The real holiness ‘smells nice’, delights, enchants, attracts like a magnet and is liked by everybody. It was so – and is so – with the holiness of John Paul II. In his case it has one more value. We read in books about previous heroes of faith, whereas we saw holiness of John Paul II with our own eyes, and our children heard about it from our tales. ‘Reality’ of his holiness is a great chance to use in pastoral ministry, also in the life of each of us. It is an extremely close example, which is even palpable, although the Pope raised the bar. And he was also trying to convince us that if we are not aiming at holiness, our life does not have sense.

The Church has known the term for a long time: the fame of holiness. It is said about somebody who finished the holy life that he died in odore sancitatis (in the opinion of holiness). The Christian people have been feeling holiness since the beginning of the Church and it was generally reliable and to such an extent that faithful citizens proclaimed somebody a saint. However, because there were sometimes abuses, the hierarchical Church took matters into its hands and set canonization procedures.

Reliable intuition of God’s people

However, recognizing holiness of great people by God’s people has never brought any difficulties and recently this intuition was revealed during the funeral of John Paul II when believers started to demand: ‘Santo subito!’ (a saint immediately). Truly speaking it is not difficult to state somebody’s holiness because its radiation is seen by everybody regardless of the fact if it is believer or not. The history of the church knows many examples of it, St. Francis embarrassed the pope with his holiness and humility and attracted many followers. St. Alojzy Orione had such an impact on the representatives of the intellectual elite that when seeing him, they knelt and kissed his hand. St. Maksymilian Maria Kolbe emanated with holiness so much that he made an impression even on the Nazis thugs.

In the modern times a lot has been said about Mother Theresa from Calcutta and John Paul II that they were saints during their life, and these opinions were expressed not only by the Catholics. Interestingly enough, it was just the intuition of God’s people, not theological categories or many signs of holiness of John Paul II to which his biographer Andrea Riccardi referred to. Being asked by me: what was holiness of John Paul II based on, he answered: ‘I think that God’s people were attracted by his holiness still during his life, coming out in crowds into streets and gathering on his routes. At the moment of his death millions of men and women were waiting in pious silence and enormous queues for worshipping him for a while. It showed his whole greatness’.

This answer of the prominent papal biographer was not a dodge, although a remark might be added to it that also bad people and bad ideas gather crowds. However, in the case of John Paul II, nearly unanimously, except for few voices of opposition addressed to those who are conducting the beatification process, the judgment of the world was unanimous: this man deserves the name of a saint.

Greatness and holiness of John Paul II was recognized very easily and the beatification and canonization process justified his attributes in a deep and beautiful way. In the case of every saint, it is best expressed by the term ‘heroism of virtues’, which means beyond the average, permanent ability in following commandments, especially in difficult moments of life. It concerns theological virtues – faith, hope and love, as well as moral virtues – prudence, justice, moderation and courage. The beatification process is to show that the life of the candidate for altars was unusual and exemplary. It is to show – as pope Pius Xi used to say – that his ‘holiness was based on ordinary things, done in an unusual way’.

In the case of Karol Wojtyła, what was unusual, was the fact how he spoke to people. Fr. Sławomir Oder,a postulator of the beatification and canonization process shares his observation with us, during various kinds of meetings. Nearly all witnesses in the beatification process of Karol Wojtyła emphasized that he had not looked at his interlocutors in an ordinary way. He perceived something more in every person: an image and similarity to God.

Let at least a shade of Peter fall

In the ‘Acts of Apostles’ we read about signs which the Apostles did in the name of Jesus in the original Church: ‘Ill people were taken out into streets and laid on bed or stretchers, so that at least a shade of Peter passing by, would fall on any of them’. It was similar nearly two thousand years later when ill people were brought to John Paul II and he treated them in a special way: they had the closest place to the Pope, he always had time for them. Some of the ill, experienced a grace of healing when being touched by the Holy Father. But not only the ill, but all believers wanted the shade of Peter fall on them. Although expectations and desires were bigger from the beginning of his pontificate. Believers became so ‘greedy’ that they did want to touch him.

Surely, we remember characteristic situations from various places where the Pope appeared: crowds of hands stretched out towards the Holy Father and people coming closer to him in crowds. Everyone wanted to touch his holiness.

Once a young nun from Myanmar, the former Birma, asked John Paul II what to do to become a saint. He stretched out his arms, embraced and cuddled her. He said nothing. John Paul II regarded holiness as opening one’s heart to another person.

A saint and immaculate priest

Karol Wojtyła was walking a road to holiness from his childhood, showing his extraordinary religiousness and life with Christian virtues in a perfect way. Despite tragic experiences (death of his family, the Second World War), he did not oppose God but he understood everything as God’s will. He was liked by his friends but he was different and they could respect it. Once one of them said a dirty word in the presence of Wojtyła, his friends scolded him because they argued that ‘it is forbidden to curse in the presence of Lolek’.

When he was doing his studies in Cracow, he did not succumb to charms of his city. His friends felt his otherness at once, they stuck a piece of paper and on the door of his room: ‘Karol Wojtyła, the beginner saint’.

Also as a young priest he stood out with his extraordinary values.

As the first parish priest, Fr. Kazimierz Buzała, after a year of work in Niegowice, gave him an excellent ‘moral certificate’. Once this priest scolded vicar Wojtyła that he had not taken money for a funeral of a poor family, but he did not felt grudge to him and gave him a certificate which could be considered in the canonization process if the parish priest still lived.

Enumerating achievements and virtues of the young vicar Fr. Buzała ends with the sentence: ‘The example of a saint and immaculate priest’. The certificate is dated 22 August 1949. Fr. Karol Wojtyła was 29 years old at that time.

And what was he like as a bishop? Let the testimony of Maria Okońska placed in the book by Krzysztof Tadej ‘Glow of holiness’ proves it. She mentioned her talk about archbishop Wojtyła with Fr. Stanisław Dziwisz. ‘Suddenly I asked him: . Staś looked at me and said: - I asked. And priest Staś Dziwisz said confidently: ’.

Maria Okońska got convinced of this holiness very quickly, first contacting cardinal Wojtyła, and later John Paul II. After canonization of Fr. Pio, she said to John Paul II: ‘Holy Father, today an incredible thing happened’. ‘What happened?’ – he asked. ‘A saint has made canonization of a saint!’ – I said. He said nothing but smiled. Because I felt freely with the Pope I went on: ‘There are saints who are not geniuses, like St. John Vianney – a parish priest from Ars, or the other way round – there are geniuses who are not saints, like Adam Mickiewicz. The pope looked at me and did not know what I meant. But I said: ‘And you, Holy Father, are both a genius and a saint!’. The pope laughed.

Everyone testifies about his holiness

After death of John Paul II I found out that in Acta Apostolicae Sedis an official record of the last days of illness, death and funeral of John Paul II had been published. At that time I was responsible for editing papal publications in the secular publishing house Edipresse Polska. I wanted to give this edition of the official Vatican organ providing credible information, to Polish readers. After many difficulties, I managed to settle everything formally and financially. There was not any obstacle for publication. When the Italian original got to my hands, at the first moment I was frustrated. Four pages were not enough space for the report of the last days of the Holy Father. There was nothing else there than what had been presented in media on the days of grief. The rest of the book were reports of delegations participating in the funeral of John Paul II and telegrams and letters of condolence sent by monarchs, representatives of governments and religious leaders. I started reading them, not being convinced, and, suddenly a great thought came to my mind.

What was to be the weakest side of the publication, turned out the most valuable in it. It was something incredible. The most terrible satraps, powerful people of this world and representatives of various religions wrote about the Pope as a spiritual leader of the world, voice of conscience, a saint, with great respect, with a note of poetry, even with tenderness and love. Here a leader of Lebanon, and culprit Muammar El Kadafi wrote: ‘We lost His Holiness, Pope John Paul II, who was taken to Heaven with great joy and whom we, people, miss very much. The Holy Father John Paul II was a man of conscience, spirit and humanism’. In the first moment I was inclined to take some voices as a sign of cynicism but I thought that everything was all right. After death of John Paul II the whole world was giving love back to Pope which he had given. This publication is an unusual testimony, and a collection of testimonies about holiness of the Pope given by people of various religions and Christian religions, agnostics and nonbelievers, showing how much holiness is appreciated.

Believers of other religions were even surprised that we, the Catholics, need an official recognition of holiness, while in the case of John Paul II it is obvious.

Once, in the first years of his pontificate the Holy Father visited the Vatican Congregation for Canonization issues. On that occasion he said: ‘It is not something unusual to enter this life, but it is an unusual thing to enter after death’. John Paul II was a man full of humility and modesty and he did not think about himself. However, he succeeded in achieving this unusual thing.

Let his canonization be not only a sentimental experience rousing the national pride, but also an impulse for his compatriots to work on oneself and to study deeper the papal teaching. This canonization is a gift from God and also our challenge.


"Niedziela" 17/2014

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: