AP is reporting at this hour, via the Vatican, Pope John Paul II, Karol Joseph Wojtyla has died.
The Catholic Church and I parted ways a number of years back. Indeed, I have had a number of concerns about organized religion. And certainly the Catholic Church has of late been embroiled in controversy (especially here in America).
Still, I have always kind of admired John Paul II. His life and his joy of living seemed to be at odds with how one might (stereotypically) consider a religious figurehead to be.
Here is a part of a biography taken from here.
Born in Wadowice, Poland in 1920, Karol Wojtyla was an energetic youth: an excellent student and an enthusiastic athlete. His mother died when he was 9, and his only brother a few years later; Karol spent most of his early years living with his father, a retired military officer. Father and son moved to Krakow when Karol enrolled as a student at the famed Jagiellonian University there.
World War II interrupted the young man’s education, and he worked as a laborer– first in a stone quarry, later in a chemical plant– during the days, while active with an underground theater troupe in the evenings. It was also during World War II that he began secretly studying for the priesthood, eventually hiding in the archbishop’s residence when the Nazi occupation began arresting seminarians.
He was ordained to the priesthood in 1946. After completing studies in Rome and Krakow that eventually brought him two doctoral degrees, he settled in to his duties as a parish priest, combining that pastoral work with a successful career as a theology professor at the Catholic University in Lublin.
In 1959 Father Wojtyla was named an auxiliary bishop, and in 1964 he became Archbishop of Krakow; he was elevated to the College of Cardinals by Pope Paul VI in 1967. The young Polish prelate was an enthusiastic participant in the work of the Second Vatican Council, taking a particularly active role in drafting Gaudium et Spes, the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World.
The autumn of 1978 was a turbulent time at the Vatican. Pope Paul VI succumbed to a lengthy illness, and his immediate predecessor, Pope John Paul I, died suddenly after just 33 days in office. Gathering for third second conclave in barely over a month, the College of Cardinals selected Cardinal Wojtyla, then 58 years old, to be the first non-Italian pope in over 400 years.
From the outset, the papacy of John Paul II has had a galvanizing impact on the Catholic world. The energetic young Pontiff, who had once aspired to become an actor, showed a remarkable ability to communicate directly with large crowds. He undertook a busy travel schedule, explaining that he considered it his task to be the world’s foremost missionary. Since 1978 he has made over 100 trips outside Italy (and another 250 inside that country)– visiting over 130 countries, logging nearly 800,000 travel miles, and speaking to crowds that frequently exceeded 500,000.
# His long pontificate has been dotted with achievements. Among the most significant: John Paul II– who had conducted a quiet power struggle for years with Communist authorities, during his tenure as Archbishop of Krakow– played a pivotal role in the development of the Solidarity movement in his native Poland, and eventually in the collapse of the Soviet empire.
# The Pope, who nourishes a fervent personal devotion to the Virgin Mary, has strongly encouraged the same devotion among the faithful. In 2002 he shocked the Catholic world by adding five new mysteries to the most popular traditional Marian prayer, the Rosary.
# Since his days as a parish priest, working with young couples who would become lifelong friends, Wojtyla has labored to help the faithful understand marriage as a Christian vocation and a reflection of divine love. His weekly meditations on “the theology of the body” helped Catholics to understand human sexuality in a profound new way. At the same time, Pope John Paul ceaselessly exhorted Christians to preserve the “culture of life” in the face of attacks such as abortion, euthanasia, divorce, and contraception.
# As a trained philosopher, the Pontiff insisted that religious faith could and should be reconciled with rational argument and scientific logic. His encyclical Veritatis Splendor (1993) underlined the claims of absolute truth, and in Fides et Ratio (1998) he argued forcefully the Western culture has been damaged by the unnatural divorce of faith from reason.
Was he perfect? No, and who of us is? He was however, IMHO, the most interesting and charismatic leader the Roman Catholic Church has had in the past 50 years. (As far as it goes, I could say religious leader “period”. But your mileage may vary.) In any case, the world has seen the passing of one who did much to better it.
Rest in Peace, in the arms of God.
Precinct 333 has a list of potential pontiffs and his final farewell here.