Papal Chronicles: The legacy of Pope John Paul II

In the second in our series of articles about previous popes, we examine the legacy of Pope John Paul II who took this title after Pope John Paul passed away after only 33 days in office.

The Papal Conclave of October 1978 – triggered by the sudden death of Pope John Paul – saw then-Archbishop of Krakow, Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, elected as the new Pontiff. Cardinal Wojtyla accepted his election and took the pontifical name of John Paul II.

Pope John Paul II, or Saint John Paul the Great, was the leader of the Roman Catholic Church for 26 years – from 1978 until his death in 2005.

George Weigel, author of the papal biographies Witness to Hope and The End and the Beginning, said: “It’s going to be several hundred years before the Church really takes on board the breadth and depth of this man’s explication of the Gospel and in that sense we’re going to be thinking, and arguing, about John Paul II for hundreds of years.”

A revolutionary Pope

Pope John Paul II is credited with setting into motion and catalyzing a range of reforms.

A year after his election to the papacy, John Paul II returned to his native Poland to "strengthen the brethren" there in the face of Soviet rule. His visit, in which he repeatedly told Poles: "Don't be Afraid," helped inspire the launch of the Solidarity in Poland. This became one of the most powerful anti-communist movements of all time which, in turn, triggered similar resistance across the Soviet Union. When Communism collapsed in 1989, many credited John Paul with helping lay the groundwork.

More than previous popes, he inspired young people throughout the world to make holiness a part of their lives. To this end, he logged hundreds of thousands of miles in tours addressing vast crowds of adoring adolescents.

While revolutionising the Papacy, he adhered to traditional church teachings. Pope John strongly reaffirmed the church’s conservative stances on social issues like contraception and abortion, after the introduction of more liberal reforms from the Second Vatican Council under Pope Paul VI.

The globetrotting Pope

Pope John Paul II was the first globe-trotting Pope, drawing huge crowds in corners of the world that no Pope had ever visited before.

He broke out of the golden cage of the Vatican and its protocols and took the papacy to the world rather than expecting the world to follow the road to Rome," said David Gibson, who authored multiple books on the papacy.

In 1979, when Pope John Paul II celebrated mass at Grant Park in Chicago – a city no pope had visited before – more than 1.2 million people attended the mass.

Impressively, Pope John Paul II was fluent in eight languages and he often addressed audiences in their native tongue.

A life of miracles: Saint John Paul the Great

Pope John Paul II was canonised as a saint on 27 April 2014. Miracles from France and Costa Rica helped Pope John Paul II pave the fastest path to sainthood in the history of the Catholic Church.

The inexplicable cure of a French nun suffering from Parkinson’s disease was accepted by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints and then-Pope Benedict XVI as the Pope’s first miracle.

Sister Marie Simon-Pierre could barely move her left side, could not write legibly, drive or move around easily and was in constant pain.

Her disease worsened after the Pope's death, and her order prayed for his intervention to ease her suffering. Then after writing his name on a paper one night, she woke up the next day apparently cured and returned to work as a maternity nurse with no traces of the disease.

The second miracle attributed to Pope John Paul II involved Floribeth More, a mother-of-four from Costa Rica.

Mrs More had an inoperable brain aneurysm and was told by doctors that her condition was hopeless and that her death was only a matter of time.

Mrs More became partially paralysed and unable to get out of bed, she was on pain medication and lying in bed at home on the 1 May 2011, clutching a magazine with a photograph of the former Polish pontiff on the front cover, when he appeared before her in a vision.

It was the same day that John Paul II was beautified at a ceremony in St Peter's Square - the first step towards him being made a saint.

"Floribeth, get up, what are you doing here? Why don't you go into the kitchen and see your husband?" the vision said to her.

The late Pope's hands seemed to reach out towards her from the cover of the magazine, she said.

"And I responded, now I feel fine, I'm going, I'm going," the 50-year-old mother-of-four said.

She insisted that from that day on, she was completely cured: "I felt a great sense of wellness inside me."

The neurosurgeon that looked after Floribeth was baffled and said: "If I cannot explain it from a medical standpoint, something non-medical happened, I can believe it was a miracle."

It was not long before the Vatican contacted her in what was the start of a long process in which the purported miracle was scrutinised by the experts of the Holy See, led by the Vatican "postulator" in charge of advancing John Paul II's sainthood.

Mrs Mora was flown to a church-run hospital in Rome where she was registered under a false name while doctors conducted tests which showed that she was completely, and miraculously,  healthy.

Since her recovery, she has become the object of almost cult-like devotion, with the faithful and people suffering from illnesses flocking to her home in a middle-class neighbourhood in the town of Dulce Nombre de Cartago, near the capital of Costa Rica, San Jose.

Read more articles about past Pope’s, including a recent letter from Pope Benedict XVI in which he has alluded to being near the end of his life.

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