Pope John Paul II, born in Poland as Karol Józef Wojtyła and the youngest of three children, had been afflicted in childhood by the loss first of his mother and then of a much-loved elder brother. He’d lost all his family members before he became a priest. In youth, Wojtyla had been a brilliant student and, more broadly, an intellectual. He was fluent in a number of languages, was widely read, and wrote both poems and plays himself. Wojtyla loved sport too and had a sociable side that he was able to draw on when making his public appearances as pope.
An attempt was made upon Pope John Paul’s life as he entered St. Peter’s Square to address an audience on 13 May 1981. He was shot and critically wounded by Mehmet Ali Ağca, an expert Turkish gunman who was a member of the militant fascist group Grey Wolves. The assassin used a Browning 9 mm semi-automatic pistol, shooting the pope in the abdomen, and perforating his colon and small intestine multiple times. The pope was rushed into the Vatican complex and then to the Gemelli Hospital. On the way to the hospital, he lost consciousness. Even though the two bullets missed his mesenteric artery and abdominal aorta, he lost nearly three-quarters of his blood. He underwent five hours of surgery to treat his wounds. Surgeons performed a colostomy, temporarily rerouting the upper part of the large intestine to let the damaged lower part heal. When he briefly gained consciousness before being operated on, he instructed the doctors not to remove his Brown Scapular during the operation. The pope stated that Our Lady of Fátima helped keep him alive throughout his ordeal.
John Paul II was so unrestrainedly loved, not just among Catholics but also beyond the Church. This was attributable not only to his immense charisma but also to his instinctive gifts as a communicator. He visited 129 different countries, taking his papacy to ordinary people around the world. Wherever he went, he kissed airport runways, cuddled babies, showed himself to vast crowds in his “pope mobile” and celebrated Mass to millions at a time. He is recognized as helping to end Communist rule in his native Poland and eventually all of Europe. He significantly improved the Catholic Church’s relations with Judaism, Islam, the Eastern Orthodox Church, and the Anglican Communion. He upheld the Church’s teachings on such matters as artificial contraception and the ordination of women, but also supported the Church’s Second Vatican Council and its reforms.
John Paul II had an enthusiasm for canonizing saints (it was said that he beatified more men and women than all his predecessors put together). By canonizing many new saints, he showed the world that sanctity and holiness don’t belong to a clerical minority. Heaven is open to anyone who wants it and is willing to live a good and holy life.
Since his canonization, he is referred to as Pope Saint John Paul II or Saint John Paul the Great, for example as a name for institutions. He was the second longest-serving pope in modern history after Pope Pius IX who served for nearly 32 years from 1846 to 1878. Pope John Paul II was the first non-Italian pope in half a millennium and he was an intensely serious, scholarly man whose faith had a strongly private, even mystical aspect.
Pope Saint John Paul II, pray for us!
Paul, Tessa, and Consultant, Reverend Ronald Creighton-Jobe. “An Illustrated Dictionary of Saints.” Wigston, Leicestershire: Anness Publishing, 2011.
Trigilio, Rev. John, Ph.D, Th.D, and Rev. Kenneth Brighenti, Ph.D. “Saints for Dummies.” Hoboken, NJ: Wiley Publishing, 2010.
Wikipedia. 2014. Los Angeles. Web. 22 Oct 2014.