St. John Paul II: An Iconic 21st Century Saint
Written by The Station of the Cross on November 1, 2021
St. John Paul II is known for his teachings on marriage and the family, bringing the Catholic Church into the new millennium, and his outreach to the global church outside the walls of Vatican City. We celebrate his feast day on October 22.
St. John Paul II’s Early Life
St. John Paul II was born Karol Jozef Wojtyla on May 18, 1920 to a small and devout Catholic family in Krakow, Poland. His early life was marked with great loss as his mother and older brother died within years from each other. He also grew up during the height of World World II under Nazi occupation in Poland, where he lost several friends.
When the Nazis closed the Jagellonian University where he was studying, Karol worked in a stone quarry and then a chemical factory to earn a living and avoid deportation to German work camps.
St. John Paul II’s Call to the Priesthood
During the war, Karol felt called to the priesthood. He began studying at a secret, underground seminary run by the Archbishop of Krakow. He and a few friends organized the Rhapsodic Theatre, since he carried his love for theater and poetry all his life, even writing a play himself.
After WWII ended, Karol continued his studies and was ordained a priest on November 1, 1946. He completed his doctorate in theology in Rome; his dissertation was on the works of St. John of the Cross. Karol returned to Poland in 1948 and became a professor of theology and philosophy at the Jagellonian University.
As a Bishop, he participated in the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) and made significant contributions to the Constitution Gaudium et Spes.
In 1967, Pope Paul IV appointed Karol a Cardinal. Then, on October 16, 1978, Karol was elected Pope and took the name Pope John Paul II.
An Example of Love and Forgiveness
Numerous examples of love and forgiveness marked Pope John Paul II’s papacy. He spoke constantly on the importance of love, particularly within the human family. His series of General Audiences known as his Theology of the Body focused on how human beings were created by love and for love.
On May 13, 1981, JPII was traveling in an open car in St. Peter’s Square when an assassin made an attempt on his life and shot him repeatedly. Thankfully, after five hours of surgery and a long hospital stay, he attributed his survival to the intercession of Our Lady of Fatima to whom he held great devotion. Instead of holding a grudge, JPII visited his assassin and offered him the Sacrament of Confession where he forgave him.
St. John Paul II’s Mission-Oriented Papacy
As Pontiff, JPII:
- Made 146 pastoral visits to Italy,
- Visited 317 of 322 Roman parishes in his diocese,
- And made 104 international Apostolic journeys.
- 14 Encyclicals,
- 15 Apostolic Exhortations,
- 11 Apostolic Constitutions,
- And 45 Apostolic Letters.
JPII also celebrated:
- 147 beatifications, during which he proclaimed 1,338 Blessed and 51 canonizations of saints.
- On April 30, 2000 Pope St. John Paul II canonized Sr. Maria Faustina , a fellow Polish saint.
His pastoral care for the Church was directed under the direction of the New Evangelism movement which introduced a more comprehensive Code of Canon Law, Catechism of the Catholic Church, and the creation of World Youth Day.
No other Pope in the history of the Catholic Church engaged with as many people in-person as JPII. He held over 1,000 General Audiences, attended by more than 17.6 million people.
St. John Paul II’s Canonization
Pope Francis canonized JPII on April 27, 2014 along with Pope John XXIII. His love for the youth, the dignity of human life, and guidance of the Church into the new millennium have inspired millions of Catholics world-wide. His discussions surrounding the importance of family and marriage have set the tone for Catholic theology for the future of a 21st Century Church that must engage with the current culture.
Join Us in Prayer
Please join The Station of the Cross everyday at 3 PM for a Holy Hour where we recite the Divine Mercy Chaplet and the Holy Rosary, prayerful devotions that JPII prayed every single day. You can also listen to this episode of Mother Miriam Live, where she recently discussed the importance of marriage and family in today’s culture.
St. John Paul II, Pray for Us!