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June 23-27, 2001    
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Biography of John Paul II up to his Pontificate
The Pontificate of John Paul II
John Paul II on Eastern Christianity
The Vatican and the Holy See

The Pontificate of John Paul II

The pontificate of Pope John Paul II has been one of the longest in the history of the Church. It has been remarkable for many reasons: this Holy Father has written so much, travelled so much, suffered so much and tried to accomplish so very much.

The Church of the late 20th and early 21st centuries has needed a great leader and many would argue that it has one.

The Church in the 1970s

The Church was in a state of turmoil when John Paul II was elected to the Papacy in 1978. Enormous changes, social, political, economic and technological, had occurred in the Twentieth century. These changes were having their effect within the Church. Pope John XXIII had hoped to bring about aggiornamento ("updating") by calling the Second Vatican Council. But silent Catholic dissidents were using what they called the "spirit" of the Second Vatican Council to justify their own ideas. This tendency was becoming apparent even before the Council actually began.

By the early 1960s many new trends were apparent which continued into the 1970s: the use and abuse of the mass media, materialism and consumerism, the sexual liberation and anti-population movements, communist infiltration in political and social structures and the establishment of secularism as the predominant ideology of the developed world.

As Archbishop of Krakow, John Paul II had already experienced the challenge of implementing the decrees of Vatican II. This experience helped him when he took on the responsibilities of the Papacy.


The Writings and Journeys of John Paul II

The pontificate of John Paul II has been marked by two outstanding factors: the great quantity of writings he has published and the constant journeying in which he has made pastoral visits to practically every country in which the Church is present.

The result is that at the beginning of the third millennium the Church is well on the way to recovery from the crises that marked the years after the Council and at last the teachings of the Council are being properly implemented.

John Paul II and his curia have produced writings of such quality and quantity that they have been compared to the works of great theologians such as St Thomas Aquinas. It will require many years to fully understand all their implications.

If Karol Wojtyla had not had the responsibilities of a pastoral bishop and had continued his scholarly career, he would undoubtedly have been one of the great scholars of his generation. Present and future generations can be grateful that God, in his providence, has ensured that those abilities have been put to good use in the Papacy.


The Fall of the Soviet Empire

The election of a new Pope from a country under communist rule helped to accelerate the dissolution of the Soviet empire, the freeing of the countries of eastern Europe and the return of religious liberty to the whole area that had made up the Soviet Union.

Only three months after his election John Paul received the Soviet Foreign Minister Gromyko. This began a series of contacts which eventually culminated in a meeting with Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev at the Vatican on 1st December 1989. The first effect of the papal influence was the freeing of Poland but this led to the fall of the whole Soviet system.


Ecumenical Relations

The Pope from the East was especially well prepared to dialogue with the separated brethren of the Orthodox Churches. Diplomatic contacts, a constant stream of messages, Apostolic Letters and gestures of friendship have resulted in a new confidence and closeness of relations that have been unknown for centuries.

Patriarch Dimitrios of Constantinople was received in Rome in December 1987 and in the following year a delegation from the Holy See visited Moscow to participate in the millennial celebrations of the baptism of Kyivan Rus. In May 1995 the Apostolic Letter on the Eastern Churches, Orientale Lumen, was published and at the end of the same month the encyclical Ut Unum Sint. In the following month the Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, visited Rome and a joint statement was signed. A year and a half later the Supreme Patriarch of Armenia, Karekin, also visited Rome and a joint declaration also followed. The result of these exchanges has been that there are no longer differences of doctrine that divide East and West.

(See The Popes on the East for more.)

John Paul II has also made efforts to improve relations with the Protestant Churches, even when there is no possibility of full sacramental union with them. Delegations of Lutherans, including bishops from Sweden, have been to Rome. In 1981 the then Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Runcie, visited the Pope and did so again in 1989 when a joint statement was signed. His successor, George Carey, followed suit in 1996 and a further joint declaration was made.

Relations with non-Christian religions have been established and in April 1986, with a visit to the Jewish community of Rome, John Paul II became the first Pope in modern times to visit and pray in a synagogue.

In spite of his age and deteriorating health, the Holy Father continues his labors in service of Christ and His Church. Already he is becoming known as John Paul the Great.

Further details about the pontificate of John Paul II can be found at:
www.vatican.va by going to The Holy Father and then John Paul II.


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