He is a saint, and he is going to be the Great Pope and the PhD of the Church. After proving the holiness of John Paul II in the Church, the nickname – Great remains to be perpetuated, as the Polish Pope used to be called during his life.

Cardinal Paul Poupard, the chair of the Papal Council for Culture, was the first to use the nickname, when in the end of ceremonies of the 20th anniversary of the pontificate in 1998 he said that he acknowledged the Holy Father’s title, which will be surely given to him by history: John Paul II the Great. At that time such a title was placed on the cover of ‘Niedziela’. I will add immodestly that I started printing in our weekly my book ‘John Paul II the Great’ in episodes – the first book under this title in the world – which appeared in the Edition of St. Paul in Częstochowa in 2002.

Let’s ask what this nickname means for the contemporary people. As I think, first it is the expression of certainty that John Paul II is indeed a gift of Divine Providence for the Church and the world in our times. So, although this nickname will be evaluated by the next generations, both the Catholics and believers of other religions and all people of good will noticed the greatness of John Paul II, calling him: Conscience of the World, Witness of Human Rights, Heaven Gift, Pope of Human Rights, Apostle of XX century, Defender of the oppressed, God’s Worker, Pilgrim of Freedom, Pastor of the World, White Father, the Universal Pope, Pope of the Third Millennium…

However, in order to answer the question what means to be the Great Pope – one should look into history and see which of the popes and what for deserved to have this nickname: history gave the nickname ‘great’ only to two popes. The first of them – St. Leon I the Great (440-461) saved the Church at the times of peoples’ wanderings when barbaric Attyla and his Huns were fighting against the Roman empire. The fact that the Christianity which survived is due to this pope and these all people who followed his teaching and advice. it should be added that St. pope Leon I the Great was one of the popes most quoted by John Paul II. However, what is interesting, there are not any appeals to his greatness, but to the essence of the ministry of the Successor of St. Peter, particularly to the words that the pope is ‘not to preside so much, but rather to serve’. It is worth reminding that it was Leon I the Great who, during various prevailing heresies, formulated precisely and clearly the teaching about two natures in Christ – the divine and human ones. When during the Council in Chalcedon near Constantinople in the year 451 a letter of Leon I about it was read out, gathered bishops shouted joyfully: ‘This is faith of fathers!’ The apostle Peter spoke through Leon!’.

The second pope – St. Gregory I the Great (590-604) saved the Church from barbarism of Lombards. At that time Rome was nearly swept from the face of the earth. Whereas this pope not only managed to negotiate peace with Lombards, but he also contributed to their conversion into Catholicism. He is also considered as a creator of the ecclesiastical country, the author of the division of the Church into metropolises, father of liturgical renewal, introducing singing called Gregorian since then. Similarly as the pope Leon I the Great he is a PhD of the Church.

Without getting involved into historical inquiries, we must ask the question: Didn’t John Paul II face up the barbaric customs of the contemporary civilization? In today’s times, in the world of loosened ideas and values, being great means the same as in the years of the popes Leon the Great and Gregory the Great: pointing to roads of salvation, rebuilding the tissue of the Church, strengthening of faith, being the man of Providence on the global scale.

What contemporary barbarism is mentioned? It is not necessary to conduct much analysis in order to state that the times of unusual and different attack on God and teaching of the Church came, times of evil acting on a wide scale – evil of nearly apocalyptic dimension. For, when we look at the fight with Decalogue raging in the world, then we will understand papal words about ‘the danger for nations and humankind in the apocalyptic measure’. It is worth remembering that these words were said by John Paul II on 13 May 1982 in Fatima, that is, in a place in which warnings were heard from the mouth of Our Lady concerning the future of the world and the Church.

The biggest contemporary barbarism – according to John Paul II – is not respecting life and the fight against the family. Therefore, he will pass into history as a defender of the unborn right to life, holiness of life from the conception to natural death, as a defender of marriage and family. In one of his speeches about it, the Holy Father said that he wanted it to be his testament, the sense of his pontificate. John Paul II perceived the right for life and the institution of family as the fundament of civilization and culture. If there is not respect for life and family, other rights do not exist, for example: freedom, justice, human dignity. The Holy Father called it ‘death culture’.

Greatness of John Paul II was his complete engagement in the fight against death culture, which was expressed not only in his teaching, but also his establishing three institutions serving to family. On 13 May 1981, on the assassination day of his life, the Holy Father established the Papal Council for Family. Its task is reflecting on scientific problems of medicine and law, being significant for promotion and defence of human life. A year later the Holy Father established the Papal Institute of Family, having its branches in Washington, Mexico and Valencia, and on 11 February 1994 – the Academy of Life. As a result of these actions of the Pope was establishing centres of family pastoral ministry within particular local Churches; the purpose of these centres is serving to life. Moreover, according to the initiative of John Paul II, on 25 March, on the Day of the Annunciation, the Church celebrates the Day of Life Holiness. This idea has already spread in the whole world.


"Niedziela" 18/2014

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