Peacemaker, superstar, visionary: for an entire generation John Paul II was. the face of the church. He ruled for two and a half decades, at first powerfully and dynamically, at last seriously ill.
For more than 26 years, he led the universal Catholic Church and ushered it into the new millennium: the tenure of Pope John Paul II. (1978-2005) was the second longest of the 2.000-year history of the church. Moreover, the Pole whose civil name was Karol Wojtyla was the first non-Italian pope in 455 years. On 18. May he would have been 100 years old.
Wojtyla, born in Wadowice near Krakow in 1920, was deeply influenced by his native Poland, its history and culture. As a young man he experienced the Second World War and the German occupation, worked in the quarry of a chemical factory and studied in the underground seminary. Afterwards, he also experienced the other totalitarian system in communism. As a young priest, as a theology professor and above all as archbishop and cardinal in Krakow, Karol Wojtyla demonstrated stamina in dealing with totalitarian rulers and officials.
The pope from Poland proved to be a gifted communicator, who promoted the church with pastoral creativity, strengthened its reputation and influence in the world and society – and was celebrated by the media as a "superstar. The new pope cultivated a new style, did away with carrying chairs and majestic "we," continued skiing in his spare time. In his inaugural address, he appealed to the Church and the world: "Do not be afraid of! Open, yes tear the gates wide open for Christ. Opened the borders of the states, the economic and political systems to his saving power."
John Paul II. launched many spectacular initiatives. He convened 15 synods of bishops, invited the world's religions to the peace summit in Assisi, received 890 heads of state and government, and proclaimed 1.800 Saints and Blesseds. He wrote 14 encyclicals, a wealth of doctrinal letters and messages, and gave 900 speeches a year.
A "political" pope
Peace and justice, human rights, freedom and solidarity became the strong themes of his pontificate. He stopped the previous "Vatican policy towards the East", which was based on compromise, and took a harder line towards the communists. With demands for a social market economy, free trade unions and, later, globalization based on solidarity, he further developed the Church's social teachings.
John Paul II. was a "political" pope. This was especially evident in his 104 foreign trips to 129 countries, during which he traveled 1.2 million kilometers. They became a guiding tool of his pontificate. He spoke to dictators like Chile's Augusto Pinochet and Cuba's Fidel Castro. Thanks to his robust constitution, he survived the still-unsolved assassination attempt by the Turk Ali Agca on 13. May 1981. The masterminds are suspected to be behind the Iron Curtain.
John Paul II. Contributed decisively to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Eastern Bloc and Soviet regimes. Former Kremlin leader Mikhail Gorbachev credited him with a significant contribution to the overthrow of communism in Europe. Once again, before the Gulf War in 2003, the pope became a sought-after contact point for top politicians of all camps – even though he, already severely marked by his illness, could not prevent the war.
Ecumenism and interreligious dialogue
Bridges built by John Paul II. built in ecumenism and dialogue with other religions. Some successes as well as setbacks he recorded in reconciliation with Judaism. He was the first bishop of Rome to visit the synagogue of the Eternal City, where he greeted the "elder brothers". On his 2000 Holy Land trip, he went to the Wailing Wall and to a moving memorial ceremony at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial site.
Spiritual highlight of his term was the Holy Year 2000. John Paul II. had set himself the goal of leading the church into the third millennium. 30 million visitors to Rome passed through the Holy Door of St. Peter's Basilica. In a prayer of forgiveness, the "great mea culpa," the pope asked forgiveness for errors and omissions of Catholics in 2.000 years of church history.
Templates do not fit
Even in retrospect, it seems impossible to force the Wojtyla pope into a pattern. Progressive or conservative, right or left – the templates do not fit. As celebrated as he was at the beginning of his pontificate and in his last years in office, as revolutionary as some new openings and gestures seemed, from the 1990s on he was also criticized for conservative positions: on moral or disciplinary ies, on certain forms of liberation theology, against progressive theologians.
There were protests against conservative bishop appointments, especially in the German-speaking countries. In addition, John Paul was criticized for giving the Vatican curia too much free rein as a result of his frequent travels. Also, he had not acted decisively enough against sexual abuse by clerics.
His last phase of life was marked by illness and suffering. Already at his funeral mass on 8 September. In April 2005, posters and chants demanded his immediate canonization. The pope from Poland was beatified in May 2011 and canonized in April 2014.