A Catechism of Church History:
Home Page

Chapter 19 The Suffering Pope Succeeded by "Star Out of Poland"


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

Catholic Church History

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 fathers.

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 Council.

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 Encyclical

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 countries

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 German prelates.

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 ignorance.

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 country's bishops.

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 Czechoslovakia.

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 forgiven.

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 was preserving.

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 promote.

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 Luciani

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 "controversy."

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 questioned.

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 years.

The first non-Italian Pope in 455 years

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 tradition.

"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 Madonna.

"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 example.

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 Vatican staff.

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 elements.

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 entirely).

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 Man

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 post-council years.

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 discerning."

The role of theologians in the Church

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

  1. Which subjects did Pope Paul VI reserve for himself, rather than have them dealt with by Vatican Council II?
  2. Which encyclical letter of Pope Paul VI caused great controversy in the Church? Discuss it.
  3. How did Pope Paul VI deal with countries under a Communist government?
  4. For historical reasons, the popes had long been secluded to the Vatican. How did Pope Paul VI reverse that practice?
  5. Do you agree with the opinion that Pope Paul VI was a hindrance to the Church's adjusting to the modern world? Explain.
  6. Besides the resistance to the teaching of the Church forbidding artificial birth control, what other resistance did Pope Paul VI have to contend with?
  7. How would you summarize the reign of Pope Paul VI? A success? A failure?
  8. Describe the brief reign of Pope John Paul I.
  9. What events caused the role of the papacy to be in the news of the world almost daily for three months during 1978?
  10. What features in the election of Pope John Paul II surprised the world?
  11. Describe the background of Pope John Paul II.
  12. 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
Published: Fatima Family Apostolate ( Non-Profit)
Publish Date: 2000 4th Edition
Nihl Obstat: Rev James N Joyce
Imprimatar: Most Rev. Paul V. Dudley
Pages: 296
Binding: Paperback
Dimensions: 9 L x 6 W x 3/4 H
Price: $9.95

Publisher Official Website: www.fatimafamily.org

Fatima Family Apostolate is dedicated to the sanctification of the family and the individual through spreading the Fatima message.  A non-profit Catholic missionary apostolate specializing in the publishing and distribution of Catholic books designed to aid Catholics on their journey towards heaven.

The Fatima Family Apostolate was started at the encouragement of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, and is endorsed by the Vatican's Pontifical Council for the Family. It is now an international Apostolate, having members all over the world and publishes a
52-page quarterly magazine called the Immaculate Heart Messenger.

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Social Bookmarking
AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Autobiography of Fr. Robert J. Fox
Free Christian Catholic Pamphlets
Catholic Magazine - Immaculate Heart Messenger

Messages from our Blessed Mother
Free Catholic Teaching CDs