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Chapter 19 The Suffering
Pope Succeeded by "Star Out of Poland"
REV. ROBERT J. FOX
The passing of Pope Paul
VI, who was rapidly succeeded by two popes within two months, not only
focused the attention of the world on t
he importance of the
papacy but indicated that the "style" of the papacy was changing.
At 9:40 p.m. Rome time, August 6, 1978, Pope Paul VI
died, 3 hours and 10 minutes after suffering a heart attack. As
Cardinal Giovanni Montini, he had been elected Pope June 21, 1963, and
took the name Paul VI as the 262nd successor to St. Peter as bishop of
Rome. He was crowned with the triple tiara (which he never wore again
but donated for charitable purposes) on June 30, 1963, in St. Peter's
Square at Vatican City.
On the day after his election to the papacy, Paul VI
announced on Vatican Radio that he would continue the Church's renewal
policy and the program of his predecessor, John XXIII. Pope Paul also
said he would reconvene the Second Vatican Council, which had completed
only one session before the death of Pope John.
During the last three sessions, Paul, like his
predecessor, seldom intervened, but on June 23, 1964, he announced that
he was reserving to himself for study and decision a number of
questions about birth control. During the third session, Paul took
under personal advisement a number of questions related to mixed
marriage and similar matters, at the request of a large majority of the
council fathers. Several weeks after the fourth session began, Pope
Paul VI terminated discussion of clerical celibacy because the matter
affects the Church deeply and the communications media were treating
the issue in an emotional manner. This action was hailed by the council
Paul brought the Second Vatican Council to a close on
December 8, 1965, noting in a final address that the decisive phase of
renewal had already been set in action. He declared a special jubilee
of prayer, study, and work in the Church to realize the objectives laid
down in the sixteen documents of the council, and he implemented
carious enactments of the council. This 262nd successor of St. Peter
directed the Church in greater and further reaching changes in the
Church — while preserving its unity in faith and morals — than perhaps
any other pontiff since St. Peter.
On August 6, 1964, Pope Paul issued his first
encyclical, Ecclesiam Suam, in which he developed the four
main themes related to Church renewal and the aims of Vatican Council
II: awareness of the nature of the Church and the need to increase such
awareness among its members; the internal renewal of the Church and the
external expression of it; the dialogue the Church must engage in among
its own members and with the total world; and the offer of his services
to help the cause of world peace.
On April 29, 1965, Pope Paul issued Mense Maio,
urging prayer, especially through the intercession of the Blessed
Virgin Mary during the month of May, for the success of the Vatican
On September 3, 1965, he issued Mysterium Fidei,
a strong reaffirmation of the traditional doctrine of the Church
concerning the holy Eucharist, which perpetuates the Sacrifice of the
Cross and makes present the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus
Christ in the Blessed Sacrament.
Christi Matri Rosarii, issued September 15,
1966, urged saying the rosary during the month of October as a special
prayer for peace.
The Development of Peoples, March 16, 1967,
extended the social doctrine of Pope John's Peach on Earth
and was widely hailed. It was seen as having special application to the
Third World and supplementing the council's Pastoral Constitution
on the Church in the Modern World.
The traditional doctrine and practice of the Latin
Church on clerical celibacy was restated in Priestly Celibacy
(June 24, 1967). Although it was well documented in stating the
tradition of the Church, may who had argued for a change of this
discipline continued their debates openly, sometimes causing scandal.
Dissent against the Pope's
Humanae Vitae (Of Human Life), dated July 25,
1968, restated the traditional doctrine of the Church, which prohibits
artificial birth control. It too became an occasion for some
theologians to take to the public media, defying the authority of the
Pope. Dissent against papal authority, as expressed in this encyclical,
became widespread and the resulting scandal brought great harm to unity
among Catholics. A "contraceptive mentality" became widespread and
contributed to the "abortion mentality" that soon followed. Whereas
some had argued that the use of contraceptives would help many
marriages, divorce statistics greatly increased, to the point that many
feared the family as the basic unit of society was in grave jeopardy.
John Paul VI was active in directing the Church until
his last days. Suddenly, while the world was beginning to celebrate the
tenth anniversary of his controversial encyclical Of Human Life,
he died. He had predicted for some months that his time upon earth was
drawing to an end.
Shortly before his death (August 6, 1978), restudy of
the encyclical Of Human Life, caused many to realize that it
contains divine wisdom as well as profound human insights into married
love and responsible parenthood. By the time of the Pope's death, the
world had begun to realize the grave social consequences of artificial
birth control. Pope Paul VI showed prophetic vision in recognizing that
use of contraceptives favors laxity in married behavior and disdain for
human life at all stages of development. In countries where
contraception is practiced, the number of abortions has increased.
Dialogue with Communist
The fifteen-year reign of Pope Paul VI (1963-1978) was
marked with great successes as well as great tragedies for the Church.
During his reign, the Church began to hold dialogue with the world. In
his first encyclical, Ecclesiam Suam, Paul said he had no
intention of excluding Communists from dialogue with the Church even
though it would probably be incomplete and very difficult. One purpose
of the Secretariat for Non-Believers, which Pope Paul VI authorized and
established April 8, 1965, is to study relations and initiate
discussions with Communists and others on atheism.
The Vatican had limited success in negotiations with
countries controlled by Communist governments. For example,
negotiations with the Hungarian government led to an agreement in
September 1964 that gave limited freedom to the Vatican in the
appointment of bishops. However, Cardinal Mindszenty remained in
seclusion in the American Embassy in Budapest until September 1971.
It took two years of diplomatic conversations before an
agreement was signed between Yugoslavia and the Vatican. Full
diplomatic relations were established in 1970.
For several years, negotiations with Czechoslovakia had
little results, as did attempts to open diplomatic door with other
Communist countries. A measure of agreement was reached with the
Communist Polish government in 1972, when Polish bishops were appointed
to four jurisdictions in the Older-Niesse territory formerly held by
Pope Paul VI, a man of peace
When Pope Paul VI died in August 1978, the world
recognized this pontiff as a man of peace. In 1963 he had spoken in
favor of negotiations for a nuclear test ban agreement, which was
signed by nearly 100 nations. At the beginning of 1964, when he went as
a pilgrim to the Holy Places, he sent 220 peace messages from Jerusalem
to heads of state and international leaders. Eleven months later, he
appealed for peace and disarmament while attending the 38th
International Eucharistic Congress in Bombay. He also urged nations to
spend the funds they would save through disarmament for useful and
humanitarian purposes — to relieve hunger, misery, illness, and
In 1965, Pope Paul VI had pleaded for peace in Vietnam,
the Congo, the Dominican Republic, India, Pakistan, and Kashmir. He
denounced terrorist guerrilla tactics under all circumstances.
On the twentieth anniversary of the atomic bombing of
Japan, he prayed (only one of many such appeals): "May the world never
again see a day of misfortune like that of Hiroshima."
On October 4, 1965, Paul VI visited United Nations
headquarters in New York to plead: No more war; never again war."
When the war intensified in Vietnam after 1965, Pope
Paul VI increased his efforts for peace. In the fall of 1966 he sent a
special fact-finding delegation to Vietnam to consult with the
Peace was the subject of many of his talks, especially
his private talks with such persons as U.S. United Nations Ambassador
Arthur Goldberg, U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam Henry Cabot Lodge, and
Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko.
In December 1965 he appealed for the relief of famine,
particularly in India and Pakistan. By July 1966, almost $7.5 million
had been raised in response.
Though peace was not achieved, throughout 1967 Pope Paul
VI appealed again and again for peace and offered his services to
achieve a peaceful resolution in Vietnam. Similar efforts were made
regarding the Israeli-Arab conflict. The most the Pope could accomplish
was the mobilization of Vatican relief forces to assist refugees.
Beginning in July, he urged a peaceful settlement on leaders of the
opposing factions in Nigeria, where tribal and political warfare was
taking a terrible toll of human life.
Pope Paul VI continued his efforts as a Pope of peace in
1968 and 1969 in these same areas, and offered the Vatican as a site
for Vietnam peace talks. With most other world leaders in 1968, the
Pope spoke out against the Soviet invasion and occupation of
From 1971 to 1975, Pope Paul VI often spoke against the
war in Indochina and the Middle East. In 1971 he appealed for the end
of the civil war in East Pakistan and called for international action
to help the millions of refugees in India. Beginning in 1971, he also
pleaded for peace in Northern Ireland. The Communist uprisings in
Portugal in 1974 and 1975 brought new appeals from the Pope, and until
the end of his life he sought peace in the Middle East, pleading
especially for an end of violence in Lebanon.
Most traveled Pope in history
Pope Paul VI was the most traveled pope in the history
of the papacy. Pope John XXIII had opened the post-war era by traveling
outside the Vatican, the first time since 1870, but Pope Paul VI was
the first pope to travel outside Italy since Pius VII was forced to
flee by Napoleon (about 150 years earlier).
Pope Paul VI met the Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras I
from January 4 to 6, 1964, when he went as a pilgrim to the Holy
Places. Besides the Eucharistic Congress in Bombay in 1964 and the
United Nations in New York in 1965, when he pleaded for peace before
representatives of 116 countries, Paul VI traveled every year, until
old age made it impossible.
In December 1966 he made a "pilgrimage" to the
Florentine area of Italy, which had been devastated by a great floor.
On May 13, 1967, he traveled to Fatima, to pray for peace in the Church
and in the world, at the world-famous Marian shrine in Portugal.
On July 25, 1967, Pope Paul VI flew to Turkey to visit
Patriarch Athenagoras I of Constantinople (great progress toward unity
with Orthodox Christians was made during the pontificate of Pope Paul
VI). On this same pilgrimage, he visited the ancient city of Ephesus,
where, according to an ancient tradition (archaeological evidence also
points in that direction), the Virgin Mary lived at the end of her life
and the ecumenical council which defined her title as Theotokos
(Mother of God or God-bearer) met in 431. His pilgrimage was a
combination of ecumenism and devotion to God's Mother.
In August 1968, Paul VI went to South America for the
39th International Eucharistic Congress in Bogota, Columbia. In 1969 he
made two trips: to Geneva, where he addressed delegates at the
Headquarters of the International Labor Organization and the World
Council of Churches (in June), and Kampala, to honor the martyrs of
Uganda (July 31 to August 2). On April 24, 1970, Pope Paul VI went to
Sardinia to join the islanders in their celebration in honor of their
patroness, Our Lady of Bonaria.
His tenth and most extensive trip was also in 1970. The
Pope stopped in Teheran (Nov. 26), Manila, the Philippines (Nov. 27 to
29), Djakarta, Indonesia (Dec. 3 and 4), Hong Kong (Dec. 4), Colombo,
Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon) (Dec. 4), and cyclone-ravaged Pakistan. A
would-be assasin attempted to stab the pope in Manila, and was
Pope Paul VI visited Udine, Italy (Sept. 16, 1972) to
take part in a eucharistic congress and stopped at Venice, where he met
Cardinal Albino Luciani, and in St. Mark's Square, before thousands of
spectators, removed his stole to place it temporarily on this
cardinal-patriarch of Venice, who was to become his successor.
The papal reign was marked by striking changes in the
structure of the Church as Pope Paul VI worked to implement the sixteen
documents of Vatican Council II. Besides the dissent against his
encyclical Humanae Vitae, Paul had to contend with a movement
that urged the ordination of women, which he resisted as contrary to
the tradition of the Church, and also with those who argued for a
married clergy. He also met with such dissidents as Archbishop Marcel
Lefebvre, who took rebellious stands against various enactments of the
Second Vatican Council.
Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre gained worldwide attention in
his resistance to the new rite of the Mass and insisting on the
Tridentine liturgy. He was suspended by the Pope from the exercise of
holy orders but ignored the Pope and repeatedly ordained men for his
society at this headquarters-seminary in Econe, Switzerland. Although
Pope Paul VI made efforts at reconciliation with the archbishops, his
efforts were not successful and the archbishop's followers, desired a
return to the Latin or Tridentine Mass.
As the years advanced, history proved that the real
problems of Archbishop Lefebvre were much more. After the Latin
Tridentine Mass was allowed in the world Oct. 15, 1984, with special
permission, the problems still continued even under Pope John Paul II.
Finally in June 1988 when the Archbishop ordained four bishops without
papal authorization he and the bishops he ordained were excommunicated.
Many of his followers, however, realized things had gone too far and
with the assistance of Rome they formed a St. Peter's Society in union
with the Pope which was permitted the Tridentine Mass along with many
other Catholics throughout the world. Archbishop Lefebvre died in 1991
excommunicated from the very Catholic Church he mistakenly thought he
During the years he was pope, Pope Paul VI canonized 84
saints, more than any other single pope.
The Pope who reigned 34 days
The death of Pope Paul VI, after a progressive but
stormy reign, brought many speculations about which cardinal would
succeed him. All widely-publicized speculations proved wrong, and one
of the "unknown" papabili (cardinals where capable of being
elected) was elected to replace Pope Paul VI, Patriarch Albino Luciani
of Venice was elected on the fourth ballot.
The election of Cardinal Luciani (Aug. 16, 1978) caught
the world by surprise, as did the name he chose Pope John Paul I. He
vowed to continue the policies of his two predecessors, implementing
the documents of Vatican II.
Pope John Paul I immediately won the affection not only
of the Catholic world but the world at large. Those who had hoped for a
"pope of compromise" (as suggested by the media) were proved wrong. As
bishop and as patriarch of Venice, Pope John Paul I stood firm on
traditional Catholic doctrine and morality and promised to do so as the
263rd successor of St. Peter. He warned against applying political
labels to churchmen — labels of liberal or conservative or right or
left, which he saw as crude and misleading descriptions of the Catholic
approach to faith and morals which the Church must always protect and
The new Pope, 65 years of age, came to the papacy with
little experience in the Curia, the Church's central administrative
agencies in the Vatican for the universal Church. (Pope John Paul had
been made a cardinal a little more than five years earlier, on March 5,
1973.) The largest conclave in history, 111 cardinals, elected the new
Pope on the first full day of balloting. He was invested as the new
Pope on September 3, 1978, foregoing the traditional coronation with a
triple crown (tiara), which to many symbolized temporal power.
John Paul I was quickly labeled "the smiling Pope."
Although the Catholic world had been concerned about the type of man
who would succeed the difficult reign of Pope Paul VI, it appeared that
almost no one was disappointed. The cardinals had come from the
conclave jubilant, and the new Pope greeted the world from the balcony
of St. Peter's overlooking St. Peter's Square. Television cameras
beamed the radiant smile and obvious deep love of the new Pope to the
world within minutes after his election.
The world had called for a "pastoral" Pope and that is
what it got. John Paul I had not spent his priesthood in high
administrative offices of the universal Church. Rather, he had served
as a priest and bishop among the people. He was a humble man, who took
the word humilitas for his motto. His homily, warmth, and
love for people (and children in particular) was obvious to all.
The world rejoiced, but in thirty-four days Pope John
Paul I died of a heart attack in the late evening of September 28,
about 11 p.m., while reading The Imitation of Christ. He did
not appear for Mass early the next morning, and was found dead in bed
about 5 a.m. on September 29.
Deprived of the "smiling Pope," who entered the papacy
as a strong foe of communism and a defender of traditional doctrines of
faith and morals, who would have been a strong pastoral pope, having
immediately won everyone's confidence and affection, the world was
shocked and acted with disbelief, then went into mourning.
Carlo Cardinal Confalonieri, dean of the College of
Cardinals, gave the sermon at the funeral Mass, saying that Pope John
Paul I "passed as a meteor which unexpectedly lights up the heavens and
then disappears, leaving us amazed and astonished. We have scarcely had
time to see the new Pope, yet one month was enough for him to conquer
our hearts — and for us, it was a month to love him intensely."
hundreds of thousands of people stood in St. Peter's Square for the
funeral, while millions watched the funeral Mass on television — as
they had watched his installation Mass only a month earlier.
The world wanted another Papa
The world was so convinced that it needed a pope like
the Pope who reigned for but thirty-four days, without naming a
cardinal or issuing an encyclical, that the cardinals asked with the
rest of the world: "Is there another like Papa Luciani!" All
reports indicate the cardinals were determined to find one. Pope John
Paul's great gift to the world in his short reign was that he brought
the papacy to the people.
Pope Paul VI, his immediate predecessor, had for fifteen
years, directed the Church during one of the stormiest periods of its
history. It must be credited to Pope Paul VI that, under great
pressures, he refused to bend on such issues as artificial birth
control, priestly celibacy, and divorce and remarriage. On "closed"
issues, men of faith, said, the Holy Spirit could not permit the Pope
to compromise. Pope Paul VI had therefore become a Pope of
Some accused him of not being decisive enough, of
delaying too long in making decisions, as on the issue of artificial
birth control, thus waiting until things got out of hand (so that many
expected the Church to reverse its traditional teachings) before he
issued a reaffirmation of the Church's ban. Some also felt he permitted
too many options to the liturgy of the Mass and the sacraments, in the
manner of their celebration, thus losing in external appearances the
sign of unity in the Church that was so evident when they were
administered in Latin under tight and uniform rites. On the other hand,
he was accused of being too rigid — not flexible enough. That he was a
saintly man, fully dedicated to the love of God and souls, no one
In the last years of the reign of Pope Paul VI, some had
felt that respect for the authority of the Pope had suffered. The Pope,
who had moved the Church in renewal, implementing the sixteen documents
of Vatican Council II, had met rebellion, dissent from not a few
theologians, priests, and laity — even from a few bishops. The Church
had experienced upsets after previous ecumenical councils, and it was
the fate of Pope Paul VI to serve the Church during such a period.
The special charisma with which the successor of Pope
Paul VI charmed the world was felt to be just what the universal Church
needed to regain the confidence of all in its chief leader. Pope John
Paul I, the "smiling Pope," was also called the "people's Pope." His
infectious smile assisted in winning hearts. His love for children (he
brought them to his side during general audiences) won the admiration
of all. He advised American bishops: "Go to the children." Priests were
told to remain at their posts. Pope John Paul I was quoted as saying
that God is as much a mother as he is a father.
At the end of September 1978 the Church was mourning the
death of its second pope in two months and by October was looking for a
third in as many months.
Three popes in three months
For three months, August through October, the public
media of the world focused daily on the papacy. Again the public media
advanced the papabili as they speculated on who the next pope
might be. Again, the public media opined that the Catholic Church would
have to solve its "questions" of a married clergy, whether women could
be ordained, artificial birth control, and divorce and remarriage. All
these matters had been settled under Pope Paul VI, but the world did
not always like the answers. The possibility of a non-Italian pope was
mentioned but not taken seriously.
Modern technology, in the form of communication
satellites and television sets in millions of homes, helped to focus
attention on the successors of St. Peter. It noted that the oldest
continuous institution in the world is the Catholic Church, with its
visible ruler, the pope, who according to Catholic faith reigns in the
name of Jesus Christ.
Two conclaves in 1978 held in less than two months for
the election of a new pope was not the first time cardinals had to
elect successors to St. Peter in rapid succession. In the sixteenth
century, after the death of Pope Sixtus V (Aug. 27, 1590), the
cardinals met in conclave four times in eighteen months. Pope Urban VII
reigned only twelve days. After his death (Sept. 27) a two-month
conclave elected Pope Gregory XIV, who reigned a little more than ten
months and died October 16, 1591. Thirteen days later Pope Innocent IX
took the papal throne and reigned for only sixty-two days (he died De.
30, 1591). On January 30, 1952, the conclave elected 55-year-old
Cardinal Ippolito Fano, who, as Pope Clement VIII, reigned for twelve
The first non-Italian Pope in
The sudden death of Pope John Paul I at 65
years of age
raised the question of electing a younger man. On October 14, 1978, the
cardinals (again numbering 111) went into secret conclave, conscious of
their grave responsibility to select a successor to Pope John Paul I,
and on October 16, Cardinal Pericle Felici appeared on the central
balcony of St. Peter's Basilica to announce "We have a Pope." Hundreds
of thousands had gathered to hear the news. As he announced the last
words of the age-old formula, "...Wojtyla, who has chosen the name of
John Paul II" the crowd fell momentarily silent. Most did not recognize
the name. Then the cheering began again, steadily gaining in volume, as
those in St. Peter's Square realized the cardinals elected Cardinal
Karol Wojtyla of Krakow, Poland.
The television cameras of the world again focused on the
balcony waiting for the new Pope to appear. At 58 years of age, he
radiated robust health, and the first words of Pope John Paul II to the
world were these: "We salute Jesus Christ. We are still in profound
sorrow after the death of the most beloved Pope, John Paul I, and the
eminent cardinals have called for a new Bishop of Rome.
"They have called him from a country far away, distant,
but ever close to the communion of the faith and the Christian
"With fear I received this nomination, but I have
accepted it in faithfulness to the spirit of obedience to which our
Lord commands us, and like the obedience of his Blessed Mother, the
"I am not sure I can express myself well in Italian; so
correct me if I make mistakes.
"I present myself to you all, to confess our common
faith, our hope, our confidence in the Mother of the Church, and also
again to travel the passageways of the history of the Church with the
aid of God and the aid of men."
The election of a cardinal from Poland surprised the
world; it was the first time in 455 years that a non-Italian was
elected. The last non-Italian had been Adrian VI, who served twenty
months in 1522-23 while Martin Luther's rebellion raged.
Polish Pope well received
The election of a Polish cardinal was hailed by the
world on many counts, for it reflected the universal nature of the
Church, which is not intrinsically Italian. During the reign of Pope
Paul VI, Catholicism in Africa grew 111 percent, to 52 million.
Catholicism had shown signs of resurgence in Latin America and of
reviving in Eastern, Communist-dominated Europe, with Poland the best
Cardinal Wojtyla was born in Wadowice, Poland, on May
18, 1920. He began studying philology in 1938 at Jagiellonium
University in Krakow, with special interest in poetry and the theater,
but his studies were interrupted with the outbreak of World War II. In
1940, during the Nazi occupation of his country, young Karol Wojtyla
began working as a laborer, and in 1942, he entered an "underground"
seminary in Krakow which was functioning secretly because of Nazi
prohibitions. He was ordained a priest in 1946 and sent to Rome to
further his studies in moral theology.
After finishing his doctorate with the Jagiellonian
Theological faculty, Fr. Wojtyla was assigned as curate in a village
parish. He also did pastoral work (chiefly among university students)
when he was transferred back to Krakow. Fr. Wojtyla began teaching
ethics at the Jagiellonian in 1953, and eventually held the chair of
ethics at the Catholic University of Lublin.
He was only 38 when he was named a bishop in 1958, and
became auxiliary bishop of Krakow. He was put in charge of the Krakow
diocese as vicar capitular when Bishop Eugeniusz Baziak died
in 1962. He attended all the Second Vatican Council sessions in Rome
from 1962 to 1965 and was particularly active in preparing the Pastoral
Constitution on the Church in the Modern World.
In 1964 he was named archbishop of Krakow, an office
that had been vacant since the death of Cardinal Adam Sapieha in 1951
because the Communist government refused to approve a successor. He was
named a cardinal by Pope Paul VI in 1967, when he was only 47.
Pope John Paul II, unlike his short-reign predecessor,
came to the papacy with experience in the Vatican's curial offices. He
was a member of the Curia's Congregation of the Sacraments and Divine
Worship, the Congregation for the Clergy, and the Congregation for
Catholic Education. He made frequent visits to the Vatican, and the
year before his election had given a retreat for Pope Paul VI and the
When a non-Italian Pope had been announced 455 years
earlier, the people in St. Peter's Square had booed the announcement.
Not so with Pope John Paul II; excitement and enthusiasm were immediate
when they learned that a cardinal from Poland was elected, and the same
spirit quickly spread throughout the world. His command of the Italian
language made him easily acceptable as the bishop of Rome, as well as
Pope. Pope John Paul II has command of various languages, including
German, French, Spanish, and his native language, Polish. He also
speaks fluent English — the first Pope in history to be able to
converse easily in the English language.
In his first general audience (Oct. 18, 1978), the new
Pope spoke in the presence of the cardinals still assembled in Rome. He
said: "It is difficult for me not to express deep gratitude to the Holy
Father, Paul VI, for the fact that he gave the Sacred College such a
wide, international, intercontinental dimension. Its members, in fact,
come from the farthest ends of the earth. That makes it possible not
only to accentuate the universality of the Church but also the
universal aspect of Rome."
The Poland of Pope John Paul II
On September 17, 1978, the month before the election of
the first pope from Poland, the Catholic bishops of Poland had called
for the abolition of censorship in their Communist country, denouncing
it a "weapon of totalitarian regimes." Their pastoral letter was read
from pulpits throughout Poland on September 17. It was one of the
strongest Church denunciations of Communist censorship in years, and
among its signers were Cardinals Stefan Wyszynski and Karol Wojtyla.
The bishops deplored "harassment of those who have the courage openly
to express, orally or in writing, their opinions on public life."
Restrictions on publication of Catholic periodicals in Poland, they
said, kept the numbers of copies in circulation well below demand.
Poland is one of Europe's most religious nations and the
Catholic Church is considered the most influential institution in the
nation, aside from the Communist regime. Ninety percent of Poland's
population is considered to be Catholic, and most of the Catholic
people practice their faith through regular participation in holy Mass.
Poland has been different from other countries of the
Eastern European Communist bloc in that most of its 35 million people
are not only Catholic but strong in their practice of the faith. The
government has feared to take extreme measures that might push the
people to a popular uprising. However, many responsible jobs and
positions are reserved exclusively for non-believers and non-practicing
Catholics. At the time of the election of Pope Paul II, several
teaching institutes had reached the point of asking applicants to
submit statements attesting to the fact that they were atheists.
Under the atheistic Communist government, parochial
schools were not allowed to exist in Poland. Catholic youth and lay
organizations were forbidden. The Church was almost entirely ignored by
the news media and was given no access to state-controlled radio and
television for broadcasting religious programs.
However, the election of Poland's first pope, which
focused the world's attention on the reaction of its Communist
government, caused the officials to permit the installation Mass of
Pope John Paul II (Oct. 22, 1978) to be televised throughout Poland and
their highest-ranking Communist official to attend the ceremony at
Rome, namely, Poland's Communist president, Henryk Jablonski.
At the time of Pope John Paul's election, hundreds of
thousands of Poles in the drab country's industrial suburbs had no
alternative but to attend Mass outdoors, even in cold and rainy
seasons, because the government would not permit the building of a
sufficient number of churches. Communist authorities scheduled
attractive outings for students and factory workers on Sundays to
discourage attendance at Mass. In some fields, the government had made
Sunday a day of work. Still, the people of Poland flocked to church on
Sunday or to slapdash shelters that protected the altar from the
Polish Catholics have maintained a strong attachment to
our Lady, especially honored as the "Black Madonna" of Czestochowa.
Pope John Paul II has a large letter M for "Maria" on his coat of arms
in the lower right-hand corner, with an off-center cross. His motto
pertaining to the Blessed Virgin Mary is Totus Tuus (yours
The Communist regime of Poland had failed to separate
the people from their bishops. Also, Poland's hierarchy had developed
remarkable contact with the Church in other countries. In the early
months of his pontificate, after a successful trip to Mexico where
millions greeted the new Pope, John Paul II announced plans to visit
his native land of Poland in June, 1979.
Pope John Paul II is well known in the United States,
having twice traveled to major U.S. cities before his election as Pope,
and twice as successor to St. Peter. His first visit was in 1969; on
his last visit, as Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, he participated in the 1976
International Eucharistic Congress in Philadelphia. At that time, he
spent four weeks in the United States and visited Washington, D.C.,
where he spoke of how hardship had reinforced Polish Catholicism. He
said: "The atheist character of the government forces people
consciously to affirm their beliefs."
Absence of religious instruction in the schools requires
young people (outside school hours) to go to churches or catechetical
centers for religious instruction. He added: "We have vocations to the
seminaries in sufficient numbers."
Pope John Paul II came to the papacy as "a servant." He
prayed to Jesus Christ: "Make me a servant — indeed, the servant of
your servants." To Christians he pleaded: "Do not be afraid. Let Christ
speak to man. He alone has words of life — yes, of eternal life." Pope
John Paul II also chose not to be crowned with the tiara and was vested
simply with a pallium of white sheep's wool (with black crosses) as a
symbol of his spiritual authority in the universal Church.
Pope John Paul II, servant and
friend of the working man and youth
John Paul II came to the papacy with the reputation of
being a friend of the workingman — a reputation that was not
appreciated by the Communist regime, whose history had been an attempt
to separate the workingman from the Church. He was also a friend of
youth, with a record of directing university students in Poland away
from Communist ideology.
Pope John Paul II is also known as a hard worker, who
works tirelessly to form souls in Jesus Christ. Even before his
election, he had an international reputation as a defender of religious
liberty at Vatican Council II. During numerous sessions he asked the
council fathers to speak out clearly in defense of people who were
denied religious freedom. In Poland, he defended the religious freedom
of Jewish people.
In his first major address, Pope John Paul II pledged to
promote applications of Vatican II "with action that is both prudent
and stimulating." He reminded bishops and Catholics in general of the
importance of fidelity to the Church's teaching authority, particularly
in doctrine. He said that he intends to continue to work for Christian
unity. Cardinals were reminded that their red robes mean the
willingness to die, if necessary, for Jesus Christ.
Pope John Paul II immediately created the image of a
pastoral pope, one who intensely loves people and will reach out to all
men as the Vicar of Jesus Christ.
First Encyclical — Redeemer of
On March 4, 1979 Pope John Paul II issued his first
encyclical to the world, Redemptor Hominis (Redeemer of Man).
In it the new Pope condemned the arms race and asked for changes in the
world's social, political and economic life. He was critical of
"consumer civilization" and totalitarian regimes restricting religious
freedom. He did not mention communist governments by name but obviously
meant them when he spoke of those which give "only atheism the right of
citizenship in public and social life...."
Pope John Paul II also spoke in his first encyclical of
internal Church matters calling for a period of consolidation,
stressing traditional Catholic values and the teachings of Vatican II.
He praised Pope Paul VI for maintaining a "providential balance" in
doctrinal matters during the controversies of the immediate
Although the Church "has internal difficulties and
tensions," the Pope added, "She is internally more strengthened against
the excess of self-criticism, she can be said to be more critical with
regard to the various 'novelties', more mature in her spirit of
The role of theologians in the
The Pope in Redemptor Hominis spoke of
theologians as "servants of divine truth" and stressed the need for
them to remain united to Church teachings. He said: "Theology has
always had and continues to have great importance for the Church, the
people of God, to be able to share creatively and fruitfully in
Christ's mission as prophet. Therefore, when theologians, as servants
of divine truth, dedicate their studies and labors to ever deeper
understanding of that truth, they can never lose sight of the meaning
of their service in the Church."
The Pope spoke about "a certain pluralism of
methodology" in theology. The work cannot however depart from the
fundamental unity in the teaching of faith and morals which is that
work's end. Accordingly, close collaboration by theology with the
magisterium (official Teaching Church) is indispensable. Every
theologian must be particularly aware of what Christ himself stated
when he said: 'The word which you heard is not mine but the Father's
who sent me.' Nobody, therefore, can make of theology as it were a
simple collection of his won personal ideas, but everybody must be
aware of being in close union with the mission of teaching truth for
which the Church is responsible."
Pope John Paul II had an overall optimistic view of
Church life, "In spite of all appearance the Church is now more united
in the fellowship of service and in the awareness of apostolate."
Letter to Bishops and Priests
of the world
Dated Holy Thursday, 1979, Pope John Paul II issued A
Letter To All The Priests of the Church as well as A Letter
to the Bishops of the world, the first of his annual letters to
priests of the world which would mark each Holy Thursday of his
pontificate. The important need for priests in the Church today was
stressed as well as the life-long commitment them make to Jesus Christ
on the day of their ordination when they receive an "indelible
character." The Pope upheld celibacy for those who accept the call to
the Sacrament of Orders. In the same letter he entrusted the priesthood
of every priest in the world to the Mother of Christ and asked each
priest to do the same themselves.
Pope John Paul II made a triumphal return to Poland June
2-10, 1979. Time (June 18, 1979) reports: "It was like a
carnival, a political campaign, a crusade and an enormous Polish
wedding all in one...a performance unique in the annals of the
papacy....John Paul madd an astonishing three dozen public
appearances.... In Poland, the visible contact between the Church and
the ruling regime, even after it has been in power for more than 30
years, was devastating; he called himself hisotry's 'first Slav Pope'
whose succession to the Apostle Peter forms a bond of blood not only
with Poles but with other Slavic peoples, including Czechs, Slovaks,
Slovenes, Serbs, Croats, Bulgarians, Ukranians and most dramatically,
Russians — some 220 millions Slavs in all....the Pope seemed to
envision an eventual pan-European Christian alliance against the
secular materialism of both East and West."
The passing of Pope Paul VI, who was rapidly succeeded
by two popes within two months, not only focused the attention of the
world on the importance of the papacy but indicated that the "style" of
the papacy was changing. Paul VI had the image of a "suffering" pope;
Pope John Paul I had a more relaxed image, as a "smiling" pope. When
the latter's thirty-four-day reign ended abruptly, with his unexpected
death, he was succeeded by Pope John Paul II from Poland, the first
non-Italian pope in 455 years.
The changing style of the papacy seemed to be on the
minds of most observers, not only as regards the personality and
approach of those who sit on the chair of St. Peter but also by
breaking the long tradition of Italian popes and selecting one from
another country — from a country, moreover, under the control of an
atheistic and Communistic government.
"The pope is universal, as is the Church," was the
message projected to an anxious world. Pope John Paul, only 58 at the
time of his election, projected the image of a man who was strong, both
physically and spiritually, who was full of vitality, who had suffered
from the evils of the modern world but nonetheless lived an intense
spiritual life and inspired millions in his homeland and in all the
modern world to resist the forces of atheism.
That John Paul II would be a pastoral pope of the
people, anxious to use modern technology to evangelize the world to
Christ, was immediately evident. At the same time, he would uphold all
the doctrinal and devotional traditions of the Church.
Though the world gives political considerations to what
Pope John Paul II says and does, the glory of God and the salvation of
souls are his real and ultimate motive. The second weekend after his
election, he flew by helicopter to a Polish-run Marian shrine at
Mantorella, about 35 miles from Rome, where he had spent four days in
prayer before he entered the conclave which elected him pope. He said
that the shrine had helped him pray and that prayer is the
"first task and almost the first announcement of the Pope, as it is the
first condition of his service in the Church and in the world."
The following weekend the Pope visited the tomb of St.
Francis of Assisi. Shortly after his election, he also visited the tomb
of St. Catherine of Sienna, in Rome. At a Sunday Angelus he said: "The
rosary is my favorite prayer." the Vatican daily newspaper reported:
"The visits are intended to put the Pope's reign under the patronage of
those two holy protectors." Observers noted that his early actions
signaled what might well become a hallmark of his papacy: new stress on
popular devotion to Mary and the saints.
Pope John Paul II noted in his first address, however,
that not even he could say exactly what his reign would be like. But he
wanted to make it clear to all: he came to the papacy as the servant of
the servants of God.
Questions for Discussion
- Which subjects did Pope Paul VI reserve for himself,
rather than have them dealt with by Vatican Council II?
- Which encyclical letter of Pope Paul VI caused great
controversy in the Church? Discuss it.
- How did Pope Paul VI deal with countries under a
- For historical reasons, the popes had long been
secluded to the Vatican. How did Pope Paul VI reverse that practice?
- Do you agree with the opinion that Pope Paul VI was a
hindrance to the Church's adjusting to the modern world? Explain.
- Besides the resistance to the teaching of the Church
forbidding artificial birth control, what other resistance did Pope
Paul VI have to contend with?
- How would you summarize the reign of Pope Paul VI? A
success? A failure?
- Describe the brief reign of Pope John Paul I.
- What events caused the role of the papacy to be in
the news of the world almost daily for three months during 1978?
- What features in the election of Pope John Paul II
surprised the world?
- Describe the background of Pope John Paul II.
- Would you say the reign of Pope John Paul II has been
much like the early observers anticipated? Explain.
Fox, Rev. Robert J. "The Catholic Church in the
Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries." A Catechism of Church History:
2,000 Years of Faith and Tradition (Park Press Quality
Printing, Jubilee 2000 Edition),
Reprinted by permission of the publisher and by the
author, Fr. Robert J. Fox.
Father Robert J. Fox is the director of the Fatima
Family Apostolate and editor of the Immaculate Heart
Messenger. Before founding his own Apostolate and editing his own
magazine Father Robert J. Fox for many years was a columnist with
leading Catholic magazines, newspapers, and journals in the United
States. In addition to being a retiired pastor from the Diocess of
South Dakota and now lives in Hanceville, Alabama and offers daily Mass
at the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament and Our Lady's of Angels
Monastery home Mother Angelica and the Poor Clare Nuns.
|Category: Catholic Doctrine
Fatima Family Apostolate ( Non-Profit)
2000 4th Edition
Nihl Obstat: Rev James N Joyce
Imprimatar: Most Rev. Paul V. Dudley
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