by Jewelle Mendoza-Reyes
It was the Closing Mass of the World Youth Day, a first for an Asian country to host such event. I still have memories of the beloved Pope John Paul II twirling his cane at the Luneta Grandstand. I witnessed it myself, a charming pope having fun with record-breaking attendance of 5 million youth. Pope John Paul II, whom endearingly called as JP2, was a pope of my generation. Growing up with his papacy gradually developed a deep fondness for this selfless, bold yet humble pope. Here are 30 reasons why you’ll love him too:
1. World Youth Day was his brainchild.
Being the youngest pope after 1846, One of the things that characterized JP2 was his connection with young people. World Youth Day (WYD) was born after two successful gatherings of hundreds of thousands of young people from around the globe who responded to the invitation of JP2 to join the International Jubilee of Youth in 1984 and UN’s International Year of the Youth in 1985, both held in Rome. It was at this gathering that the Holy Father entrusted to the youth what is now known as the Jubilee Cross, to be carried throughout the world as a symbol of the love of Christ for humanity. From that day forward, WYD is celebrated every two to three years as an annual gathering of youth and young adults with the Holy Father for prayer, worship, and celebration of the Catholic faith.
2. He visited the Philippines twice.
To date, Saint John Paul II is the only pope to set foot on the Philippine soil twice in his papacy! These remarkable papal visits were on February 17-22, 1981 and January 12-16, 1995. The other two to make the trip were then Pope Paul VI in 1970 and the most recent, Pope Francis in 2015.
3. He made beatification and canonization more accessible.
Pope John Paul II named saints and beatified people more than the number declared by all the popes in the last 500 years combined. During his pontificate, he beatified 1,340 people and canonized 483. Some of them were: then Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Saint Josemaría Escrivá de Balaguer, and Saint Padre Pio.
Saint Lawrence Ruiz was beatified during Pope John Paul II's papal visit to the Philippines in 1981. It was the first beatification ceremony to be held outside the Vatican in history. On October 18, 1987, JP2 canonized San Lorenzo Ruiz at St. Peter’s Square. Thanks to JP2, we now have our first Filipino saint.
4. He is The Globetrotter Pope.
JP2 travelled the world more than any pope and world leader. Doing what Jesus said in the gospel to go out to the whole world and preach the Good News, he travelled 129 countries. The distance he travelled in order to bring God’s message to the world adds up to 1.2 million kilometers. That’s equivalent to 3.2 times the distance between the earth and moon! Whoa!
5. He ranks third among the longest reigning popes.
Elected as the 264th pope, Pope John Paul II is one of the longest serving pope in the history of the Catholic Church, ranking third in years as pontiff. He was pope for 26 years, 5 months, and 17 days (1978-2005). The Vatican lists the apostle Peter (30-67 AD) as the first leader of the Church, who served for 37 years. Second on the longevity list is Pope Pius IX (1846-1878), who was pope for 31 years, 7 months, and 22 days.
6. He adopted the name of his predecessor.
What’s in a name? Similar to almost all popes who have chosen a name that honors a saint or a previous pope, Karol Jozef Wojtyla takes the name John Paul II to provide continuity in respecting the wishes of his short-lived predecessor, John Paul I, whose brief pontificate lasted for just 33 days.
7. He was a polygot.
The native Polish pope, at the age of 10, started learning different languages. By the time he became a pontiff, he spoke eight languages: Polish, Italian, French, German, English, Spanish, Portuguese, and Latin. Certainly, JP2 recognized the importance of meeting people where they were.
8. He was an avid fan of sports.
From his days as goalkeeper, skier, hiker, swimmer, and kayaker, JP2 always found time for physical activities. He even found time to enter an international kayaking competition. In his first 15 years as pontiff, he took breaks to go skiing. Thus, he was still on the slopes until age 73! Pretty cool!
9. He cracked funny statements.
Yes, the funny side of the pope is a proof that holiness and humor coexist! When he first saw the young-looking Father Tagle, who was introduced by then Cardinal Ratzinger, the Pope asked the Cardinal, referring to Tagle, “Are you sure he has had his first communion?”
10. He had passion for arts.
JP2 loved poetry and theater. He can do both writing and performing. I find it wonderful that we had a pope, now a saint, with such awesome talents! The young Karol Wojtyła actually wanted to pursue a career in theater. The young theater actor once told a mentor that he wanted to act to help people but he was told he would be more effective in that mission if he was a priest. We should thank that mentor or else…
11. He had fascinating attraction to the Blessed Sacrament.
Jason Evert, a Catholic author of the book Saint John Paul the Great: His Five Loves, cites one of his favorite stories on the mystical connection of the pope to the Blessed Sacrament. In his papal visit in Baltimore, the pope while walking down the hallway, suddenly stopped and turned toward one doorway, opened the door and went in. JP2’s staff were astonished as to how he could have known the Blessed Sacrament was behind that door when he had never been there before.
12. He knew the names of all 2,000+ bishops of the world by heart.
In the same book of Jason Evert, he talked about a pope with a stunning memory. JP2 kept a map in which he marked every diocese in the world and knew each bishop by name.
13. He pointed out that Christ was born on Asian soil.
In his apostolic exhortation, Ecclesia in Asia, JP2 recognizes that the Church in Asia was chosen by God to fulfill his marvelous plan of salvation. “He sent his only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ the Saviour, who took flesh as an Asian!”
14. He was a champion for New Evangelization.
A couple of years before he was ordained a cardinal, Saint JP2 had the opportunity to participate in the Vatican II council headed first by Pope John XXIII then by Saint Pope Paul VI. It was during the sessions that he first heard about the concept of New Evangelization, which laid the theological groundwork for his 26-year pontificate. Observers noted that out of 16 documents approved by the Vatican II council, these four could have the most influence in his papacy: Lumen Gentium (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church), the foundational document of Vatican II, Dei Verbum (Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation), Gaudium et Spes (Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World), and Dignitatis Humanae (Declaration on Religious Freedom).
15. He promulgated the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC).
In 1992, to coincide with the 30th year of the opening of Vatican II, Pope John Paul II set forth the Catechism with an apostolic constitution. So whenever we talk about “catechesis” the CCC is the most essential book for all Catholics! It’s an organic presentation of our Catholic faith in its entirety.
16. He was an epitome of forgiveness.
One of the most moving and awe-inspiring scenes in the life of Saint John Paul II was when he visited his would-be assassin Mehmet Ali Ağca in prison and personally gave a sign of forgiveness. In 2000, he also requested that he be pardoned. JP2 was too close to home when he faced the biggest threat to his life. Turkish political extremist Agca fired four shots hit JP2 twice during his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square in May of 1981.
17. He asked for forgiveness for the sins of the Church.
Saint John Paul II was not only open to forgive, he also asked for forgiveness. On March 12 of the Jubilee Year 2000, the pope's historic Mea Culpa, a Latin phrase which means “through my fault” - acknowledgement of one's wrongdoings, revealed a church which was able to admit mistakes and willing to ask for forgiveness. Addressing an audience of thousands gathered at St. Peter’s Square, The pope apologized and publicly asked for forgiveness for the Church's mistreatment of Jews, non-Catholic Christians, women, the poor and minorities over the last 2,000 years.
18. He is The Great Mercy Pope.
The message of the Divine Mercy to Sister Mary Faustina Kowalska was very dear to JP2. He constantly reminded us in his writings and speeches on the need for us to turn to the mercy of God as the answer to the problems of our times. In April 2000, on the same day he canonized Saint Faustina, he instituted the Divine Mercy Sunday as a feast day for the entire Church. This feast day we celebrate now every second Sunday of the Easter season. Pope John Paul II died on the night before Divine Mercy Sunday in 2005. Coincidence or grace? I believe it’s the latter.
19. He built bridges between religions.
In October 1986, he had the first World Day of Prayer for Peace in Assisi, Italy where he summoned 160 religious leaders to pray together for peace. On the same year, he was the first pope to visit the Great Synagogue of Rome and address the Jewish community as our older brothers. This historic visit was a breakthrough in Jewish-Catholic relations. JP2 was also popular for improving the Church relationship with the Orthodox, Anglicans and Protestant Christians. He was also the first pope to set foot in a mosque in Damascus, Syria where the tomb of St. John the Baptist is. It was no surprise that the leaders of the world religion paid their last respects to the pope in 2005.
20. He played a vital background role to topple communism.
JP2’s first visit to Poland in 1979 was believed to have emboldened those Poles in attendance to challenge their government. The process led to the foundation of the free trade union "Solidarność" (Solidarity) which laid the groundwork for Poland's transition from a communist regime to a democracy.
21. He was The Feminist Pope.
“Io sono il Papa feminista” (I am the feminist pope), proclaimed Pope John Paul II in one conference on Women’s Health and Human Rights at the Vatican. Saint JP2, understanding the value of woman’s special dignity and her “feminine genius,” repeatedly called for a renewed appreciation of the role of women in the society.
22. He made a confession to Padre Pio when he was still a priest.
During his Easter vacation in 1947, newly ordained priest, Fr. Wojtyla went to San Giovanni Rotondo where he attended Padre Pio’s early morning mass and confessed to Padre Pio. At that time, Padre Pio was already suffering from stigmata for 30 years. Decades after a thorough analysis of the life of Padre Pio, it was later revealed that John Paul II was the only pope whom the friar confided with his most excruciating wound.
23. He was a BFF of Mother Teresa.
How delightful to see photos and videos of Saint JP2 II kissing the top of the head of the petite Mother Teresa and she holding his hand in hers. In their decades of friendship, they were living images of peace, compassion and profound respect for dignity of every human person. they shared a lot in common in their apostolate. And now, that they are both saints, their beautiful friendship continues… forever. Wow, such a great friendship goal!
24. He was a rockstar to rockstars.
JP2 was met not only by heads of state and religion but also by celebrities like rock band U2’s lead vocalist Bono, and Andy Warhol who was a leading artist of the 1960s pop art movements and folk rock singer-songwriter Bob Dylan who performed "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" for Pope John Paul II in 1997.
25. His photo embracing an AIDS patient struck the world.
Pope John Paul II’s gesture of embracing people suffering from AIDS changed the world’s perception of AIDS. While everyone else dreaded reaching out to those who suffered with HIV/AIDS in the early years of the disease, the Pope’s hug demonstrated to the world that those with HIV/AIDS should be embraced with compassion and acceptance.
26. He was a strong advocate of marriage.
JP2’s teachings state that “the essential properties of marriage - unity and indissolubility - offer an opportunity for a fruitful reflection on marriage.” He constantly reminded church leaders that it is their duty to bring to families the unchangeable teachings of Christ on marriage.
27. He started the World Meeting of Families.
In 1981, JP2 created The Pontifical Council for the Family that is responsible for the pastoral care of the family and defense of human life. Starting with the 1994 Year of the Family, the council has been responsible for the World Meeting of Families, a gathering of Catholic families held every three years. The Philippines hosted the 4th World Meeting in 2003.
28. He defended life.
In his encyclical Evangelium Vitae, JP2 strongly condemned all forms and levels of attacks and crimes against human life and the new threats to the early stage of life.
29. He added the Luminous Mystery in the history of the rosary.
In his apostolic letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae in 2002, JP2 explained that the five significant moments in the phase of the public ministry of Christ can be fittingly singled out and added as “mysteries of light.”: (1) his Baptism in the Jordan, (2) his self-manifestation at the wedding of Cana, (3) his proclamation of the Kingdom of God, with his call to conversion, (4) his Transfiguration, and finally, (5) his institution of the Eucharist.
30. His apostolic motto, “Totus Tuus” was inspired by Mother Mary's perfect example.
Just as the Blessed Mother did everything for the glory of her Son, JP2 put himself totally at the service of God, entrusting himself and the whole world to her maternal care. All throughout his life, Saint John Paul II had an enormous devotion to the Blessed Mother. And even At his death, on his simple wooden casket was his papal crest with the extended arm of the cross and majestic “M” for Mary which symbolizes the presence of Mary beneath the cross.