This post is part of a series of posts on the life of saints. Check out an earlier post if you are interested in more information about what a saint is. Basically, saints are holy men and women whose lives demonstrate the glory of God and are now in heaven in his presence.
Today is the feast of St. John Paul II. He is the pope that I grew up on, that ushered us in to the 3rd millennia, and who has an extra special place in my heart. Recently, I heard the following said of our last three popes, “if Pope Francis is a shepherd, Pope Benedict was an academic, and St. John Paul the II was the philosopher.” This is true, St. John Paul the II produced many beautiful works of philosophy and faithfully sought answers to why and how God made us and the world.
Let’s find out more about the man behind this modern-day philosopher.
St. John Paul II was born in Wadowice, Poland to the name Karol Jozef Wojtyla in 1920. He was gifted with a loving family, but sadly, by the time he was 12 he had lost his mom, brother, and sister. Despite this suffering early in life, he was described as a talented and vibrant youth. Karol, the future Pope John Paul II, commented that “After her [his mother’s] death and, later, the death of my older brother, I was left alone with my father, a deeply religious man. Day after day I was able to observe the austere way in which he lived …his example was in a way my first seminary, a kind of domestic seminary.”
Karol went on to study the Polish language, literature, theater, and poetry at Krakow’s Jagiellonian University. He also performed in local theatrical productions, was introduced to Carmelite mysticism of St. John of the Cross, and resolved to take steps towards the priesthood. Karol’s promising academic career was soon interrupted by Nazi Germany’s occupation of Poland.
In the early 1940s as the world was falling apart, Karol began working mandatory labor jobs, lost his father, and was hit and injured by a German truck. It wasn’t an easy season, but out of this time he recounts the maturing of his vocation toward the priesthood. He enrolled in an “underground” seminary in Kraków and was ordained in 1946. As a young priest he was sent to Rome where he continued his education.
After earning a doctorate in theology, he moved back to Poland where he was stationed as a parish associate pastor and excelled at ministering to young adults. He received a second doctorate in philosophy before teaching that subject at Poland’s University of Lublin.
Karol was appointed auxiliary bishop of Kraków in 1958 -the youngest bishop in the history of Poland. The strict communist officials premised his appointment thinking he was only an intellectual. But boy were they wrong! Bishop Wojtyła encouraged a spiritual and cultural resistance to the Communist occupation of Poland, giving his countrymen hope in the face of grave oppression.
As a bishop he attended all four sessions of Vatican II and making significant contributions to the central documents. He was also instrumental in the creation of Pope Paul VI’s Humane Vitae. Appointed as archbishop of Kraków in 1964, he was named a cardinal three years later.
Cardinal Wojtyla was elected pope in October 1978 by his brother cardinals. His took on the name of his immediate predecessor. Pope John Paul II was the first non-Italian pope in 455 years. During the homily at his installment mass, St. John Paul II proclaimed a defining message, “do not be afraid. Open wide the doors to christ.” This is how I remember him, wanting to open the doors of Christ for everyone, the gate that leads to true life and true love.
He was the 263rd successor to Peter, and had one of the longest pontificates in the history of the Church, lasting nearly 27 years.
Pope John Paul II’s legacy as a pope was in three main areas, Firstly, the relationships he cultivated and nursed. He desired reconciliation and unity among all people and took up a missionary attitude to see that it happened.
- Made pastoral visits to 124 countries.
- Promoted ecumenical and interfaith initiatives, especially the 1986 Day of Prayer for World Peace in Assisi.
- Visited the Western Wall in Jerusalem
- Established diplomatic relations between the Holy See and Israel.
- Improved Catholic-Muslim relations and in 2001 visited a mosque in Damascus, Syria.
- Took considerable steps to improve relations with the Orthodox Churches.
- His love for young people led him to establish World Youth Day, which attracted millions of young people from all over the world
- He extended invitations to Jewish and Muslim representatives to participate in worldwide meetings to pray for peace.
- His 1979 visit to Poland encouraged the growth of the Solidarity movement there and the collapse of communism in central and eastern Europe 10 years later. He was also committed to visiting China and Soviet Union but was prevented by their governments.
Secondly, he is remembered for honoring the beauty of marriage and family. As a philosopher St. John Paul II held the domestic life in the highest regard, seeing its role as the building block of civilization and the first school of love.
- Establishment of the World Meetings of Families
- His Wednesday catechist on human love culminating in the Theology of the Body collection
- Founding of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family.
And lastly, he was a prolific, creative, and impactful writer.
- Pope John Paul II wrote as a prophet for our modern times. He wrote 14 encyclicals, 15 apostolic exhortations, 11 apostolic constitutions and 45 apostolic letters.
- He also published three books : “Crossing the Threshold of Hope” (October 1994); “Gift and Mystery: On the 50th Anniversary of My Priestly Ordination” (November 1996) and “Roman Tryptych – Meditations”, a book of poems (March 2003).
- Lastly, he beatified 1,338 people and canonized 482 saints, more than all the popes in the previous 500 years combined. He knew that the modern world needed examples of holiness to hold on to and emulate.
Seeing the rise of the secular culture he devoted himself in every way to the spiritual renewal of the church, some specific efforts were by hosting the Year of the Redemption, the Marian Year and the Year of the Eucharist. He also lead the charge for the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, a celebration of God’s mercy and the forgiveness of sin. He was also known for his consistent and loud message to the world to, “be not afraid”.
In 1981, then Pope John Paul II was victim to an attempted assignation in St. Peter’s square. He was shot twice at close range, once through his abdomen and once nearly missing his heart. He was wounded by these injuries for the rest of his life. Two years later, he showed the world one of the greatest acts of forgiveness by visiting, Mehmet Ali Agca, his aggressor in prison. In the two years that followed there were two other attempts on St. John Paul II life. But with perseverance and enthusiasm, St. John Paul II continued to proclaim the centrality and hope of the Gospel. Highlighting the good news of Jesus.
In the last years of his life, St. John Paul II suffered from Parkinson’s disease which caused him to cut back on his activities. His strength of faith and will in these last few years were an encyclical in and of themselves. Those of us watching were inspired by his reliance on Christ as his body grew weak. He united his suffering to Christ as a profound example of the mystery of the crucified Lord.
I will never forget watching the flocks of people, of every background, fill St. Peter’s square in those last days of his life. Everyone wanted to acknowledge and show respect for a man who, through turbulent and changing times, tirelessly labored toward the good of humanity. He died on Divine Mercy Sunday, April 2, 2005. As he lost his voice in his last years, his finals words are said to be in a whisper, “Let me go to my Father’s house.”
Pope Benedict XVI beatified John Paul II in 2011, and Pope Francis canonized him in 2014.
The Saint in Art:
As a modern saint, St. John Paul II’s artistic depiction and themes are still being formed. Typically, St John Paul II is depicted wearing a white cassock and zucchetto (skull cap), occasionally he is also wearing his red Papal mozzetta or shoulder cape. Most pictures have him holding or wearing a cross or crucifix and extending a blessing. Often, the quintessential St. John Paul II smile is depicted in art, a small smirk with the tips of his mouth curved up. There are also several iconic photographs of him, one of him grasping tight to the crucifix in the wind taken at World Youth Day, and another of him praying at the wailing wall in 2000 along with many others.
(1) Icon by Nicholas Markell (2) source (3)Icon by Steve Knight (4) Sidney Maurer from the series “Icons of the 20th Century.”
Patron Saint Of
Because St. John Paul II is a new saint he has not been declared the official patron of many things. As of now, he is the co-patron of world youth day and some have suggested that he should be the patron saint of those with sweet teeth.
I would add that he is a great saint to ask for intercession when you feel hopeless, fear, or loss. He is also a wonderful saint and advocate for families, peace, and forgiveness.
- “Darkness can only be scattered by light, hatred can only be conquered by love.”- St. John Paul II
- “Only in Christ can men and women find answers to the ultimate questions that trouble them. Only in Christ can they fully understand their dignity as persons created and loved by God. Jesus Christ is “the only Son from the Father…full of grace and truth.”- St. John Paul II
- “I plead with you–never, ever give up on hope, never doubt, never tire, and never become discouraged. Be not afraid.”- St. John Paul II
- “To maintain a joyful family requires much from both the parents and the children. Each member of the family has to become, in a special way, the servant of the others.”- St. John Paul II
- “Have no fear of moving into the unknown. Simply step out fearlessly knowing that I am with you, therefore no harm can befall you; all is very, very well. Do this in complete faith and confidence.”- St. John Paul II
- “We are not the sum of our weaknesses and failures; we are the sum of the Father’s love for us and our real capacity to become the image of his Son.”- St. John Paul II
- “No one can live a trial life; no one can love experimentally.”- St. John Paul II
Ways to Celebrate:
Feast Day: October 22nd
Celebrate St. John Paul II’s heritage by making some fun polish dishes.
- Traditional pierogi or potatoes baked with egg and cream recipe
- Gina at Someday (Hopefully) They’ll Be Saints has some other fun food suggestions for you like potato dumplings and goulash.
- On a visit to his hometown of Wadowice in 1999, the pope mentioned that as a boy he and his friends would put their money together to buy a special pastry from the local baker. Now, the pastry is known in Poland as the “Papal Cream Cake.”
- Kendra had a great post today about making fisher of men brownies complete with gummy worms.
The Book Drinking with the Saints suggests celebrating with a drink JPII was known to consume. St. Pope John Paul II described picnicing under a pine tree with “sardines, hard boiled eggs sliced with a camping knife, and a bottle of local white wine cut with water from a gushing stream.” If watered down wine doesn’t feel like a party, you can also indulge in some Polish vodka.
1.) Check out Catholic Icing for several activities to do with your kiddos:
- JPII Stained Glass
- Sew a JPII doll
- Edible Vatican flag
- Keeper of the keys Cake
- Create a paper pontiff hat
- JPII Comic Book
- JPII Paper Doll
2.) Watch the 2006 film Karol, a great movie about the man who became St. John Paul II.
4.) Read St. John Paul’s Letter to Artists and then put your creative juices to work and complete a project that has been on your list for a while.
5.) A few of St. John Paul II’s favorite activities included hiking, fishing, and drama. Today you can put on a play about fighting nazi’s before grabbing your fishing pole to hike down to the creek. Spend some time outdoors to celebrate this great man.
6.) Go check out A Knotted Life for Bonnie’s fun vlog about ways to celebrate JPII today. I especially like Bonnie’s idea to celebrate the value of life by writing a note or doing an act of service to show someone their special.
- Official prayer from vatican, From Heaven’s Window.
O, St. John Paul, from the window of heaven, grant us your blessing! Bless the church that you loved and served and guided, courageously leading it along the paths of the world in order to bring Jesus to everyone and everyone to Jesus. Bless the young, who were your great passion. Help them dream again, help them look up high again to find the light that illuminates the paths of life here on earth.
May you bless families, bless each family! You warned of Satan’s assault against this precious and indispensable divine spark that God lit on earth. St. John Paul, with your prayer, may you protect the family and every life that blossoms from the family.
Pray for the whole world, which is still marked by tensions, wars and injustice. You tackled war by invoking dialogue and planting the seeds of love: pray for us so that we may be tireless sowers of peace.
O St. John Paul, from heaven’s window, where we see you next to Mary, send God’s blessing down upon us all. Amen.
2. Prayer for the intercession of St. John Paul II
3. A list of really great prayers that St. John Paul II prayed for others.
4. Novena to Pope John Paul II
Read more about the Life of Saint Pope John Paul II
Now you are prepared to celebrate one of our most modern saints, St. John Paul II, and hopefully you have gained a new friend in heaven. I know I have.
To see more check out some of my earlier posts in this series: