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The Polish Pope of the Late 20th Century: Karol Józef Wojtyła

  • Category(s): Modern Popes
  • Created on : 25 February 2015
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  • Author: Richard Michael Lamb


A Pope of immense moral stature and fibre – his struggle with Parkinsons at the very end of his life marked his extraordinary refusal to succumb against overwhelming odds throughout his priestly career.

1. Foreword:

St John Paul the Second was the most powerfully driven Holy Father, certainly since the Second World War and probably of all that century. He was a Cardinal in Kraków his native Poland, and a surprise successor, so say some, to John Paul the 1st in the late 1970’s. A man of deep piety St John Paul II had no fear of anyone behind the Communist Iron Curtain before his Papacy or during his Papal reign.

2. His Aims:

What were the aims of this Supreme Pontiff? I would say he was “a fighter” and that is what motivated him. He was even shot in the solar plexus by a would be assassin’s bullet. Nothing would stop this Bishop of Rome, not even a bullet fired at him from point blank range on the piazza of St Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

3. What Did He Face In His Period Of Active Rule?

The slow dawn of the priestly abuse debacle; He showed a stubborn determination not to deviate from the traditional line that the priesthood was a Holy Office to be defended at all costs. Moreover, a number of priests had abandoned their vocations and orders following the Second Vatican Council in the 1960’s, and they wished to be laicised so they may return to normal society free of “the cords” of the Holy Mother Church. St John Paul II would not oblige. Once a Catholic always a Catholic, and therefore in his eyes, once a priest in the Roman Catholic Church always such a priest. He would not permit priests of Catholicism to walk in and out of our Church and their office at will. To him the Catholic Priesthood was a lifelong commitment for that priest. This Pope would not weaken and dilute the Cadre, so vital to his teaching and position was the Catholic priestly office, and its holiness based on Christ Himself.

He was at the centre of this cadre in the Roman Cohort sense of that description. If he gave way to laicisations he would lessen his own position as Vicar of Christ in the Vatican. He was a man of great physical strength, even after he “stopped” this bullet designed to kill him and he was the sole Representative of God on Earth. He took his office very seriously and he did not ever flinch, even in the face of his attempted murderer.

4. What About His International Diplomatic Role?

Strongly directed to the liberation of his beloved Poland and her neighbours in Central and Eastern Europe from the Soviets. His function was to lend valuable moral support to Lech Wałęsa and his Polish Solidarność movement. In China he would not bend to Peking/ Beijing and he continued to appoint authentic Roman Catholic Bishops to the true “underground” Chinese Roman Catholic Church, despite the severe consequences for those Bishops at the hands of the Chinese ruling elite. He would have no truck with the government controlled so called Roman Catholic Church in China. He knew it was a sham.

5. The Petrine Line And John Paul II

He was in tune with his predecessors and successor: Benedict XVI – Pope Emeritus. Ratzinger was his Prefect and knew the mind and heart of his superior. They worked well together for twenty years or more. St John Paul II never failed to back Josef Ratzinger’s directions and decrees. If you want to understand this Polish Pope’s conscience read and follow Ratzinger under St John Paul II and later.

6. His Early Life And Election

What of this Polish Pole’s early life? He worked in a quarry, carried a man on his hack for a good distance, wrote a theatrical play, and escaped the Nazis by training as a Catholic Priest. Thank God he did find sanctuary or we would never have had this first ever Pope from Poland. He was subtly earmarked to be the first among equals when he became a Cardinal under Blessed Paul VI like Josef Ratzinger. The Soviet Bloc was still in place. These two were drawn to each other and the papacy. The end of the Cold War defined his rule. St John Paul II’s election as Holy Father was always on the cards to acute observers. He fulfilled his early and mature promise by his triumph at the Conclave.

7. Poland In The 1938-45 War

The ordeal of the Poles and the Polish Jews was not just tragic, but utter annihilation. Firstly, the Katyn Massacre of 40,000 Polish Military Officers on Stalin’s Orders I believe, in what was then North Western Russia. This atrocity signalled to the World that the Germans were already exterminating the Jews in Poland and the other occupied territories. No one knew it was actually an atrocity by Stalin’s singular command as the assumption was it had been committed by the Nazis. Thus, the Katyn Massacre by this deliberate deception through Stalin pointed the finger incorrectly at Hitler, but nevertheless for these peculiar reasons, it sounded the alarm for the Poles and their Jews within all Poland, which was virtually occupied in June 1941 by the Wehrmacht. The World knew Poland and its Jews were to be traduced by the Nazis. The Wehrmacht shot Poles and Polish Jews at will and in large numbers throughout this War. Poland suffered more than any other occupied territory at the hand of the tyrannical Nazi Germany. John Paul II knew all this and thus built bridges between the Catholic Church and the Jews of Rome and Israel in his Papacy. The Jewish people would never be friendless again was his personal vow, at least whilst he was alive and Pope. The Roman Catholic Church has followed his lead on this key issue painstakingly.

8. Maximillian Kolbe (Saint)

A Polish Catholic Priest who was killed by lethal injection in Auschwitz by the Germans during the War, and thereby sacrificed his life for a Jewish inmate whose life was amazingly spared by those Germans in charge of that camp. St John Paul II canonised Kolbe and met the man “saved by” the St Maximillian. A sign of one Pole: the Pope St John Paul II, backing the decision making and courageous actions of another selfless Polish Priest in Wartime. This Pope would always support the Second War Polish veterans.

9. Conclusion

What is the hallmark and talisman of our Polish Pope? Be prepared to shield and protect your neighbour, including his bishops and priests, from all evil. Have no hesitation; Holy Mother Church demands not only obedience, but self sacrifice. This Polish Pope risked opprobrium over his sympathy for Blessed Paul VI and his anti-contraception teaching in the 1960’s. He even said publicly during his Papal reign that in certain circumstances the death penalty was justified for murder. The Poles are known for their obstinacy and refusal to give up. e.g. When fighting the Germans in Italy (1944), and France and Northern Europe (1944-45). This Pope would not relent – he loved his Catholic Church above all. For him it was Christ on the cross that was his flag of honour – he did not disappoint Our Lord.