October 22, 2012


In the span of two thousand years there have been only four Popes who were bestowed with the title of Greatness. Pope John Paul II (Karol Wojtyla) was the fourth Pope to receive such an acclamation.

The first was Pope St. Leo I. In the year 452 Leo was one of three envoys sent by Emperor Valentinian III to meet with Attila the Hun at Mincio, near Mantua (Lombardy) Italy. The hordes invaded and pillaged numerous cities in northern Italy, as well as the city of Aquileia, razing it to the ground without a trace. (Aquileia was of great strategic importance. It had been the center from which government, commerce and military defense was conducted, and was the location of the imperial residence.) Rome was the next target of the Huns. Though the details of the negotiations have been lost in antiquity, historians speculate that Leo I was instrumental in persuading Attila to withdraw his troops. According to Paul the Deacon (8th century) Leo I was a man of imposing presence - a huge man dressed in priestly vestments, and armed with a sword (visible only to Attila). Apparently the visual impact proved to be an effective deterrent. (However one cannot know if this was fact or merely folklore). Nevertheless, Attila the Hun withdrew his armies and Rome was spared.

The second Great Pope was Gregory I, (590 - 604) who has been referred to as the "Father of Christian Worship". He established numerous liturgical reforms, and revived the Church's missionary work, in particular to the pagans in Anglo-Saxon England. Leo I was a prolific writer amassing over 850 works during the last decade of his papacy. He often bemoaned the burdens of office, and wished to immerse himself in the seclusion and silence of prayer that he once enjoyed as a monk.

Pope Nicolas I was the third Great Pope reigned from circa 800 to 867, and had a decisive influence on the development and power of the papacy.  He proclaimed that the pope should possess suzerain authority in matters of faith and morals, over all of Christian Western Europe, even royalty.  He encouraged the missionary activity of the Church, and took corrective measures whenever Bishops neglected their duties.l

Karol Wojtyla - John Paul II was the fourth Greatest Pope, whose achievements are unprecedented in the history of the Church. He was the second-longest serving Pope and the first non-Italian since 1523 to be elected to the Papacy. During his pontificate Pope John Paul II had visited 129 countries, traveling a total of 1,100,000 kilometers (680,000 miles). He beatified 1,340 people, and canonised 483 saints - an immense accomplishment, surpassing the sum total of equivalent works by all his predecessors.

He was the first Pope to pray at an Islamic Mosque in Damascus, Syria, and at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. By example John Paul II showed the faithful how to pray, and rallied the youth of the world into the laity of the Church. His goal was to transform the Catholic Church into one which would nurture peace and create an alliance among the three great religions of the world: Judaism, Islam and Christianity.

Pope John Paul II praying at Western Wall, Jerusalem March 26, 2000

Pope John Paul II at a Turkish Mosque among Muslim clerics
Pope John Paul II at a Turkish Mosque among Muslim clerics

Pope John Paul II condemned apartheid, and was an outspoken critic of war.  He fervently believed that "Wars generally do not resolve the problems for which they are fought and therefore....prove ultimately futile."

His greatest achievement was the defeat of Communism in Poland, which set off a domino effect.One by one, communist regimes throughout eastern Europe began to topple, which culminated in the disintegration of the Soviet Union. Pope John Paul II was indeed the greatest leader of the 20th century. To his beloved homeland and to the world, Pope John Paul II was venerated as a living saint and saviour who paved the way for Poland's eventual liberation and the end of the Cold War.

Karol Wojtyla's first papal visit to Poland in June 1979 electrified the spirit of the Polish people, long oppressed under brutal totalitarianism. Rather than obstruct the Pope's visit, communist authorities were quite willing to permit it, using the occasion as an opportunity to demonstrate that, despite the Pope's Polish roots, his official visit would not be a sign of change to come. The Soviet regime was complacent in the belief that the status quo would remain intact, and anticipated that the Pope would abide by the rules, hence setting an example for the Polish people to follow.

Incidentally, when Karol Wojtyla was elected the new Pope in 1978, Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev was reported to have declared the event as utterly meaningless. He asked "How many soldiers does he have in his army? None." Needless to say, had any riots broken out during the Pope's visit to Poland, the consequences would be have been disastrous, and the communist regime would surely have blamed the Pope for the causing the debacle.

Mindful of the dangers, Pope John Paul II transcended politics relying on the use of what Joseph Nye, coined as "soft power". It is the ability to reach political objectives by inspiring the masses through non-coercive means. His speeches were spiritual in essence but embodied great political significance. He encouraged the Polish people to be courageous, to support one another, to be good and reminded them that God is the only source of goodness.

With just three words, "Be not afraid", Pope John Paul II was able to galvanize an entire nation, and inspire confidence in the principles of solidarity and change. And the Polish people listened. It sparked the formation of Solidarnosc (Solidarity) led by Lech Walesa who rallied the support of millions of Polish people to the struggle for human rights and freedoms and democratic reforms, and the eventual liberation of their homeland.

Pope John Paul II was a powerful force to contend with, and a political threat to the Soviet Union. On May 13, 1981 as the Pope entered St. Peter's Square, he was gunned down, and critically wounded by a Turkish terrorist, Mehmet Ali Agca. Miraculously the Pope survived though he came close to death. He attributed his survival to the intervention of the Virgin Mary, to whom he was particularly devoted.

In February 2004, Pope John Paul II was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition for his life's work in promoting peace, and his monumental achievement in subverting communist rule in Poland and Eastern Europe. Unfortunately, he was not chosen. Instead the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Wangari Maathai, for her contribution to "sustainable development, democracy and peace" in Kenya.Nevertheless, Pope John Paul II was among other notable Nominees none of whom received the prestigious award - Mohandas Gandhi, Eleanor Roosevelt and Corazon Aquino, just to name a few.

Several months later, US President George W. Bush awarded the Pope with the highest American civil decoration - the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev once stated that, "the collapse of the Iron Curtain would have been impossible without John Paul II."

Pope John Paul II passed away on April 2, 2005 having long suffered from a debilitating illness. Two weeks later, Pope Benedict XVI delivered a brief address from the balcony in St. Peter's Square, referring to his predecessor as "the great Pope John Paul II". The following year the Italian parliament created a special committee to re-examine the case of the attempted assassination, and came to the conclusion that the Soviet Union was indeed behind the conspiracy to eliminate the Pope - beyond a reasonable doubt.

Vatican City - Putin meets Pope John Paul II  June 5, 2000

John Paul's legacy inspires people around the world, crossing all lines of nationality, race and religion. He has shown by example that faith can move mountains, and that lasting peace can only be achieved through diplomatic means.

On May 1, 2011, Pope John Paul II was beatified at St. Peter's Square by his successor, Pope Benedict XVI.  The same year the Vatican announced that October 22nd, the day of his 1978 inauguration, will be observed as the Feast Day of Blessed Pope John Paul II.

Radical changes in world politics leave America with a heightened responsibility to be, for the world, an example of a genuinely free, democratic, just and humane society.    Pope John Paul II


Vatican City - flag - Pope John Paul II - Papa Karol Wojtyla


  1. You have a beautiful image of St John Paul II. It is above in your blog where he is leaning on his staff and his robes are blowing in the wind. I am working for a new Catholic Radio Station in El Centro California, USA and we are developing the website and I am looking for images of John Paul II. I was wondering if it was possible to have permission to use this image? Or if you might know of images that might be available to use?
    Any help or direction would be much appreciated.
    Thank You,
    Tami Thompson

  2. Hello Tami, Thank you for visiting my blog. Please excuse me but I do not have copyright over this or any other photos on my blog or website. Polish Greatness.com is not an organization or enterprise, but rather my personal mission to provide free education about Polish history. I am not sure, but I believe that this photo originated with CNN. However, according to their terms of use, one cannot freely reproduce any of their content if it is intended for commercial purposes, As you are looking for more images of our dear departed Karol Wojtyla, may I suggest that you search on Google Images - just type the keywords Pope John Paul II. There are thousands of images to choose from, and you will also see the URL source of each photo. Best of luck!