The collapse of the Ecclesiastical State (1870) was connected with many consequences for the Church. One of them was a situation of a manifesting isolation based on closing the papacy in tight confines of Vatican. A verbal expression of this kind of situation in the history of the papacy was a term which was used by the pope to define himself as ‘a prisoner of Vatican’. Popes of this period were managing the general Church but they were doing it from Vatican, that is , without leaving the boundaries of the Eternal City willfully. They inspired and led the missionary activity but its executors were missionaries spread all over the world.

This state of situation lasted till the year 1929, when due to the relationships known as Lateran Pacts the Vatican State was created. Moreover, the matters between the Church and the Italian state were regulated. Since then the pope as the sovereign of the independent but poor in size the Vatican State, had much freedom of going out of its boundaries. So the status of the pope as ‘a prisoner of Vatican’ went into history in a legal order. However, in practice of the ecclesiastical life, this state lasted till the Second Vatican Council. This Vatican Council added one more important element to the radical transformation of papacy pragmatics, that is, it sanctioned the principle of collegiality with the responsibility of bishops not only for the local Church entrusted to them, but also for the general Church. Sanctioning the principle of collegiality by the Vatican Council became the second co-efficient of what can be called an explosion of the epoch of popes-missionaries.

Pope Paul VI

The Pope Montini was placed by history between two monumental figures of popes who were John XXIII and Pope from Cracow. That is true, that the episodic pontificate of John Paul I separated him from the last one. The pontificates of Paul VI and John Paul II allow in some sense to compare them. Pope Paul VI, with his whole modesty and humility was a giant of work. He led the begun Vatican Council to the end, and by its means, he caused a Catholic ecumenical revolution, sanctioned the principles of collegiality and established the Bishops’ Synod, proclaiming motuproprio ‘Apostolicasollicitudo’ (15 September 1965). Paul VI added the inauguration of great papal pilgrimages to this enormous activity. He made the first trip to the Holy Land in 1964. It had ecumenical character – a meeting with the Patriarch Atenagoras – but also pilgrim-biblical character. The other eight pilgrimages had a typical apostolic-missionary character, including the trip to New York and visits in UNO (4 September 1965). Its purpose was to proclaim the Gospel on the international forums of the contemporary world.

Before that there was Lebanon and far India (2-5 December 1964), later Columbia and the Bermuda (1968) and two big really missionary trips to Uganda (1969) and the last longest trip to Asia: Iran, Pakistan, the Philippines and Samoa (1970). There were also trips of ecumenical character to Turkey (1967) and Switzerland (1969) and, finally, to Portugal (1967). It is not many, but a lot when considering the fact that the Pope was managing the Vatican Council and its implementation, as well as dramatic course of his pontificate (Red Brigades and the death of Aldo Moro).

Blessed John Paul II

The 27-year-old pontificate of the Pope from Poland was so rich with the variety of events that one would feel like defining it as an epoch event. However, in this pontificate, the phenomenon of his apostolic trips deserves the name of epos, due to the very fact that there were plenty of these trips around the world (104), to Poland (9), to various Italian cities (145),and visits to Roman parishes over 300. We can add 130 countries and about 900 towns. How rich was the mosaic of this holy travelling in the world. Certainly, one must confine to a detailed characteristics of big 104 apostolic trips. There were central metropolis of the world: New York, Washington, Paris, Madrid, London, Lisbon, Bonn and Budapest. There was Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires, Sidney and Toronto. There were also Brazilian favelas, India leprozoria, fishermen from the Solomon Islands, the Indians from Peru and Ecuador, inhabitants of African forests and the Sahara burnt by the sun. And in this complex of paradoxes this meeting with the extreme simplicity and poor workers, as well as with the communities of elected intellectual elites (visit in UNESCO – Paris 2 June 1980). And this astonishing calendar of the apostolic travels of the Polish Pope does not fully show the enormity of his apostolic teaching in the Church and the world.

However, he did not manage to break – although he really wanted to – two iron-like curtains of communistic empires: the iron-like curtain of the Soviet Union and the Chinese wall of the Middle State. But when one considers health problems worrying him, and on the other hand, the hostile attempts of centers hating the Church and the Pope, it is difficult to resist the impression included in the saying: ‘Digitus Dei est hic’ (there is God’s finger in it’).

And after all there is one more thing, and who knows, whether it is not a special missionary action of the Pope from the Vistula area. It was Poland and the Polish Church. The first three apostolic trips to the beloved homeland were trips for the sake of ‘helping’ the persecuted homeland and the Church being its core in their mortal fight against unscrupulous atheism.

In this support to the Nation and the Church, there was an element of apostolic and missionary ministry. For it was finally about becoming strong in faith and proving the nonsense of non-faith. Trips to homeland after the collapse of communism had already had a clearer missionary feature. They were simply great catechesis of the Church ‘after captivity’ of two occupation which could not leave mark on the organism of the Nation and the form of the Polish Catholicism. The tragedy was the fact that some part of the Nation began to take on a skeptical attitude towards the papal catechesis (the pilgrimage in 1991). The Polish part of the apostolic pilgrimages of the Pope was specific but it diverged from missionary canons understood as proclaiming the Gospel.

Benedict XVI – a theologian and a missionary

The Pope Ratzinger, late, as at the age of 78, started his pontificate. Indeed, a few years earlier he settled in Rome as an ’iron’ cardinal of the Faith Congregation. Here, at the desk of the prominent church clerk, he spent his whole mature life, continually devoted to the theologian work too. Indeed, he made long business trips but these were the theological or official trips.

He personally recalled this statistic period in his life at the beginning of his pontificate, which radically changed the style of his life into the rhythm of apostolic trips already planned by his predecessor. And in August 2005 he arrived in Germany on the occasion of XX World Youths’ Days. In May 2006 he visited Poland, in July he paid a visit to Spain on the occasion of the World Family September he visited his homeland, and he finished the year with a trip to Turkey. The first long apostolic trip was in 2007 and led to Brazil in May. In the same year in September Benedict XVI visited Austria. The year 2008 was unusually active. It included a trip to the USA in April. The next trip was to Australia on the occasion of the XXIII World Youth Days in July, and, finally, in September a trip to France. The year 2009 brought three important trips to various distances in the world. It was a trip to Camerun in March and Angolia, another trip was to Jordan, Israel and Palestyna in May, the last trip in September 2009 was to Czech Republic. In the year 2010: in April the Pope visited Malta, in May – Portugal, in June – Cyprus, in September – England and Scotland and in November – Spain. The year 2011 was also intensive. In June the pope visited Croatia, in August – Spain when the XXVI World Youth Days took place, in September – Germany and in November – Benin. In March 2012 he was in Mexico and Cuba.

Being at the age of 85, the Pope has made 23 apostolic trips so far, comprising 4 continents of the world (Europe, Africa, America, Asia). As for the man at the elderly age, after 20 years of dynamical work in the responsible Roman Curia, of poor health, with loads of duties connected with the administration of the Church, an element of the fervent apostolic activity is obviously fulfilled in the papal trips. So, as a result, the sector of apostolic trips with the inseparable element of preaching the Gospel is a domineering trend of the present pontificate and closes the group of popes of the last century, whom – apart from the name of leaders of the Church – should be called as great missionaries of the world.


"Niedziela" 37/2012

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