Pope Saint John Paul II was the 256th pope who reigned from 1978-2005. He impacted millions of people worldwide as a pastor, peacemaker, writer, teacher, linguist, philosopher, theologian, actor, outdoorsman, traveler, but most of all, a man in love with God and the Blessed Virgin Mary. John Paul loved the Eucharist, young people, and human love. He was known for his charisma and deep Faith in the midst of incredible suffering, which he united to the cross.
Born Karol Józef Wojtyła, John Paul experienced deep sorrow early in life. He lost his mother when he was 9, his brother at the age of 12, and his father when he was 21. John Paul’s parents instilled in him a rich Faith, which helped him endure this personal loss, the anguish of Nazi occupation, communism, and various attempts on his life. John Paul survived a stabbing by a priest during Mass, an unsuccessful bomb created by one of Osama Bin Laden’s “best men,” and a gunshot wound which should have killed him.
Uniting his pain with Christ’s suffering, John Paul used his anguish for good: he helped end communism during the Cold War; he created World Youth Day to unite millions of Catholic youth; he visited more countries, and met with more political and social leaders than any previous pope.
John Paul canonized many saints and wrote extensively. His vision of Theology of the Body came largely from outdoor adventures and classroom conversations with the young men and women he served as a priest in Poland. His last book, Memory and Identity, underscores the need to root TOB analyses in the reality of belief in God, “the Absolute Being,” and man, “the reality of being human, that is, being a creature.”
After a long battle with Parkinson’s disease, John Paul died at the age of 84 on April 2, 2005, the vigil of Divine Mercy Sunday, which he founded. He was beatified by Pope Benedict XVI on May 1, 2011, and canonized with Pope John XXIII by Pope Francis on April 27, 2014.
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