Vol. 9, Issue No. 28/2002

Did You Know That Pope John Paul II...
by Robert Strybel

-- Pope John Paul II's August 16-19 pilgrimage was his ninth to his native land, but also one of the shortest. For reasons of health, its length and program have been trimmed to the bare minimum.
-- The Pope has been described by Vatican insiders as "a man of frail physical health, a sharp mind and a heart full of ardent love for God and mankind."
-- The Holy Father now walks with the greatest difficulty, slurs his words and suffers from a trembling left hand typical of Parkinson¹s disease.
-- A special elevator has been constructed at Krakow's Wawel Royal Castle-Cathedral complex to facilitate the movement of the ailing pontiff during his August visit.
-- Pope John Paul II's previous 13-day, 22-city homecoming to Poland in June 1999 was the longest and most memorable pilgrimage to any country since being elected in 1978.
-- Born in the southern town of Wadowice in the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains on May 18th, 1920, Karol Wojtyla lost his mother, Emilia, née Kaczorowska, when he was nine years old.
-- One of John Paul¹s most fervent hopes was fulfilled when at the age of 80 he was able to preside the Jubilee Year 2000, ringing in the Third Millennium of Christianity.
-- One of the Holy Father's greatest unfulfilled hopes is his desire to make a pilgrimage to Russia and seek reconciliation with that country's Eastern Orthodox Church; the latter is dead set against such a visit, arguing that the Vatican is "making incursions in its canonical territory."
-- In response to rumors that might soon step down due to failing health, the Pope from Poland has said he hopes to see his mission through to the end like Saints Peter and Paul.
-- In at least 76 Polish cities and towns there are 64 streets and 12 squares named after Jan Pawel II; at least 58 elementary schools across Poland, seven high schools and four vocational schools bear the name of the Polish-born Pontiff.
-- In the 1980s, Pope John Paul II inspired a reconciliation process between the Roman Catholic Church and Polonia's Polish National Catholic Church. The dialogue led to the wiping-out of the excommunication of PNCC organizer Bishop Franciszek Hodur and reaffirmed the validity of sacraments dispensed by the National Church.
-- The Polish-born Pope is one of three Poles credited with pulling down the notorious "iron curtain." The others were Solidarity leader Lech Walesa and US National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski.
-- The Polish-born Pontiff is now a very light eater but still occasionally enjoys Polish pierogi (especially the meat-filled variety), flaki (tripe soup) and sernik (cheesecake) as well as Italian pizza and pasta dishes. They are prepared by several "Sercanki" (Sacred Heart Sisters) from Kraków.
-- During the Nazi occupation, Karol Wojtyla worked from the time he turned 20 in 1940 to 1944 as a common laborer in a stone quarry of the Solvay Chemical Works near Krakow and later in the factory itself.
-- No other pope in history was known to speak as many languages as John Paul II. In addition to his Polish native tongue he is fluent in Latin, Italian, French, Spanish, German, English and Russian, and has a working knowledge of a dozen other languages. He is able to read and pronounce many more foreign tongues from texts written in phonetic transcription.
-- John Paul II began his first papal pilgrimage to Poland (1979) by falling to his knees and kissing the tarmac of Warsaw Airport, the soil of his native land -- a gesture that became his trademark in other countries he visited. Due top poor health, he now blesses the native soil presented to him on a tray.
-- In 1969 and again in 1976 (two years before being elected Pope) Poland's Cardinal Karol Wojtyla toured Polonian communities across the US and Canada, meeting thousands of Polonians at Masses, banquets and other gatherings.
-- John Paul II has authored more than a dozen encyclicals on various aspects of Catholic doctrine and morals. He writes these documents in his native Polish tongue and then has them translated into Italian and other languages.
-- There are at least 36 statues of John Paul II across Poland, including two in Warsaw and two in the southern town of Olawa.
-- The Holy Father not only forgave Turkish gunman Ali Agca, who seriously wounded him in St Peter's Square in May 1981, he also met with his would-be assassin in an Italian prison and prays for him constantly.
-- An actor, poet and playwright in his youth, Karol Wojtyla wrote many works under the pen-name of Andrzej Jawien and Andrzej Gruda.
-- John Paul II recently canonized Italian stigmatic and miracle-healer Padre Pio, but denied the reportedly clairvoyant priest had predicted he would become pope the first time he met him in 1947.
-- Don Samull of Dearborn, Michigan (a Detroit suburb), the publisher of Polonia's well-known Polish-American Calendar, devoted his entire 1999 calendar to the life, activities and characteristics of the Polish-born Pontiff.
-- Karol Wojtyla's only brother Edmund (born in 1906), a medical doctor, died at the age of 26 in 1932 in a hospital in Bielsko (southern Poland) after contracting scarlet fever from a patient.
-- Romania was the first predominantly Eastern Orthodox country visited by the Polish-born Pope who later made pilgrimages to other Orthodox strongholds including Greece, Ukraine and Bulgaria.
-- Soviet boss Leonid Brezhnev was opposed to the Pope's first (1979) visit to Poland and urged Polish communist leader Edward Gierek to have John Paul II cancel the trip for reasons of health. Gierek is said to have refused, because such a move would have generated negative publicity in the world media.
-- On October 16, 1978, many Pol-Ams braced for yet another one of those idiotic "Polack jokes" when they first heard someone say: "Did you know they elected a Polish pope?" When they realized it was true jubilation swept Polonia, church-bells pealed, masses of thanksgiving were celebrated and trips to Rome were planned.
-- The biggest statue of John Paul II in Poland stands more than 30 feet tall and stands in front of a recently constructed basilica in Lichen (Wielkopolska voivodship), Poland's biggest church, the 7th largest in Europe and the 11th largest in the world.
-- At the age of 21, Karol Wojtyla was the only living member of his immediate family. His mother had died in 1929, his only brother in 1932 and his father lived until 1940.
-- John Paul II was the first pope to enter a Jewish synagogue and a Moslem mosque, annul the excommunication of Martin Luther and pray at with representatives of all the world's major religions. At a meeting of Jews, Christians and Moslems he said: "We all worship and believe in the one same God but we are moving towards Him along different roads."
-- John Paul II became Christendom's first skiing pope and often revitalized his nerves and muscles on snow-covered slopes during the early years of his pontificate. His deteriorating health eventually forced him to abandon the pastime.
-- Cardinal Karol Wojtyla once referred to the Orchard Lake Schools near Detroit as "serce Polonii" -- the heart of Polonia. The beautiful lakeside campus comprises a prep school, college, seminary, art gallery, the Polish-American Sports Hall of Fame, several small museums some of Polonia's most extensive archives.
-- Unlike liberals who oppose capital punishment but support abortion and euthanasia, and conservatives, who favor the death penalty but oppose mercy killing and the murder of unborn babies, John Paul opposes all forms of killing and teaches that God's gift of life is only His to take.
-- The Pope rarely has time to watch television, but he does occasionally enjoy a televised soccer match which reminds him of his own soccer-playing youth.
-- In 1958, Rev. Karol Wojtyla was appointed auxiliary bishop of Kraków by Pope Pius XII and became the youngest member of the Polish Episcopate; he became archbishop in 1963 and in 1967 Pope Paul VI made him the youngest member of the College of Cardinals.
-- The product of a devoutly Catholic home, while at school Karol Wojtyla was an altar boy, a member of the Marian Sodality and the Association of Catholic Youth (Stowarzyszenie Mlodziezy Katolickiej).
-- Pope John Paul II has been granted honorary citizenship of several dozen Polish cities including Bialystok, Bydgoszcz, Czestochowa, Krakow, Krosno, Legnica, Lublin, Lomza, Nowy Targ, Poznan, Rzeszów, Sandomierz, Siedlce, Torun, Warsaw, Wroclaw and Zywiec.
-- Karol Wojtyla's nearly lifelong good health began to falter following a near-fatal 1981 assassination attempt. He later underwent colon surgery and an appendectomy and suffered a hip fracture.
-- The Polish-born Pope has beatified more blesseds and canonized more saints during his 24-year pontificate than all the popes of the past four centuries combined.
-- Wojtyla was called Lolek (short for Karol) by family, friends and schoolmates. His mother called him Lolus (an endearing diminutive) and told her friends she had a premonition that her son would one day achieve greatness.
-- The Polish-born Pontiff has always called for peace in all armed conflicts, including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and recent hostilities in former Yugoslavia. When asked to condemn Iraq during the Gulf War, he would only say: "I feel sorry for the children victimized by the war."
-- As Archbishop of Krakow, Wojtyla waged a peaceful and eventually successful struggle with the communists to build a church in Nowa Huta. The regime had wanted to the new steeltown to be Œa socialist showplace¹ with a huge statue of Lenin but no churches.
-- Like most Poles, who celebrate namedays (imieniny) rather than birthdays (urodziny), the Pope celebrates the feastday of his patron saint, St Charles Borromeo, on November 4th.
-- In 1980, the Polish-born Pope beatified Kateri Tekawitha, the first American Indian ever raised to the first stage towards Catholic sainthood.
-- As an ethics professor at the Catholic University of Lublin (KUL), Karol Wojtyla often held seminars with his students in the Tatra Mountains and took them hiking, canoeing and camping.

The Summit Times

© Copyright 2002 by Andrzej M. Salski