Saturday, April 4, 2009

The Greatness of Pope John Paul II

This past Thursday, April 2, was the fourth anniversary of the death of Pope John Paul II. It almost seems like it was yesterday!

John Paul II is famous, among many other things, for giving the Church the Theology of the Body. Throughout March, the featured podcast at EWTN was a program on the Theology of the Body, presented in 2005 by Fr. Richard Hogan with Katrina Zeno. In the first episode, Fr. Hogan noted that, through the Theology of the Body, John Paul II was explaining the faith through the philosophical method of phenomenology, much as St. Augustine had used Platonic philosophy and St. Thomas Aquinas used Aristotelian philosophy. Recognizing that putting John Paul II in the same league as Augustine and Aquinas was not something to be done lightly, Fr. Hogan offered further points of evidence for the greatness and historical significance for the pontificate and person of John Paul II.

  • Going into the second enclave of 1978, Carol Wojtyla was not on the list of candidates that anyone expected to be elected. His selection was a complete surprise.

  • Cardinal Wojtyla, like his predecessor, took a double name. When John Paul I took a double name, it broke with 1000 years of tradition. John Paul II followed his lead.

  • The year 1978 saw three popes occupy the chair of St. Peter. It was the first year since 1648 that saw three popes.

  • Pope John Paul II was Polish. The last time that a non-Italian cardinal had been elected pope was 1523.

  • Pope John Paul II came from a Communist country. During his pontificate, the atheistic Communist regimes of Eastern Europe crumbled and fell.

  • An assassination attempt, widely believed to have been orchestrated by Bulgaria, was made on his life. The pope had not been the target of violence by a government since 1302.

  • John Paul II made numerous pastoral visits abroad. This was completely unprecedented. From 1871 to 1929, the popes had never left Rome. Pius the XI and Pius XII made only a few trips each. Paul VI made trips to the Holy Land, Constantinople, and New York, but those were not pastoral visits.

  • World Youth Day.

  • He had already had a major influence on the Church before his election. He was influential in preparing the documents of the Second Vatican Council, writing the first draft of Gaudium et Spes and large parts of Lumen Gentium. He had also contributed to Paul VI's encyclical letter Humanae Vitae.

  • During his pontificate, the Catechism of the Catholic Church was compiled and published. It was only the second time in history that the Church compiled a full catechism, the first being the Roman Catechism that followed the Council of Trent.

  • With his health failing, he added five new mysteries to the rosary, which no pope before him had ever done.

In other words, Fr. Hogan was saying that the importance of the Theology of the Body is witnessed to by all of the other significant accomplishments of this amazing man.

It is not hard to recognize why many believe that he will be remembered by history as Pope John Paul the Great.

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