to begin the process to change the
leadership of his country."
During his visit to Chile, John Paul II supported the
Vicariate of Solidarity, the Church-led pro-democracy, anti-Pinochet
organisation. John Paul II visited the Vicariate of Solidarity's offices, spoke
with its workers, and "called upon them to continue their work, emphasizing that
the Gospel consistently urges respect for human rights".
While in Chile, Pope John Paul II made gestures of public support of Chile's
anti-Pinochet democratic opposition. For instance, he hugged and kissed
Carmen Gloria Quintana, a young student burned alive by Chilean police and
told her that "We must pray for peace and justice in Chile."
Later, he met with several opposition groups, including those that had been
declared illegal by Pinochet's government. The opposition praised John Paul II
for denouncing Pinochet as a "dictator", for many members of Chile's opposition
were persecuted for much milder statements. Bishop
Camus, one of the harshest critics of Pinochet's dictatorship within the
Chilean Church, praised John Paul II's stance during the papal visit: "I am
quite moved, because our pastor supports us totally. Never again will anyone be
able to say that we are interfering in politics when we defend human dignity."
He added: "No country the Pope has visited has remained the same after his
departure. The Pope's visit is a mission, an extraordinary social catechism, and
his stay here will be a watershed in Chilean history."
Some have erroneously accused John Paul II of affirming Pinochet's regime by
appearing with the Chilean ruler in public. However, Cardinal
Roberto Tucci, the organiser of John Paul II's visits, revealed that
Pinochet tricked the pontiff by telling him he would take him to his living
room, while in reality he took him to his balcony. Tucci claims that the pontiff
Pope John Paul II visited
Haiti on 9 March
1983, when the country was ruled by
Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier. He bluntly criticised the poverty of the
country, directly addressing
Baby Doc and his wife,
Michèle Bennett in front of a large crowd of Haitians:
Yours is a beautiful country, rich in human resources, but Christians
cannot be unaware of the injustice, the excessive inequality, the
degradation of the quality of life, the misery, the hunger, the fear
suffered by the majority of the people.
John Paul II spoke in French and occasionally in Creole, and in the homily
outlined the basic human rights that most Haitians lacked: "the opportunity to
eat enough, to be cared for when ill, to find housing, to study, to overcome
illiteracy, to find worthwhile and properly paid work; all that provides a truly
human life for men and women, for young and old." Following John Paul II's
pilgrimage, the Haitian opposition to Duvalier frequently reproduced and quoted
the pope's message. Shortly before leaving Haiti, John Paul II called for social
change in Haiti by saying: "Lift up your heads, be conscious of your dignity of
men created in God's image...."
John Paul II's visit inspired massive protests against the Duvalier
dictatorship. In response to the visit, 860 Catholic priests and Church workers
signed a statement committing the Church to work on behalf of the poor.
In 1986, Duvalier was deposed in an uprising.
The collapse of the dictatorship of General
Alfredo Stroessner of Paraguay was linked, among other things, to Pope John
Paul II's visit to the South American country in 1989. Since Stroessner's taking
power through a
d'état in 1954, Paraguay's bishops increasingly criticised the regime for
human rights abuses, rigged elections, and the country's feudal economy. During
his private meeting with Stroessner, John Paul II told the dictator:
Politics has a fundamental ethical dimension because it is first and
foremost a service to man. The Church can and must remind men—and in
particular those who govern—of their ethical duties for the good of the
whole of society. The Church cannot be isolated inside its temples just as
men's consciences cannot be isolated from God.
Later, during a Mass, Pope John Paul II criticised the regime for
impoverishing the peasants and the unemployed, claiming that the government must
give people greater access to the land. Although Stroessner tried to prevent him
from doing so, Pope John Paul II met opposition leaders in the one-party state.
Role in the
fall of Communism
John Paul II has been credited with being instrumental in bringing down
Communism in Central and Eastern Europe,
by being the spiritual inspiration behind its downfall and catalyst for "a
peaceful revolution" in Poland.
Wałęsa, the founder of
Solidarity and the first post-Communist
President of Poland, credited John Paul II with giving Poles the courage to
According to Wałęsa, "Before his pontificate, the world was divided into blocs.
Nobody knew how to get rid of Communism. In
1979, he simply said: 'Do not be afraid', and later prayed: 'Let your Spirit
descend and change the image of the land … this land'."
It has also been widely alleged that the
Vatican Bank covertly funded Solidarity.
Ronald Reagan's correspondence with the pope reveals "a continuous scurrying
to shore up Vatican support for U.S. policies. Perhaps most surprisingly, the
papers show that, as late as 1984, the pope did not believe the Communist Polish
government could be changed."
The British historian
Timothy Garton Ash, who describes himself as an "agnostic liberal", said
shortly after John Paul II's death:
No one can prove conclusively that he was a primary cause of the end of
communism. However, the major figures on all sides—not just Lech Wałęsa, the
Polish Solidarity leader, but also Solidarity's arch-opponent, General
Wojciech Jaruzelski; not just the former American president
George Bush Senior but also the former Soviet president Mikhail
Gorbachev—now agree that he was. I would argue the historical case in three
steps: without the Polish Pope, no Solidarity revolution in Poland in 1980;
without Solidarity, no dramatic change in Soviet policy towards eastern
Europe under Gorbachev; without that change, no velvet revolutions in 1989.
Graffiti showing Pope John Paul II with quote "Do not be afraid" in
In December 1989, John Paul II met with the Soviet leader
Mikhail Gorbachev at the Vatican and each expressed his respect and
admiration for the other. Gorbachev once said "The collapse of the
Curtain would have been impossible without John Paul II."
On John Paul II's death, Mikhail Gorbachev said: "Pope John Paul II's devotion
to his followers is a remarkable example to all of us."
On 4 June 2004 US President
George W. Bush presented the
Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States' highest civilian honour,
to John Paul II during a ceremony at the
Apostolic Palace. The president read the citation that accompanied the
medal, which recognised "this son of Poland" whose "principled stand for peace
and freedom has inspired millions and helped to topple communism and tyranny".
After receiving the award, John Paul II said, "May the desire for freedom,
peace, a more humane world symbolised by this medal inspire men and women of
goodwill in every time and place."
Communist attempt to humiliate John Paul II
In 1983 Poland's Communist government unsuccessfully tried to humiliate John
Paul II by falsely saying he had fathered an illegitimate child. Section D of
Służba Bezpieczeństwa (SB), the security service, had an action named
"Triangolo" to carry out criminal operations against the Catholic Church; the
operation encompassed all Polish hostile actions against the pope.
Captain Grzegorz Piotrowski, one of the murderers of
Jerzy Popiełuszko, was the leader of section D. They drugged Irena
Kinaszewska, the secretary of the Kraków-based weekly Catholic magazine
Tygodnik Powszechny where Karol Wojtyła had worked, and unsuccessfully
attempted to make her admit to having had sexual relations with him.
The SB then attempted to compromise Cracow priest Andrzej Bardecki, an editor
of Tygodnik Powszechny and one of the closest friends of Cardinal Karol
Wojtyła before he became pope, by planting false memoirs in his dwelling, but
Piotrowski was exposed and the forgeries were found and destroyed before the SB
could "discover" them.
Relations with other denominations and religions
John Paul II travelled extensively and met with believers from many divergent
faiths. At the
World Day of Prayer for Peace, held in
Assisi on 27
October 1986, more than 120 representatives of different religions and
denominations spent a day of fasting and prayer.
John Paul II had good relations with the
Church of England. He was the first reigning pope to travel to the
United Kingdom, in 1982, where he met
Queen Elizabeth II, the
Supreme Governor of the Church of England. He preached in
Canterbury Cathedral and received
Robert Runcie, the
Archbishop of Canterbury. He said that he was disappointed by the Church of
England's decision to
ordain women and saw it as a step away from unity between the
Anglican Communion and the Catholic Church.
In 1980 John Paul II issued a
Pastoral Provision allowing married former Episcopal priests to become
Catholic priests, and for the acceptance of former
Episcopal Church parishes into the Catholic Church. He allowed the creation
Anglican Use form of the
Latin Rite, which incorporates the Anglican
Book of Common Prayer. He helped establish
Our Lady of the Atonement Catholic Church, together with Archbishop
Patrick Flores of
Antonio, Texas, as the inaugural parish for the Anglican Use liturgy.
In his book-length interview
Crossing the Threshold of Hope with the Italian journalist
Vittorio Messori published in 1995, John Paul II draws parallels between
Christianity. He says:
… it would be helpful to recall … the animist religions which stress
ancestor worship. It seems that those who practice them are particularly
close to Christianity, and among them, the Church's missionaries also find
it easier to speak a common language. Is there, perhaps, in this veneration
of ancestors a kind of preparation for the Christian faith in the Communion
of Saints, in which all believers—whether living or dead—form a single
community, a single body? […] There is nothing strange, then, that the
African and Asian animists would become believers in Christ more easily than
followers of the great religions of the Far East.
In 1985, the pope visited the African country of
Togo, where 60 per
cent of the population espouses animist beliefs. To honour the pope, animist
religious leaders met him at a Catholic Marian shrine in the forest, much to the
pontiff's delight. John Paul II proceeded to call for the need for religious
tolerance, praised nature, and emphasised common elements between animism and
Nature, exuberant and splendid in this area of forests and lakes,
impregnates spirits and hearts with its mystery and orients them
spontaneously toward the mystery of He who is the author of life. It is this
religious sentiment that animates you and one can say that animates all of
During the investiture of President
Thomas Boni Yayi of
Benin as a
chieftain on 20 December 2008, the reigning Ooni of
referred to Pope John Paul II as a previous recipient of the same royal honour.
John Paul II had good relations with the
Armenian Apostolic Church. In 1996, he brought the Catholic Church and the
Armenian Church closer by agreeing with Armenian Archbishop
on Christ's nature.
During an audience in 2000, John Paul II and
by then the
Catholicos of All Armenians, issued a joint statement condemning the
Armenian genocide. Meanwhile, the pope gave Karekin the relics of
St. Gregory the Illuminator, the first head of the Armenian Church that had
been kept in
for 500 years.
In September 2001, John Paul II went on a three-day pilgrimage to
take part in an ecumenical celebration with
in the newly consecrated St. Gregory the Illuminator Cathedral in Yerevan. The
two Church leaders signed a declaration remembering the victims of the Armenian
Tenzin Gyatso, the
14th Dalai Lama, visited John Paul II eight times. The two men held many
similar views and understood similar plights, both coming from nations affected
by Communism and both serving as heads of major religious bodies.
As Archbishop of Kraków, long before the 14th Dalai Lama was a world-famous
figure, Wojtyła held special Masses to pray for the Tibetan people's non-violent
struggle for freedom from
During his 1995 visit to
a country where a majority of the population adheres to
Theravada Buddhism, John Paul II expressed his admiration for Buddhism:
In particular I express my highest regard for the followers of Buddhism,
the majority religion in Sri Lanka, with its … four great values of … loving
kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity; with its ten
transcendental virtues and the joys of the
Sangha expressed so beautifully in the Theragathas. I ardently hope that
my visit will serve to strengthen the goodwill between us, and that it will
reassure everyone of the Catholic Church's desire for interreligious
dialogue and cooperation in building a more just and fraternal world. To
everyone I extend the hand of friendship, recalling the splendid words of
Dhammapada: "Better than a thousand useless words is one single word
that gives peace...."
In May 1999, John Paul II visited Romania on the invitation from Patriarch
Teoctist Arăpaşu of the
Romanian Orthodox Church. This was the first time a pope had visited a
predominantly Eastern Orthodox country since the
Great Schism in 1054.
On his arrival, the Patriarch and the
President of Romania,
Emil Constantinescu, greeted the pope.
The Patriarch stated, "The second millennium of Christian history began with a
painful wounding of the unity of the Church; the end of this millennium has seen
a real commitment to restoring Christian unity."
On 23–27 June 2001 John Paul II visited Ukraine, another heavily Orthodox
nation, at the invitation of the
President of Ukraine and bishops of the
Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church.
The Pope spoke to leaders of the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious
Organisations, pleading for "open, tolerant and honest dialogue".
About 200 thousand people attended the liturgies celebrated by the Pope in
Kiev, and the
liturgy in Lviv
gathered nearly one and a half million faithful.
John Paul II said that an end to the Great Schism was one of his fondest wishes.
Healing divisions between the Catholic and
Eastern Orthodox churches regarding Latin and
Byzantine traditions was clearly of great personal interest. For many years,
John Paul II sought to facilitate dialogue and unity stating as early as 1988 in
Euntes in mundum, "Europe has two lungs, it will never breathe easily
until it uses both of them."
During his 2001 travels, John Paul II became the first pope to visit Greece
in 1291 years.
In Athens, the
pope met with
Archbishop Christodoulos, the head of the
Church of Greece.
After a private 30-minute meeting, the two spoke publicly. Christodoulos read a
list of "13 offences" of the Catholic Church against the Eastern Orthodox Church
since the Great Schism,
including the pillaging of
Constantinople by crusaders in 1204, and bemoaned the lack of apology from
the Catholic Church, saying "Until now, there has not been heard a single
request for pardon" for the "maniacal crusaders of the 13th century".
The pope responded by saying "For the occasions past and present, when sons
and daughters of the Catholic Church have sinned by action or omission against
their Orthodox brothers and sisters, may the Lord grant us forgiveness", to
which Christodoulos immediately applauded. John Paul II said that the sacking of
Constantinople was a source of "profound regret" for Catholics.
Later John Paul II and Christodoulos met on a spot where
Saint Paul had once preached to Athenian Christians. They issued a 'common
declaration', saying "We shall do everything in our power, so that the Christian
roots of Europe and its Christian soul may be preserved.... We condemn all
recourse to violence, proselytism and fanaticism, in the name of religion."
The two leaders then said the
Lord's Prayer together, breaking an Orthodox taboo against praying with
The pope had said throughout his pontificate that one of his greatest dreams
was to visit Russia, but this never occurred. He attempted to solve the problems
that had arisen over centuries between the Catholic and
Russian Orthodox churches, and in 2004 gave them a 1730 copy of the lost
Our Lady of Kazan.
John Paul II was the first Pope to enter and pray in a mosque,
visiting the tomb of John the Baptist at Damascus'
John Paul II made considerable efforts to improve relations between
Catholicism and Islam.
On 6 May 2001 he became the first Catholic pope to enter and pray in a
mosque, namely the
Umayyad Mosque in
Syria. Respectfully removing his shoes, he entered the former
Byzantine era Christian church dedicated to
John the Baptist, who is also revered as a prophet of Islam. He gave a
speech including the statement: "For all the times that Muslims and Christians
have offended one another, we need to seek forgiveness from the Almighty and to
offer each other forgiveness."
He kissed the
Qur'an in Syria, an act that made him popular among Muslims but that
disturbed many Catholics.
In 2004 John Paul II hosted the "Papal
Concert of Reconciliation", which brought together leaders of Islam with
leaders of the Jewish community and of the Catholic Church at the Vatican for a
concert by the Kraków Philharmonic Choir from Poland, the
London Philharmonic Choir from the United Kingdom, the
Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra from the United States, and the Ankara State
Polyphonic Choir of Turkey.
The event was conceived and conducted by Sir
KCSG and was broadcast throughout the world.
John Paul II oversaw the publication of the
Catechism of the Catholic Church, which makes a special provision for
Muslims; therein, it is written, "The plan of salvation also includes those who
Creator, in 'the first place amongst whom are the Muslims'; these profess to
hold the faith of
together with us they adore the one, merciful God, mankind's judge on the last
In 1995, Pope John Paul II held a meeting with 21
sect that broke away from mainstream Hinduism in 600 BC, organised by the
Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. He praised
Mohandas Gandhi for his "unshakeable faith in God", assured the Jains that
the Catholic Church will continue to engage in dialogue with their religion and
spoke of the common need to aid the poor. The Jain leaders were impressed with
the pope's "transparency and simplicity", and the meeting received much
attention in the
Gujarat state in western India, home to many Jains.
Relations between Catholicism and Judaism improved dramatically during the
pontificate of John Paul II.
He spoke frequently about the Church's relationship with the Jewish faith.
In 1979 John Paul II visited the
Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland, where many of his compatriots
Jews) had perished during the Nazi occupation in World War II, the first
pope to do so. In 1998 he issued We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah,
which outlined his thinking on
He became the first pope known to have made an official papal visit to a
synagogue, when he visited the
Great Synagogue of Rome on 13 April 1986.
On 30 December 1993 John Paul II established formal diplomatic relations
between the Holy See and the State of Israel, acknowledging its centrality in
Jewish life and faith.
On 7 April 1994 he hosted the
Papal Concert to Commemorate the Holocaust. It was the first-ever
Vatican event dedicated to the memory of the six million Jews murdered in World
War II. This concert, which was conceived and conducted by American conductor
Gilbert Levine, was attended by the Chief Rabbi of Rome
the President of Italy
Oscar Luigi Scalfaro, and survivors of the Holocaust from around the world.
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, actor Richard Dreyfuss and cellist Lynn
Harrell performed on this occasion under Levine's direction.
On the morning of the concert, the pope received the attending members of
survivor community in a special audience in the Apostolic Palace.
In March 2000 John Paul II visited
the national Holocaust memorial in Israel, and later made history by touching
one of the holiest sites in Judaism, the Western Wall in Jerusalem,
placing a letter inside it (in which he prayed for forgiveness for the actions
In part of his address he said: "I assure the Jewish people the Catholic Church
… is deeply saddened by the hatred, acts of persecution and displays of
anti-Semitism directed against the Jews by Christians at any time and in any
place," he added that there were "no words strong enough to deplore the terrible
tragedy of the Holocaust."
Israeli cabinet minister Rabbi
Michael Melchior, who hosted the pope's visit, said he was "very moved" by
the pope's gesture.
It was beyond history, beyond memory.
We are deeply saddened by the behaviour of those who in the course of
history have caused these children of yours to suffer, and asking your
forgiveness we wish to commit ourselves to genuine brotherhood with the
people of the Covenant.
In October 2003, the
Anti-Defamation League (ADL) issued a statement congratulating John Paul II
on entering the 25th year of his papacy. In January 2005, John Paul II became
the first pope known to receive a
priestly blessing from a rabbi, when Rabbis
Benjamin Blech, Barry Dov Schwartz, and Jack Bemporad visited the Pontiff at
Clementine Hall in the Apostolic Palace.
Immediately after John Paul II's death, the ADL said in a statement that he
had revolutionised Catholic-Jewish relations, saying, "more change for the
better took place in his 27-year Papacy than in the nearly 2,000 years before."
In another statement issued by the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council,
Director Dr Colin Rubenstein said, "The Pope will be remembered for his
inspiring spiritual leadership in the cause of freedom and humanity. He achieved
far more in terms of
transforming relations with both the Jewish people and the State of Israel
than any other figure in the history of the Catholic Church."
With Judaism, therefore, we have a relationship which we do not have with
any other religion. You are our dearly beloved brothers, and in a certain
way, it could be said that you are our elder brothers.
In an interview with the Polish Press Agency,
Michael Schudrich, chief rabbi of Poland, said that never in history did
anyone do as much for Christian-Jewish dialogue as Pope John Paul II, adding
that many Jews had a greater respect for the late pope than for some rabbis.
Schudrich praised John Paul II for condemning anti-Semitism as a sin, which no
previous pope had done.
On John Paul II's beatification the Chief Rabbi of Rome
Riccardo Di Segni said in an interview with the Vatican newspaper
L'Osservatore Romano that "John Paul II was revolutionary because he
tore down a thousand-year wall of Catholic distrust of the Jewish world."
Meanwhile, Elio Toaff, the former Chief Rabbi of Rome, said that:
Remembrance of the Pope Karol Wojtyła will remain strong in the
collective Jewish memory because of his appeals to fraternity and the spirit
of tolerance, which excludes all violence. In the stormy history of
relations between Roman popes and Jews in the ghetto in which they were
closed for over three centuries in humiliating circumstances, John Paul II
is a bright figure in his uniqueness. In relations between our two great
religions in the new century that was stained with bloody wars and the
plague of racism, the heritage of John Paul II remains one of the few
spiritual islands guaranteeing survival and human progress.
St. Philip, Bishop of Heraclea, and Companions, Martyrs
From their original acts, published by Mabillon, in Vetera Analecta, t. 4, p.
134, and more correctly by Ruinart, p. 409, Tillemont, t. 5.
[BUTLER'S LIVES OF THE SAINTS]
PHILIP, a venerable old man, bishop of Heraclea, the metropolis of Thrace,
was an illustrious martyr of Christ in the persecution of Dioclesian. Having
discharged every duty of a faithful minister in the characters of deacon and
priest in that city, he was raised to the episcopal dignity, and governed that
church with great virtue and prudence when it was shaken by violent storms. To
extend and perpetuate the work of God, he was careful to train up many disciples
in the study of sacred learning, and in the practice of solid piety. Two of the
most eminent among them had the happiness to be made companions of his
martyrdom; namely, Severus, a priest, whose laborious and penitential life
proved him to be a true disciple of the cross; and Hermes, a deacon, who was
formerly the first magistrate of the city, and in that office, by his charity
and universal benevolence, had gained the esteem and affection of all the
citizens; but after he was engaged in the ministry, gained his livelihood with
his own hands, and brought up his son to do the same. Dioclesian’s first edicts
against the Christians being issued out, many advised the holy bishop to leave
the city; but he would not even stir out of the church, continuing to exhort the
brethren to constancy and patience, and preparing them for the celebration of
the feast of the Epiphany. Whilst he preached to them, Aristomachus, the
stationary, (that is, an officer of the town,) came, by the governor’s order, to
seal up the door of the church. The bishop said to him: “Do you imagine that God
dwells within walls, and not rather in the hearts of men?” He continued to hold
his assemblies before the doors of the church. The next day certain officers
came, and set their seal upon the sacred vessels and books. The faithful, who
beheld this, were much grieved: but the bishop who stood leaning against the
door of the church, encouraged them with his discourses. Afterwards the governor
Bassus finding Philip and many of his flock assembled before the church door,
gave orders that they should be apprehended, and brought before him. Being
seated on his tribunal, he said to them: “Which of you is the teacher of the
Christians?” Philip replied: “I am the person you seek.” Bassus said: “You know
that the emperor has forbidden your assemblies. Surrender into my hands the
vessels of gold and silver which you make use of, and the books which you read.”
The bishop answered: “The vessels and treasure we will give you; for it is not
by precious metal but by charity that God is honoured. But the sacred books it
neither becomes you to demand nor me to surrender.” The governor ordered
executioners to be called into court, and commanded Muccapor, the most noted
among them for his inhumanity, to torture the holy prelate. Philip bore his
torments with invincible courage. Hermes told the governor that it was not in
his power to destroy the word of God, even though he should take away all the
writings in which the true doctrine is contained. The judge commanded him to be
scourged. After this he went with Publius, the governor’s successor, to the
place where the sacred writings and plate were hid. Publius would have conveyed
away some of the vessels, but being hindered by Hermes, he gave him such a blow
on the face that the blood followed. The governor Bassus was provoked at Publius
for this action, and ordered the deacon’s wound to be dressed. He distributed
the vessels and books among his officers; and, to please the infidels and
terrify the Christians, caused Philip and the other prisoners to be brought to
the market-place, surrounded with guards, and the church to be uncovered by
taking off the tiles. In the mean time, by his orders, the soldiers burned the
sacred writings, the flames mounting so high as to frighten the standers by.
This being told to Philip in the market-place, he took occasion from this fire
to discourse of the vengeance with which God threatens the wicked, and
represented to the people how their gods and temples had been often burned,
beginning with Hercules, protector of their city, from whom it derived its name.
By this time Caliphronius, a Pagan priest, appeared in the market-place with his
ministers, who brought with them the necessary preparations for a sacrifice and
a profane feast. Immediately after, the governor Bassus came, followed by a
great multitude, some of whom pitied the suffering Christians; others,
especially the Jews, clamoured loudly against them. Bassus pressed the bishop to
sacrifice to the gods, to the emperors, and to the fortune of the city. Then
pointing to a large and beautiful statue of Hercules he bid him consider what
veneration was due to that piece. Philip showed the absurdity of adoring a base
metal, and the work of a drunken statuary. Bassus asked Hermes if he at least
would sacrifice. “I will not,” replied Hermes, “I am a Christian.” Bassus said:
“If we can persuade Philip to offer sacrifice, will you follow his example?”
Hermes answered he would not; neither could they persuade Philip. After many
useless threats, and pressing them to sacrifice at least to the emperors, he
ordered them to be carried to prison. As they went along, some of the rabble
insolently pushed Philip, and often threw him down; but he rose with a joyful
countenance, without the least indignation or grief. All admired his patience,
and the martyrs entered the prison joyfully, singing a psalm of thanksgiving to
God. A few days after they were allowed to stay at the house of one Pancras,
near the prison, where many Christians and some new converts resorted to them to
be instructed in the mysteries of faith. After some time they were remanded to a
prison, contiguous to the theatre, which had a door into that building with a
secret entry. They there received the crowds that came to visit them in the
In the mean time, Bassus going out of office at the expiration of his term,
one Justin succeeded him. The Christians were much afflicted at this change, for
Bassus often yielded to reason, his wife having for some time worshipped the
true God herself: but Justin was a violent man. Zoilus, the magistrate of the
city, brought Philip before him, who declared to the saint the emperor’s order,
and pressed him to sacrifice. Philip answered: “I am a Christian, and cannot do
what you require. Your commission is to punish our refusal, not to force our
compliance.” Justin said: “You know not the torments which shall be your
portion.” Philip replied: “You may torment, but will not conquer me: no power
can induce me to sacrifice.” Justin told him, he should be dragged by the feet
through the streets of the city, and if he survived that punishment, should be
thrown into prison again to suffer new torments. Philip answered: “God grant it
may be so:” Justin commanded the soldiers to tie his feet and drag him along.
They dashed him against so many stones, that he was torn and bruised all over
his body. The Christians carried him in their arms, when he was brought back to
his dungeon. The enraged idolaters had long been in quest of Severus, the
priest, who had hid himself, when inspired by the Holy Ghost, he at length
surrendered himself, and was carried before the governor, and committed to
prison. Hermes was likewise steady in his examination before Justin, and was
treated in the same manner. The three martyrs were kept imprisoned in a bad air
seven months, and then removed to Adrianople, where they were confined in a
private country house, till the arrival of the governor. The next day, holding
his court at the Thermæ, he caused Philip to be brought before him, and to be
beaten with rods till his bowels appeared bare. His courage astonished the
executioners and Justin himself, who remanded him to prison. Hermes was next
examined, and to him all the officers of the court were favourable, because
having been formerly decurio or chief magistrate of the city of Heraclea, he had
obliged them all on several occasions, though he declared in his examinations
that he had been a Christian from his cradle. He persisted in this profession,
and was sent back to prison, where the holy martyrs joyfully gave thanks to
Jesus Christ for this beginning of their victory. Philip, though of a weak and
delicate constitution, did not feel the least inconvenience. Three days after
this, Justin caused them to be brought again before his tribunal, and having in
vain pressed Philip to obey the emperors, said to Hermes: “If the approach of
death makes this man think life not worth preserving, do not you be insensible
to its blessings, and offer sacrifice.” Hermes replied by showing the blindness
and absurdity of idolatry: so that Justin being enraged, cried out: “Thou
speakest as if thou wouldst fain make me a Christian.” Having then advised with
his assessor and others, he pronounced sentence in these terms: “We order that
Philip and Hermes, who, despising the commands of the emperor, have rendered
themselves unworthy of the name of Romans, be burned, that others may learn to
obey.” They went joyfully to the pile. Philip’s feet were so sore that he could
not walk, and therefore he was carried to execution. Hermes followed him with
much difficulty, being afflicted also in his feet; and he said to him: “Master,
let us hasten to go to our Lord. Why should we be concerned about our feet,
since we shall have no more occasion for them?” Then he said to the multitude
that followed them: “The Lord revealed to me that I must suffer. While I was
asleep, methought I saw a dove as white as snow, which, entering into the
chamber, rested on my head, and descending upon my breast, presented me some
meat which was very agreeable to the taste. I knew that it was the Lord that
called me, and was pleased to honour me with martyrdom.” Fleury remarks, that
this delicious meat seems to mean the eucharist, which the martyrs received
before the combat. When they came to the place of punishment, the executioners,
according to custom, covered Philip’s feet and legs with earth up to the knees;
and having tied his hands behind his back, nailed them to the pile. They
likewise made Hermes go down into a ditch, who, supporting himself upon a club,
because his feet trembled, said smiling: “O demon, thou canst not suffer me even
here.” Immediately the executioners covered his feet with earth; but before they
lighted the fire, he called upon Velogus, a Christian, and said to him: “I
conjure you by our Saviour Jesus Christ, tell my son Philip from me, to restore
whatever was committed to my charge, that I may incur no fault: even the laws of
this world ordain it. Tell him also, that he is young, and must get his bread by
labour, as he has seen me do; and behave himself well to every body.” He spoke
of the treasures of the church, or of deposits lodged in his hands. Hermes
having spoken thus, his hands were tied behind his back, and fire was set to the
pile. The martyrs praised, and gave thanks to God as long as they were able to
speak. Their bodies were found entire; Philip having his hands stretched out as
in prayer; Hermes with a clear countenance only his ear a little blue. Justin
ordered their bodies to be thrown into the Hebrus: but certain citizens of
Adrianople went in boats with nets, and fished them out whilst they were entire,
and hid them for three days at a place called Ogestiron, twelve miles from the
city. Severus the priest, who had been left alone in prison, being informed of
their martyrdom, rejoiced at their glory, and earnestly besought God not to
think him unworthy to partake in it, since he had confessed his name with them.
He was heard, and suffered martyrdom the day after them. The order for burning
the holy Scriptures and destroying the churches, points out the time of their
suffering to have been after the first edicts of Dioclesian. The 22nd of October
is consecrated in the Martyrologies to their memory. 2
A just and humble fear, the assiduous practice of penance, and all other
virtues, the most fervent use of the sacraments, prayer, and meditation on
eternal truths, a contempt of the world, and of the goods and evils of this
life, and a constant attention to those to come, were the weapons with which the
martyrs stood always prepared for the combat, and the source of the courage and
strength which they obtained of God, and by which they triumphed. The spiritual
persecutions of the world are often more dangerous than those of the sword, and
they corrupt far more souls. The allurements of pleasure and riches; the pomps
of vanity, and the snares of pride and ambition, murder more souls than the
Neros and Dioclesians murdered bodies. We run into the arms of certain death if
we expose ourselves to our enemies bereft of our weapons. Constant watchfulness,
penance, prayer, and the like means above mentioned are the bucklers with which
we must be always shielded, that we may be rendered invincible against the
INTERCESSORY PRAYER: SAINT PHILIP, PLEASE PRAY FOR US [SAY YOUR PRAYER