Pope John Paul II 1920-2005: World's First Superstar Pope; He Caused a Stir as the First Non-Italian Pope in 400 Years When He Was Elected in 1978 - and Karol Wojtyla Continued to Break with Tradition as He Covered the Four Corners of the Globe during His Eventful Papacy
Pope John Paul II had been ailing for some time.Over the last year he had frequently looked frail and tired as he stubbornly insisted on fulfilling his diary of public engagements. But the announcement of his death on Saturday still shocked the world. However back in 1978 when Karol Josef Wojtyla was elected by his fellow cardinals,it was the Catholic world which was in shock.
Still numbed by the death of Pope John Paul I, whose papacy lasted just 33 days,many were uneasy that their new leader was not only Polish,but the first non-Italian pope since Adrian VI in 1522.
But the 58-year-old former Bishop of Krakow soon won their hearts - and the hearts of the whole world.
The son of an army officer and school teacher,brought up in war torn Poland, John Paul II had the common touch.
He made the Vatican his chapel house and the rest of the world his diocese. During his 27 years travelling the world as head of the Catholic church,more people saw John Paul II than any President, Prime Minister or pop star.
In this special tribute,we look at his life,his achievements,his legacy - including a special feature celebrating his historic visit to Scotland in 1982JOHN PAUL II was the first superstar Pope. But he was also the pilgrim Pope and the praying, preaching Pope who wanted to save a world that 'lives by the flesh'.
His world and his glass-topped Popemobiles allowed countless millions to see for the first time a Holy Father in their own lands - and he was remembered by every one of them.
His Spitting Image was a jive-talkin' rock'n'roll idol in white robes and sunglasses. But, because he railed against the gulf between the world's rich and its wretched, his portrait hung in mud-huts of Africa and the squalid barrios of South America that had never seen a TV set.
John Paul II was hailed, even by non-Catholics such as Dr Billy Graham, as 'the greatest of our modern Popes' - and by non-Christian leaders such as the Dalai Lama as 'a holy man with a will and determination to help humanity through spirituality'.
Forged by his battles against Nazism and Communism in his Polish homeland, he was a key figure in the collapse of Communism across Eastern Europe. Yet in the latter, more rigid, years of his Papacy, critics said the pilgrim Pope had lost his way and that he was as authoritarian as any dictator he had opposed.
He risked unpopularity and defections from the Catholic Church with his opposition to birth control and abortion, declaring them 'the culture of death'.
The election of Karol Wojtyla, Archbishop of Krakow, in 1978, the 'year of three Popes', gave the world its first non-Italian Pope for four centuries. He succeeded John Paul I, who died in his sleep after just a month in office.
The election of the 58-year-old Pole brought to real life a prophecy made by a Polish poet over 100 years before: 'Behold the Slavic Pope is coming, a brother of the people.' There was another omen. He was born in 1920 in a yellow-stone house in Koscielna Street, or 'Church' Street, in Wadowice, which is now a museum attracting nearly 250,000 visitors a year.
His mother died giving birth to a stillborn daughter when he was nine and some see his idealisation of motherhood and life-long devotion to Mary, the Mother of Christ, as stemming from that.
A teacher who tried to console the bereaved boy recalled that he was quite composed and said: 'It is God's will.'
When he was 21, his father, a former army officer, died and he lost his brother, a doctor, during a scarlet fever epidemic.
The young Wojtyla wanted to become a contemplative monk. He petitioned to enter a monastery three times, but the archbishop refused. He foresaw great things for the young intellectual with a forceful stage presence, whom he had talent-spotted while he was still at secondary school.
His training for a life dedicated to the priesthood started in 1942, when he began his studies while doing night shifts at a chemical plant and a stone quarry on the outskirts of Nazi- occupied Krakow to avoid deportation to a concentration camp.
A third of Poland's priests were sent to concentration camps. But Wojtyla and other young men trained for the priesthood while working for the resistance under the noses of the Gestapo.
A friend from those days recalled: 'He lived in daily danger of losing his life. He would move about the occupied cities, taking Jewish families out of the ghettoes, finding them new hiding places.
'He saved the lives of many families threatened with execution.'
Throughout the war, the young Wojtyla lived a heroic double life, surviving despite hard labour, sub-zero temperatures and hunger, to nurse his bedridden father and qualify as a priest.
When he was elevated to Cardinal-Archbishop of Krakow, the Communist authorities believed he was no threat because of his contacts with 'leftist youth' as a student and his experience at the chemical factory 'with considerable traditions of workers' movements'. They were to be proved spectacularly wrong.EARLY in his Papacy, he spoke of his heritage: 'Having had to live in a country that had to fight for its existence in the face of its aggressions from its neighbours, I have understood what exploitation is.
'I put myself immediately on the side of the poor, the disinherited, the oppressed, the marginalised and the defenceless.'
Despite the meteoric career which saw him become a Prince of the Church in his 40s, he told photographers when the second Papal election of 1978 took place: 'Don't bother with me. I'm not going to become Pope.'
As support in the conclave of cardinals began building behind him on the second day, he was visibly unhappy and had to be reminded of his duty to submit to God's will.
With the Church in a state of crisis, following the death of an elderly Pope just 33 days after his election, they put a premium on physical fitness. More to the point, they agreed the Church needed 'a strong doctrinal Pope'.
When he was elected on the eighth ballot, another cardinal said there would be great jubilation. 'Yes, but there will be none in Wojtyla' he replied.
He considered calling himself Pope Stanislaus, after the Polish Saint who himself was a former Bishop of Krakow.
Instead, however, he played safe and delighted the Roman crowd by opting for John Paul II. And so began what has been called 'the papacy of surprises'.
When he stepped out on to the balcony of St Peter's, he was a dramatic change from previous frail and intellectual-looking Popes.
Solidly built, bursting with energy, the immediate image was that we were in for a vigorous and tough papacy.
He began like the whirlwind the Vatican needed, starting out on his epic programme of world-wide visits on which he eventually travelled over three quarters of a million miles.
Every time he emerged from the papal plane and knelt to kiss the soil, he won converts and even more new friends for the Roman Catholic Church.
His hopes for 'a new springtime of Christianity' were based mainly on the Third World, where he saw religion taking hold while it was being spurned elsewhere, especially in Western Europe.
He would hand over envelopes stuffed with $50,000 in cash to Third World bishops as direct aid for their congregations struggling against poverty and famine.
He believed even the most anti-Christian leaders might be won over, which was why he took huge risks with his much-criticised visits to Saddam Hussein and Fidel Castro.
His greatest triumph was the key part he played (largely unacknowledged, even years later) in toppling Communism in Eastern Europe.
Mikhail Gorbachev wrote: 'Everything that happened in Eastern Europe would have been impossible without the presence of the Pope.'
For diplomatic reasons, John Paul II continued to play down his part in defeating communism. 'The tree was already rotten. I just gave it a good shake,' he said.
On May 13, 1981, in St Peter's Square, John Paul II was the victim of an assassination attempt when he was shot and seriously wounded by Mehmet Ali Agca, a Turkish national.
A group of Bulgarians and Turks - accused of plotting to kill the Pope because of his outspoken support of the Church and the Solidarity trade union in his native Poland - were later acquitted for lack of proof.
On the first anniversary of the assassination attempt, John Paul II flew to Fatima to thank the Virgin Mary for saving him and placed the bullet removed from his body in the diamond-studded crown on the head of her statue.
He returned on the 10th anniversary of the shooting, saying: 'I consider the entire decade to be a free gift, given to me in a special way by divine providence.'
The man of action was also a man of prayer. His corner bedroom on the third floor of the papal palace overlooking St Peter's Square was like a monk's cell with a bare floor, single bed, a desk and Polish icons on the walls.
Typically, he rose at 5.30am to make time for meditation in his private chapel and would go to bed after an 18-hour day.
He gave the faithful a new catechism of the Catholic Church, a re-statement of basic belief and 'a sure and authentic text for teaching Catholic doctrine'.
The most important encyclical of his papacy was the 179-page Veritatis Splendor (The Splendour of Truth) onthe nature of good and evil, which he pondered over for six years. A Vatican insider said: 'You want to know what the Pope does in the evenings? This is what he does. He thinks about these things.'
The Pope went ahead despite warnings that his condemnation of 'intrinsic evils' from birth control, abortion and adultery to homosexuality would lead to mass desertion among the one billion faithful.
There was a quiet crackdown on dissent, liberal theologians were silenced and it became clear that bishops and cardinals were chosen for their conservative qualities and old-fashioned beliefs.
His critics failed to understand the truth - that Karol Wojtyla was a man of simple and unshakeable faith. He could not allow what he called a 'pick and choose' Church.
He had suffered and sacrificed for his belief and seen thousands of others do more, even giving their lives. For Karol Wojtyla to compromise would have been a monstrous betrayal of his life and theirs.
That prophet-poet who predicted there would be a Polish Pope said he would not 'Italian-like, fear sword's thrust or cannon's roar but stand his ground and fight'.
The Pope also lived by a text from St Paul's Epistle to the Corinthians: 'Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel.'
John Paul II certainly did that.
A young man of God: Wojtyla trained for the priesthood while working for the resistance and saved the lives of many Jewish families; Breaking barriers: But the Pope was criticised for his meetings with leaders such as Cuba's Fidel Castro…
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: Pope John Paul II 1920-2005: World's First Superstar Pope; He Caused a Stir as the First Non-Italian Pope in 400 Years When He Was Elected in 1978 - and Karol Wojtyla Continued to Break with Tradition as He Covered the Four Corners of the Globe during His Eventful Papacy. Contributors: Not available. Newspaper title: Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland). Publication date: April 4, 2005. Page number: 2. © 2009 Scottish Daily Record & Sunday. COPYRIGHT 2005 Gale Group.
This material is protected by copyright and, with the exception of fair use, may not be further copied, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means.