Pope John Paul II

Why was John Paul II called the people’s pope?

Because during his 27-year tenure, he dramatically changed the public perception of the pope. Polish cardinal Karol Wojtyla (1920–2005) was named Pope John Paul II on October 16, 1978, becoming the first non-Italian head of the Roman Catholic Church in 455 years. From the first moments of his service, it was clear that this was a different kind of pope. Upon his election, he greeted the cardinals of the conclave—his “brothers”—standing rather than seated, which was the tradition. A few weeks after his election, he leaned out the windows of the Vatican palace to sing carols with 50,000 children gathered in St. Peter’s Square to celebrate Christmas. Instead of limiting his concerns to the administration of the church, he traveled far and wide to carry the message of Christianity to the people. Crowds, often numbering in the hundreds of thousands to millions, gathered to see him around the globe. In 1979 he made his first trip to the United States, after which Time magazine ran a cover story with the headline, “John Paul, Superstar.” Pope John Paul fought for freedom of religion everywhere, even challenging his Communist homeland. His call for solidarity contributed to the downfall of communism in Poland and across the Eastern bloc. He published regularly—memoirs as well as books of prayers, lessons, meditations, and poetry. Despite his active ministry on the world stage, he remained a traditionalist, never wavering from the ages-old teachings of the Catholic Church. When he died on April 2, 2005, he was hailed both as a holy man and a man of peace by Christians and nonChristians alike.


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