Karol Wojtyla’s 25th. Anniversary
By: Peter Simunovich
In November it will be the 40th anniversary that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas. Since then most over 45 remember exactly where they were and what they were doing when they heard the breaking news that stunned the world.
Next week, October 16 to be exact, another anniversary will be celebrated even though the news at the time was not as dramatic as when the President died.
Few will remember what they were doing 25 years ago on October 16 when news came from Rome that the College of Cardinals had elected Karol Józef Wojtyla as the 263rd Pope to follow in the footsteps of St. Peter.
When his name was first read from a balcony at St. Peter’s Basilica to thousands eagerly awaiting in St. Peter’s Square many looked at each other as if to say: Who?
It was understandable because Wojtyla, who was 58 when elected, was from Poland and he was the first non Italian Pope in more than 450 years. He chose to be known as John Paul 11 and since then has become one of the most admired and instantly recognizable people in the world.
John Paul 11’s papacy is the longest reign in modern times. In the same period the United States has had five presidents. He is also the most traveled Pope making more than 90 international trips and more than 140 within Italy. As the Bishop of Rome, he has also been to 301 of the 334 parishes in the Eternal City.
Now the Vatican will celebrate the pontificate of the frail Pope, who is also one of the most popular figures in the world.
As a Cardinal, John Paul 11 enjoyed skiing and walking and for a member of the clergy he was considered fit and young to be chosen to the papacy, but this highly educated man quickly took charge of the Vatican.
He stood up to communism and played a behind the scenes role when Lech Walesa led Poland through Solidarity, a move that captured the world as this predominantly Catholic nation refused to be pushed around any longer by communist rule.
In a book called “Pontiff,” which detailed the final days of Paul V1, the month long papacy of John Paul 1 and election of John Paul 11, the authors claimed that the Pope sent a letter to Soviet leader Brezhnev that if his regime did not loosen their grip on Poland he would resign as Pope and take up arms to defend his country.
John Paul 11 survived an attempt on his life while he was with pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square. But this did not deter him from continuing his role as leader of the world’s Catholics. A few weeks after he was shot, he visited the assassin in jail and forgave him.
As a young man he also had to weave his way past dictatorships. John Paul 11, who was born in Wadowice, a small city about 40 miles from Cracow, worked in a quarry and then a chemical factory to earn his living so he would not be deported to Germany when Nazi forces occupied Poland during World War 11.
John Paul 11 faced personal challenges. The second of two sons, he was just nine when his mother died, then his brother, Edmund, a doctor passed away three years later. And at 21 he lost his father, a non-commissioned army officer.
As an 18-year-old he enrolled in Cracow’s Jagiellonian University in a school for drama, four years later he began courses in the clandestine seminary run by Cardinal Adam Stefan Sapieha, Archbishop of Cracow, while the world was still at war.
At the same time, the young Wojtyla was a pioneer of the “Rhapsodic Theater,” which also was clandestine.
He quickly rose up the ranks in Poland catholic hierarchy. At 43 he was Archbishop of Crakow and at 47 he was made a Cardinal by Paul V1.
It was a solid foundation for what lay ahead of him.
During his pontificate, his principal documents include 14 encyclicals , 13 apostolic exhortations , 11 apostolic constitutions and 42 apostolic letters. The Pope has 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).
He has presided at 138 beatification ceremonies ( 1,310 Blesseds proclaimed ) and 48 canonization ceremonies ( 469 Saints ). He has held nine consistories in which he created more than 200 cardinals . He has also convened six plenary meetings of the College of Cardinals and presided at 15 Synods of Bishops.
According to the Vatican, John Paul 11 has encountered more than 16,700,000 pilgrims who have participated in the general audiences held on Wednesdays. This does not include all other special audiences and religious ceremonies held at the Vatican and the millions of faithful met during pastoral visits made in Italy and throughout the world.
John Paul 11, acknowledged as one of the greatest people in the 20th century, deserves a big celebration, not just in Rome but throughout the world.