His Accomplishments

The following reflections on the accomplishments of Saint John Paul II were made by Andrzej Koprowski SJ, Vatican Radio’s Director of Programs, after the announcement of the Pope’s beatification.

Karol Wojtyla’s contribution to Vatican II Council

After Vatican II, during the pontificates of Paul VI and of John Paul II, the manner of presentation, and thus of self-presentation of the papacy, has become quite expressive. On the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the pontificate of John Paul II, the Italian Minister for Foreign Affairs published in 2004 a book entitled, Go forth in the whole world. Giancarlo Zizola, a “vaticanist”, remarked on the fact that “the papacy has conquered its citizenship in the realm of public visibility, breaking away from the siege of worship marginalization where it had been kept by decree of secular society, in the name of a militant vision of the liberal tenet of Separation of Church and State” (p. 17). A German historian, Jesuit Klaus Schatz, speaking of Paul VI and of John Paul II, underlined the meaning of the “papacy on the way” – thus in conformity with Vatican II – more in the manner of a missionary movement than as a static pole of unity. Schatz refers to the manner of interpreting the papal mission as a challenge to “confirm the brothers in the faith” (Lk. 22, 32), in a way tied to structural authority, but with a strong spiritual and charismatic hint, in link with the personal credibility and rooted in God himself.

Let us pause a moment to consider Vatican II. The young archbishop of Cracow was one of the most active Council Fathers. He made a significant contribution to the “Scheme XIII” which was to become the Pastoral Constitution of the Council Gaudium et Spes on the Church in the Modern World, and to the Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium. Thanks to his studies abroad, bishop Wojtyla had a concrete experience of evangelization and of the mission of the Church, in Western Europe or in other continents, but above all of totalitarian atheism in Poland and in the other countries of the “Soviet Block”. He brought all this experience to the Council debates, which were certainly not like drawing-room conversations, extremely courteous but void of contents. Here was a substantial and decisive effort to insert the Gospel’s dynamism into the conciliar enthusiasm rooted on the conviction that Christianity is capable of furnishing a “soul” to the development of modernity and to the reality of the social and cultural world.

All this was to be of use in preparing for the future responsibilities of the Successor of Peter. As John Paul II said, he already had in his mind his first encyclical, Redemptor Hominis, and brought it to Rome from Cracow. All he had to do in Rome was to write down all these ideas. In this encyclical, there is a wide invitation to humankind to rediscover the reality of Redemption in Christ:

Man (…) remains a being that is incomprehensible for himself, his life is senseless, if love is not revealed to him, if he does not encounter love, if he does not experience it and make it his own, if he does not participate intimately in it. This, as has already been said, is why Christ the Redeemer “fully reveals man to himself”. (…) man finds again the greatness, dignity and value that belong to his humanity. In the mystery of the Redemption man becomes newly “expressed” and, in a way, is newly created. (…) The man who wishes to understand himself thoroughly – and not just in accordance with immediate, partial, often superficial, and even illusory standards and measures of his being – he must with his unrest, uncertainty and even his weakness and sinfulness, with his life and death, draw near to Christ. He must, so to speak, enter into him with all his own self, he must “appropriate” and assimilate the whole of the reality of the Incarnation and Redemption in order to find himself. (no. 10)

This union of Christ with man is in itself a mystery. From the mystery is born “the new man”, called to become a partaker of God’s life, and newly created in Christ for the fullness of grace and truth. (…) Man is transformed inwardly by this power as the source of a new life that does not disappear and pass away but lasts to eternal life. (…) This life, which the Father has promised and offered to each man in Jesus Christ (…) is in a way the fulfillment of the “destiny” that God has prepared for him from eternity. This “divine destiny” is advancing, in spite of all the enigmas, the unsolved riddles, the twists and turns of “human destiny” in the world of time. Indeed, while all this, in spite of all the riches of life in time, necessarily and inevitably leads to the frontier of death and the goal of the destruction of the human body, beyond that goal we see Christ. “I am the resurrection and the life, he who believes in me… shall never die”. (no. 18). . . .

In 1989 the “Berlin Wall” fell, but on the international level, one could feel the destructive force of the commercial mechanisms and of the particular economic and ideological interests, ever more anonymous, bringing injustice and marginalization to all peoples – even of certain social groups in well developed countries, and in particular, one could perceive how human life has been devalued. In his many International Apostolic Voyages in the various continents, the Pope voiced the Gospel of Christ and the Church’s preoccupation. He wrote it in a more systematic way in the encyclicals: Laborem Exercens, Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, Centesimus Annus; and also Evangelium Vitae, Veritatis Splendor, Fides et Ratio; and the encyclicals dealing directly with life and the apostolate of the Church, like Dominum et Vivificantem, Redemptoris Missio, Ut Unum Sint, Ecclesia de Eucharistia.

Year 2000 Jubilee: a historical reality to remember the coming of Jesus of Nazareth

The current task of John Paul II was centered on the pastoral and life of the Church: the Bishops’ ad limina visits from the entire world, the Wednesday audiences and the Sunday meetings with the faithful for the Angelus and the pastoral visits of Roman parishes. All was done to promote the proclamation of Christ, to bring closer to our knowledge His Person and the fact that “the words that Christ has said when he was about to leave the Apostles tell us about the mystery of man’s history, of one and all, the mystery of humankind’s history. Baptism in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit is an immersion in the living God, “in the One who is, who was and who will be”. Baptism is the start of the encounter, of unity, of communion, and of this earthly life is but a prologue and an introduction; fulfillment and fullness belong to eternity. “This world’s figure is fading away.” We must therefore find ourselves “in the world of God”, in order to reach the goal, to come to the fullness of life and of man’s vocation”. (Cracow, June 10, 1979).

“This was precisely one of the things that John Paul II wanted most: to explain clearly that we look to Christ who comes; of course, to the One who came, but even more to the One who comes, and that, in this perspective, our faith keeps us oriented towards the future. In this way, we are really capable of presenting the message of faith, in a new manner, in the perspective of Christ who comes,” (Benedict XVI, Light of the World).

The Great Jubilee of Redemption, in the Year 2000, was not for John Paul II a “pretext” for pastoral action, but first and foremost a historical reality reminding us of the coming of Jesus of Nazareth and everything that this historical event has brought, viz. Redemption, the Testimony of the Love of God unto the Cross and Resurrection, the life of the early Church, the path of salvation accomplished by the Savior by which He has introduced his Church as a sign and an instrument of internal unity with God, as well as that of the human family. The Year 2000 Jubilee reminds us of the Holy Land, the land of Jesus, and of Rome, the place of apostolate of the Successor of Peter, the bond of authenticity of the message and of the unity of the ecclesial community. This message has been reformulated in the Apostolic Letters Tertio Millenio Adveniente and Novo Millennio Ineunte. But, for the Pope, what mattered most was the personal thanksgiving and that of the entire Church to our Lord Jesus and the encounter in faith with the One who has loved to the end, who has saved us and remains a sign so sorely needed in a world that is becoming increasingly deaf, while trying to organize its life as if God did not exist, thus erring without identity and without meaning.

Attention to the Youth and the meaning of World Youth Day

John Paul II used to evaluate the results of the international Apostolic Voyages with his collaborators, to identify what was well done, and to see to the changes for the coming voyages. After the voyage in Poland in 1991, the Pope noticed that, during the Mass in Warsaw, in the farthest parts, the young people came and went away, drank beer or coca-cola, and came back. “It was not like this during the previous voyages, he noted, there has been a change in the society’s mentality. It is not worth looking at the “first places”. The VIP are always seated in the same manner, but the “margins” are important and worth our attention.” It is worth noting that the Pope did not use the word “crowd”: he has always seen and paid attention to “people”. He was very attentive to the role of the laity in the life and mission of the Church. It is quite meaningful that, when he was still University chaplain in Cracow, he exploited a brief period of “political thaw” in 1957 to organize – in collaboration with the Archbishop of Wroclaw, Boleslaw Kominek – a symposium in the city for more than 100 university students from all Poland (for the first time since decades!) precisely on the theme “The role of lay people in the Church” (and that was years before Vatican II!). Later, during the summer vacations, he organized spiritual exercises at the place of the Ursuline Sisters of the Roman Union in Bardo Ĺšlaskie for a slightly smaller group of the participants of the symposium of Wroclaw, precisely to promote the “formation of the laity”.

With the creation of the World Youth Days, the Pope gave his support to various forms of activity of the lay people in the life and mission of the Church, thus paving the way to the very meaningful initiatives, some years later, during the pontificate of Benedict XVI: the holding in September 2010 in Korea, of an important Congress for the lay Catholics of Asia; the meetings of African bishops who are ever more encouraging the lay people to hold positions of responsibility in the sectors of evangelization, social activity and in the Church’s educational sphere; the significant presence of lay Catholics in the continental Mission of Latin America.

Reviewing his pontificate, Benedict XVI makes a note of the generation changes on a world scale, and comes to the same conclusion as his predecessor, namely that “times have changed”. Meanwhile a new generation has come, with new problems. The generation of the late sixties, with its own peculiarities, has come and gone. Even the following generation, more pragmatic, is aging. Today, one must ask: “How can we cope with a world that threatens itself, and in which progress becomes a danger? Should we not start all over again from God?” (Light of the World). So Benedict XVI makes an appeal “that a new generation of Catholics may rise, people inwardly renewed who would commit themselves in politics without any inferiority complex” (an idea oft repeated by the Pope, namely in the Message for the 46th Social Week of Italian Catholics, 12th October 2010). He goes on to call for a new generation of good intellectuals and scientists, attentive to the fact “that a scientific perspective that ignores the ethical and religious dimension of life becomes dangerously narrow, just as a religion would, if it were to refuse a legitimate contribution of science to our understanding of the world” (London, St. Mary’s College, 17th September 2010); the Pope calls for a “new generation of committed Christian laypeople capable of seeking, with competency and moral rigor, solutions of sustainable development” (7th September 2008).

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