St. John Paul II - Modern Day Prophet
Religious Encounter with God
Pope John Paul II was born Karol Józef Wojtyła in Poland in the year 1920.
Although Pope John Paul II's encounter with God lasted throughout his life, he first began his ministry as an ordained member of the Church when he felt called to a life of service in this specific way. After completing high school, the young Karol Wojtyła entered the Jagellonian University of Krakow in 1938 where he specialized in studying languages; however, the year after his enrollment, invading Nazi forces closed the university. Although Karol was already beginning to pursue a career as a playwright at the university, this invasion interrupted his plans. The Nazis required all able bodied men to work, and Karol was left with no choice but to do so. It was at this time that Karol's call to become a prophet of the Church was manifested in the desire to pursue the vocation of priesthood, as he longed to alleviate the suffering of those around him. While still deliberating this vocation, Karol was hit by a German truck and was fortunate to survive. This incident led Karol to accept a personal covenant with God. He believed that since God had given him his life and protected him from harm, he in turn must serve God through the ordained life of priesthood. His studies began at a seminary that had just been reopened after the Nazis were finally driven out of Poland; however, Karol remembered the cruelty he had witnessed over the past several years which eventually led to shape his worldwide mission of justice and peace. After his ordination, Father Wojtyła was called to even greater service by God as he rose in the cleric hierarchy until he was ultimately elected pope in 1978 under which he received the title John Paul II.
Pope John Paul II's Mission
Although Pope John Paul II’s mission of ministry began at the first moment that he felt called by God, his most notable works took place during his time as the universal Pastor of the Church. He evidently took the "universal" aspect especially seriously as he spent a great deal of his ministry traveling. It seems providential that Pope John Paul II had studied languages in his youth as this better enabled him to communicate his message of social justice directly with inhabitants of the various countries he visited. Since beginning his studies, he eventually became fluent in 12 different languages and visited 129 countries in total, making him the most travelled Pope to date. One such international mission which Pope John Paul II founded is World Youth Day, a gathering of Catholic youth from around the world who support one another as they grow in the faith. The event originated in Rome in 1984 and is set in a different worldwide location when it takes place roughly every two years. Each World Youth Day focuses on a specific theme in order to motivate youth to spread the Gospel as Pope John Paul II viewed these individuals as the future of the Church. For example, the last International World Youth Day at which Pope John Paul II was present in Toronto in 2002 focused on the message found in Matthew 5:13-14 which states, "You are the salt of the earth; You are the light of the world." The theme of this passage was interpreted as a call for young people to spread the Good News of the Gospel by their deeds.
Upon his election, Pope John Paul II faced the unjust criticism that he was not suited for the role as he was the first non-Italian pope. Rather than allowing this accusation to become a cause for anger within himself and the Church as a whole, Pope John Paul II used it instead as a means for promoting a message of human equality that was central throughout his prophetic mission. He decided that it was up to him to prove by his actions that he could do as much good for the Church as any pope before him. Besides just promoting unity between countries, Pope John Paul II also recognized the importance of peace between those of different faiths. Rather than attempting to point out the faults in other religions, he instead focused on what we as Catholics could learn from their certain aspects in order to become stronger in our own faith. In 1986, Pope John Paul II held a World Day of Prayer for Peace in which world leaders of different religions engaged in communion with eachother by practicing traditions of their own faiths in order to be united by the common goal of peace. Furthermore, Pope John Paul II was especially devoted to the importance of prayer. He understood from personal experience that in order to grasp the revelation of God as deeply as possible, it is necessary that we, as believers, devote ourselves to prayer throughout our daily lives. In other words, God only reveals Himself to each of us most fully in this life when we make the effort to incorporate Him into every aspect of who we are and what we do. Upon Pope John Paul II's death in 2005, those who had initially doubted him because of his non-Italian heritage could be heard cheering for his canonization which became a reality in April of last year.
Morality of St. John Paul II's Mission
Throughout the messages he promoted and actions he took, St. John Paul II always ensured that he acted in accordance with the moral code set out in our Catholic faith as revealed through scripture. For example, when St. John Paul II instituted the Mysteries of Light as an addition to the rosary, he clearly demonstrated how each mystery could directly be found in scripture.
- Baptism of the Lord (Matthew 3:13–17)
- First Miracle of Jesus, the changing of water into wine at the wedding of Cana (John 2:1–11)
- Proclamation of the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 4:17–25 through Matthew 5:1–16)
- Transfiguration at Mount Tabor (Luke 9:28–36)
- Institution of the Holy Eucharist at the Last Supper (1 Corinthians 11:23–29)
Furthermore, St. John Paul II upheld Jesus' teaching that we must forgive others, no matter how greatly they have harmed us. This is found in Matthew 18:21-22 in an exchange between St. Peter and Jesus as follows: “Then Peter came and said to Him, 'Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?' Jesus said to him, 'I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.'" While this shouldn't be interpreted entirely literally as 490 times, it simply conveys the message that our forgiveness should be boundless. In 1981, a radical who disagreed with St. John Paul II's Catholic viewpoints attempted to assassinate the pope, managing to shoot him four times; however, St. John Paul II escaped with his life, but still suffered severe blood loss. After recovering, the pope personally visited the gunman who had been sentenced to life in prison to offer him forgiveness, even requesting that he be pardoned for his crime. Although the actions of the pope contradicted society's vengeful stance of "an eye for an eye," he acted in accordance with Jesus' moral teaching of forgiveness.
Additionally, St. John Paul II's teachings on life directly correlate with the 5th Commandment: Thou Shalt not Kill, as found within Exodus 20 of the Old Testament. While the pope was visiting the United States of America he stated, "All human life, from the moments of conception and through all subsequent stages, is sacred." These words were spoken in order to protest against the evil of abortion which had become legal within the country. In addition, St. John Paul II took a similar stance on the death penalty with the words "A sign of hope is the increasing recognition that the dignity of human life must never be taken away, even in the case of someone who has done great evil. Modern society has the means of protecting itself, without definitively denying criminals the chance to reform." Although the pope did not have the legal jurisdiction to change the laws within the United States, he acted in accordance with the will of God by spreading the message of nonviolence into the hearts of others who can work together to affect change.