Saturday, April 26, 2014

30 Surprising Facts about John Paul II

Picture of me with John Paul II, taken in 2003.
This Sunday is going to be a Pope-A-Poluza.

Pope Francis will canonize two popes, John Paul II and John XXIII. There are also reports that Benedict XVI will be concelebrating the mass with Pope Francis.

That means we will have two living popes concelebrating a mass (one, obviously, a "Pope Emeritus" because there can be only one functioning Roman Pontiff) at which two other popes will be made saints.

Suffice it to say, this is a historic weekend!

Today I spent two hours on the radio program, Catholic Answers Live, discussing the lives of these two men. The show was broadcast live from our school, John Paul the Great Catholic University.

It was great to host Patrick Coffin and the rest of the Catholic Answers team. We were so glad to team up with them for this special broadcast.

It's not every weekend that the person your school is named after is officially made a saint. As you might imagine, there is a lot of excitement at JP Catholic University over what is happening this weekend. In fact, tomorrow night I'll be delivering a special presentation on John Paul II's personal life of prayer. I will also discuss some of the practical wisdom he imparted in his writings regarding how to pray well. In addition, we are having a special banquet next Saturday to celebrate the dedication and blessing of our new campus.

But on to the topic of this post... During today's program I rattled off some surprising facts about John Paul II. I'll be going into his life in greater detail tomorrow night but I've been getting emails asking me for the list I read over the air. I thought I'd just post it here.


Facts about Karol Wojtyla's life

1. He was a key figure in the Polish struggle against the Nazis. He was officially placed on the Nazis “black list” in 1944.

2. He was an accomplished actor and playwrite in Poland before he entered the seminary.

3. He earned two doctoral degrees. He earned one from the Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas in Rome (also known as the Angelicum) and the other from Jagiellonian University in Poland. His dissertations were entitled, The Doctrine of Faith in Saint John of the Cross, and An Evaluation of the Possibility of Constructing a Christian Ethics on the Basis of the System of Max Sheler.

4. He was a professor at two universities.

5. He published several academic books and essays.

6. He published poems and plays.

7. He made significant contributions to the documents of the Second Vatican Council.

8. Many years after the council, he sheepishly admitted that he wrote a lot of poetry while it was in session: "You know, I wrote many parts of books and poems during the sessions of the Council." (Cited from Weigel, Witness to Hope, p. 172)

9. The young Bishop Wojtyla made a lasting impression on the famous 20th century theologian Yves Congar. Congar wrote in his personal diary: "Wojtyla made it a remarkable impression. His personality dominates. Some kind of animation is present in this person, a magnetic power, prophetic strength, full of peace, and impossible to resist." (cited from Weigel, Witness to Hope, p. 168)

Facts About the Historic Papacy of John Paul II

1. JPII was the first non-Italian pope since the 16th century and the first Polish pope in history.

2. His papacy lasted 26 years, 5 months, and 17 days--the third longest papacy in history!

3. He was the most widely traveled pope in history. His papacy took him on 104 apostolic journeys to 129 different countries. In fact, he traveled more than 725, 000 miles. That's, roughly, thirty times the circumference of the earth and three times the distance of the earth from the moon.

4. He was named Time Magazine’s “Person of the Year” in 1994.

5. He was an accomplished linguist. He was able to speak several languages fluently. The exact number varies in the literature but they likely included, Polish, Slovak, Russian, Italian, French, Spanish, German, Ukrainian, English, and Latin. Some lists substitute Portuguese instead of Russian here.

Still, this was only the tip of the iceberg of his linguistic abilities. He also had amazing facility in many, many other languages, including Japanese and Tagalog. Stunningly, at the Easter Vigil in 2004, an event watched by millions on live television around the world, John Paul II addressed the crowds in 64 different languages. No, that wasn't a typo, you read that correctly--sixty-four! (See Weigel, The Beginning of the End, p. 353).

By the way, I can personally testify to the fact that he knew English. I had a private audience with him and we had a conversation in English (see the picture above).

6. He played a decisive role in the downfall of communism in eastern Europe.

7. He presided over the largest public event in history, namely, a eucharistic celebration in the Philippines during World Youth Day in 1995. Somewhere between 4-7 million people attended.

8. He spent about 1,000 hours outside the Vatican.

9. He had one of the most prolific pontificates in history, publishing, 14 encyclicals, 15 apostolic exhortations, 11 apostolic constitutions, 45 apostolic letters and 28 motu proprios.

10. He wrote five books as pope, the last was published posthumously in 2005, including, Beyond the Threshold of Hope (1994), and autobiography and Gift and Mystery (1996), Roman Triptych (2003), Get Up, Let Us Go (2004). These were all translated into many, many different languages. For example, Crossing the Threshold of Hope alone was translated into 5 (five!dozen languages.

11. He was the first pope to have a book on the New York Times "Best Seller List". (And no one bought up all his books so as to manufacture this accomplishment, as some other writers have been known to do!)

12. His CD has gone “platinum” (over 1 million sold). It's not full of original songs. It's not a book on tape. It's just him praying the rosary.

13. He held 1,165 general public audiences, drawing a total of 17.7 million people.

14. He established diplomatic relations with 83 countries.

15. He created 231 new cardinals and presided at the ordination of 321 bishops.

16. He published the first official Catholic catechism since the Council of Trent.

17. He proclaimed more saints than all of the other popes since the Council of Trent combined! The standards for beatification and canonization were set at Trent. By 2005, 2,343 men and women had been beatified and 785 canonized as saints. John Paul II was responsible for elevating more than half of those—1,342 and 483, respectively.

18. He was seen by more people than any other person in history.

19. At his funeral there were 75 heads of states (presidents, princes, etc.). The population of Rome doubled during this event. People waited over 24 hours to see him lying in state. And while St. Peter's Square was filled to capacity, it was completely silent.

20. He was beatified May 1, 2011.

21. He will be canonized (made a "saint" in the Catholic Church) on April 27, 2014.


David Cooper said...

Dr. Barber,
Can you comment on the audience you had with JPII?
Dave Cooper

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed the interview on Friday. Thanks for posting these interesting facts.
Sharon Piasecki

Charles said...




Anonymous said...

"1. He was a key figure in the Polish struggle against the Nazis. He was officially placed on the Nazis “black list” in 1944."
This is a huge exaggeration; the key figures in the anti-Nazi struggle in Poland were the leaders of the military underground (the Home Army, etc.), not an unknown seminarian. I also wonder what was "the Nazis 'black list'" - was it prepared by the Gestapo or the civil authorities or the regular police? This term is so vague as being meaningless.
As for point no. 2, it seems that all of Wojtyla's plays were published after 1944, i.e., AFTER he became a seminary student.

Nick said...

A wonderful list of facts, though I would prefer more facts about the spiritual fruits of the Pope's life, as well as more prudence.

The list of languages should have a citation, and not just be based on different lists. Hearsay is pseudoscience.

#7 and #8 aren't knowable until history has come to a close. Though I'd say the Resurrection and Jesus are the biggest event and person in history.

Saint John Paul II, pray for us!

Nick said...

Correction: #7 and #18

rosary said...

playwright? or playwright? Perhaps an oversight on your editor's part? : )