9 Reasons Pope John Paul II mattered
Pope John Paul II in a file photo
January 14th, 2011
03:14 PM ET

9 Reasons Pope John Paul II mattered

By Dan Gilgoff, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Pope John Paul II is in the news today in a big way, with the Vatican announcing he will be beatified in May - the last step before sainthood.

Most people know that John Paul was hugely important - one of the most consequential popes in history - without exactly knowing why.

Here are 9 reasons:

1. John Paul II turned the role of pontiff into global celebrity. "He was the first pop pope," says Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion professor and CNN Belief Blog contributor. "Although rather conservative theologically he was the first to marry the papacy to the cult of celebrity."

2. He made people rethink the Catholic Church, updating its image and strengthening its influence with everyday people and world leaders alike, through a vigorous campaign of global engagement. "For the most part popes had been viewed as old Italian guys in white sitting on some gilded baroque throne in Rome," says David Gibson, who has authored multiple books on the papacy. "But in demonstrating a willingness to think and act outside the papal box, John Paul inspired many Catholics and, just as important, he made billions of others look at the Catholic Church in a new way."

"John Paul II embodied in change in so many ways," Gibson says, "that he seemed to signal to the world that the Catholic Church could be as agile as any institution in the modern world."

3. He left Rome. A lot. John Paul II was the first globetrotting pope, drawing huge crowds in corners of the world that no pope had ever visited. "He broke out of the golden cage of the Vatican and its protocols and took the papacy to the world rather than expecting the world to follow the road to Rome," says  Gibson. And people responded. When John Paul II celebrated mass at Grant Park in Chicago - a city no pope had visited before - in 1979, 1.2 million people showed up.

4. He helped end Communism. A year after his election to the papacy, John Paul returned to his native Poland to "strengthen the brethren" there in the face of Soviet rule. His visit, in which he repeatedly told Poles "Don't be Afraid," helped inspire the launch of the Solidarity in Poland, the most powerful anti-communist movement until that time, which in turn triggered similar resistance across the Soviet Union. When Communism collapsed in 1989, many credited John Paul with helping lay the groundwork.

5. He was one of the world's great communicators. Fluent in 8 languages, the John Paul II often addressed audiences in their native tongue. "He spoke everyone else’s language, and his Latin wasn’t so great," says Gibson. And he wasn't shy about using the media to get his message out. 'If it doesn’t happen on TV, it doesn’t happen,” John Paul used to say, according to Gibson.

And he was even more effective in person. "Almost everyone who ever met him describes it exactly the same way, that when he was speaking with you, it was as if you were the only person in the world," says Joseph Zwilling, who directs communications for the Catholic Archdiocese of New York. "He saw in every person a real reflection of the image and likeness of God, and lived that out in a radical way."

Even when he was suffering from Parkinson's late in life, Pope John Paul was unafraid to be seen. "His willingness to appear in public bearing the effects of Parkinson's reminded the world that for the Christian, suffering is nothing to be ashamed of, or hidden away," says James Martin, a Jesuit writer.

6. More than previous popes, he inspired young people, the lifeblood of any religious tradition. John Paul II "logged hundreds of thousands of miles in tours that brought vast crowds of adoring adolescents," says Prothero. Adds Tom McClusky, director of government relations for the conservative Family Research Council in Washington: "He empowered youth throughout the world to make holiness a part of their lives."

7. While revolutionizing the papacy, he strictly adhered to traditional church teaching. "Change is often seen as a dirty word in the church, as though altering the smallest custom or tradition would start a crack in the entire edifice of faith," says Gibson. But John Paul reaffirmed the church's conservative stances on social issues like abortion and contraception, signaling a change of course after what some saw as the more liberal reforms of the Second Vatican Council.

"He ended the dominance of liberation theology... revivified the grandeur of traditional Catholic liturgy, and he reconnected Catholic social teaching to the witness of scripture," says Deal W. Hudson president of Catholic Advocate.

"John Paul II energized the 'evangelical' wing of the Catholic Church, meaning Catholics who embrace church teaching and want to take it to the streets to change the culture, which in the United States you see most clearly on the 'life issues' such as abortion and gay marriage," adds John Allen, Jr. CNN's Vatican analyst. "There’s now a whole generation of younger 'John Paul II' priests and bishops who share that mindset.

8. John Paul reset Catholic relations with other religious traditions. He was the first pope to visit a synagogue and a mosque. "Many Jews think of him as the greatest pope in history," says Allen. "He also managed to pioneer better relations with Islam - two pretty remarkable things to have accomplished at the same time."

He also improved Catholicism's relationship with other Christian traditions. "John Paul II won an unprecedented level of respect for the Catholic Church among evangelical Christians, removing the anti-Catholic tinge of much of their preaching, teaching, and cultural commentary," says Hudson.

9. He de-Italianized the papacy, the first pope born outside of Italy in centuries.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Catholic Church • Leaders • Pope John Paul II • Vatican

soundoff (465 Responses)
  1. WDinDallas

    GSK: I this what you do all day? I know what an Athiest is! I also know a secular neo-marxist when I see or read the childish rantings of one.

    Son, you can't just gather your Lenin and Stalin dolls and sit in the basement reading them Marx and Engels all day.

    Get a life!

    January 14, 2011 at 5:12 pm |
    • GSK

      obviously your post shows how much you know... NOTHING

      January 14, 2011 at 5:18 pm |
    • GSK

      quit the sect...

      January 14, 2011 at 5:20 pm |
    • RAM05

      WDinDallas: GSK doesn't play with dollies–his mommy wont let him. She likes to keep him all to herself, isn't that right, GSK? You're a mommies' boy through'n through.

      January 14, 2011 at 7:24 pm |
    • Marlene

      I encourage all to read the writings of Marx-mainly philosophical treatises based on economics not religion although religion was a contributory factor in the overall scheme of social inequalities.

      January 14, 2011 at 8:09 pm |
  2. AIDS

    GSK what did you do in your life ....... other than saying foolish things about the pope ....... did you find a cure for aids .... maybe you should become the next pope because you seem to know better

    January 14, 2011 at 5:11 pm |
  3. Silicon Valley

    He may have done much good, but he continued the legacy of Paul VI being theologically stuck in the Middle Ages, betraying the spirit of the Second Vatican Council called by John XXIII to move the Church into the modern era. Had he allowed priests to marry and/or allowed women in the priesthood the abuse scandal would not have reached the proportions that it did. This was a step back for the RCC.

    January 14, 2011 at 5:11 pm |
    • gerald

      Yah! And he should have allowed men to have babies and women to have peanises. There are roles for men and women and the priesthood is not the role of women. Sorry. Jesus would have picked them if it was. Your post shows you are not concerned about truth but agenda.

      January 14, 2011 at 8:35 pm |
    • Paul

      The fact of the matter is.... priests at one stage in their life could have chosen to pursue marriage but choose not to by entering the priest hood. It's like if you walk into Taco Bell and order a burrito, do you start complaining that they don't allow you to order a big mac too? No, because you made an initial choice to enter Taco Bell and not McDonalds.

      January 14, 2011 at 11:54 pm |
    • neoritter

      "...the abuse scandal would not have reached the proportions that it did..."

      The fact of the matter is, that if you take all the claims on priests abusing children, you would still have a percentage of the priest population that is equal to if not less than that of the general population's percentage. Simply put, say the percentage of child abusers is 5%, child abusing priests in the Catholic church would be <=5%. To say that celibacy inflated rates when the rates are the same is preposterous.

      January 15, 2011 at 5:12 am |
    • CatholicMom

      Silicon Valley,

      Pope John Paul II upheld Truth. That is what the Catholic Church does. Truth cannot change ‘with the times’. Read the doc-uments of Second Vatican Council instead of ‘thinking you know’ what it called for. The Catholic Church is the pillar and foundation of Truth.

      So you think marriage is the pedophile cure? Why do children get abused by their dads, grandpas, etc. then?

      Why should women stand in for Jesus Christ who was born a man, not a woman, in Persona Christi? Jesus was the SON of God not His daughter!

      There was no ‘step back’…just a smooth and clear staying on of the true Path, the right Way. Jesus Christ did promise the Paraclete to His Church to guide and guard it and that promise still holds true to today and will until the end of time. [Surely you don’t say that Jesus Christ lied or couldn’t do what He said He would! Have FAITH!]

      January 15, 2011 at 10:06 am |
    • rigel54

      Gerald, maybe Jesus didn't pick them because it wasn't politically expedient. Folks back then were not much more open minded than the Church today.

      January 15, 2011 at 7:12 pm |
  4. AIDS

    GSK what did you do in your life ....... other than saying foolish things about the pope ....... did you find a cure for aids 🙂 .... maybe you should become the next pope because you seem to know better

    January 14, 2011 at 5:10 pm |
    • GSK


      January 14, 2011 at 5:12 pm |
    • GSK

      foolish things? I`m stating the obvious...

      January 14, 2011 at 5:17 pm |
  5. kiskadee

    and # 10: His outfits inspired some of those worn by Lady Gaga.

    January 14, 2011 at 5:10 pm |
  6. trish

    I was in elementary school when he came to Vancouver and although there were 60,000 people in the stadium it seemed like he was connecting directly with you. It was a really strange feeling and one that has never left when I think about that day. While I have some issues re Catholic doctrine today I do not think you can take away from what a great man he was.

    January 14, 2011 at 5:06 pm |
    • Yabba

      So he had a stage presence. Believe me, he wasn't connecting with you.

      January 14, 2011 at 5:14 pm |
    • tkogrady

      I feel that way at U2 concerts . . .

      January 14, 2011 at 5:36 pm |
  7. AIDS

    Chirality Greymane stay away from Monkeys and you will not have AIDS.

    January 14, 2011 at 5:04 pm |
  8. Araceli R. Vargas- Corsan

    Pope John Paul II helped us all to remember that religion is LOVE. All religions are about this, in so many words and forms, that we should love God above all, and that we should love all fellow human beings as we love ourselves.
    Pope john Paul II was capable of making us feel that love that make us humans at our best.

    January 14, 2011 at 5:01 pm |
  9. ANON

    He is one religious leader in the modern history who was and still is loved by the followers of many other religions (I'm a Muslim, and i love him). He practiced what he taught (tolerance for example.)

    January 14, 2011 at 5:01 pm |
  10. kuwait_999

    Personally... Pope John Paull II kind acts and teaching has change me from a hard cord Athiest, crook, evil... into a kinder, gentler person.

    Personally... I am still learning about God (trinity)... I asked Pope John Paul II ... to help me on my journey to Jesus's house (I hope I can get there... because, I am a sinner... but I trust in my Loving Jesus).

    January 14, 2011 at 4:55 pm |
    • Colin

      If you even had the slightest idea of what an atheist was, you wouldn't be following any type of religion. You weren't an atheist to begin with.

      January 14, 2011 at 5:09 pm |
    • Jeremy

      kuwait_999, don't listen to these people. Obviously they don't know what "conversion" means. Thank you for your testimony and may God bless you on your quest to learning more about him. An excellent resource, though difficult, is St. Augustine's "De Trinitate" ("On the Trinity"). I highly recommend it, although it is a very long and complex theological text.

      January 14, 2011 at 6:36 pm |
    • Marlene

      Religious people are no more or no less moral/ethical than atheists. Atheists only differ from religious people in that they believe in one less god. Atheism is NOT being a crook or a thief. The majority of atheists live their lives morally/ethically and within the legal bounds of the societies they live in.

      January 14, 2011 at 7:52 pm |
    • gerald

      We are all sinners. JPII himself acknowledged his sins daily in confession. Take heart and God bless you in your journey.

      January 14, 2011 at 8:23 pm |
    • CatholicMom

      Now that you have a computer you can go on line and visit catholic sites.
      A favorite of mine is CATHOLICTREASURECHEST google it and you will see why! God bless you for opening your heart to Him.

      January 15, 2011 at 9:51 am |
    • rigel54

      Jeremy, you are right. Conversion = a traumatic epiphany, where one gives up logic and reason and desperately invests in blind faith in unprovable dogma in exchange for the unsupported promise of forgiveness and everlasting life. Fear of death, and the promise of escape power most religions. Sadly, none have reported back to substantiate the fulfillment of the offer.

      January 15, 2011 at 7:09 pm |
  11. Vince

    Great pope!

    January 14, 2011 at 4:54 pm |
  12. Milton

    Entire World used to love him. Regardless of relegion, cast and country everyone admired him. I travelled myself nearly 40 countries and wherever go people were talking very high about Pope John II and Mother Teresa.

    January 14, 2011 at 4:54 pm |
  13. Brian

    much love and respect for Pope John Paul II

    January 14, 2011 at 4:53 pm |
  14. TheDandyMan

    Absolutely the greatest pope in history! Saint Karol Wojtyla, you are one of the greatest men that ever lived. May you inspire billions more in your sainthood.

    A Non-Catholic

    January 14, 2011 at 4:51 pm |
    • Catie

      TheDandyMan, My heart just melted at your comment.

      January 14, 2011 at 6:33 pm |
    • gerald

      You'd be welcome in his Church.

      January 14, 2011 at 8:21 pm |
    • jesus

      He made famous that line, "Is the Pope Polish"?

      January 14, 2011 at 9:05 pm |
    • rigel54

      What criteria in the world would make him the greatest man in history??? I can't remember a thing that would rise within 3 levels of that! OK, he got the commies to loosen up a bit. OK, he was young, so he made the church look like it wasn't just for almost dead guys. Explain to me what this guy did that was particularly useful for mankind.

      January 15, 2011 at 7:04 pm |
  15. c.v.

    He lead by example and built up the church without taking away from other faiths.

    January 14, 2011 at 4:49 pm |
    • CatholicMom

      Yes, Pope John Paul II saw all people…every one of them…each person…left no one out…as a child of God. Which is true…God made each of us thus we are His children. It is true no matter what anyone says or does or believes….each is a sign to the rest of the world that God is Love. Next time you look at someone…look into their eyes and recognize your brother or sister in God.

      January 15, 2011 at 9:45 am |
    • Todd

      He covered up for priests who molested children, he was anti gay.

      Guess that's what passes for sainthood these days.


      January 16, 2011 at 9:42 am |
    • CatholicMom

      This might help you understand how the Church views ho-mo-s3xuals...........


      January 16, 2011 at 11:29 am |
  16. CD6910

    He seemingly reflected Jesus in all that he was. Charismatic, intelligent, engaging, humble, loving, firm, devout, prayerful.

    January 14, 2011 at 4:45 pm |
    • Yabba

      He sort of looked a little like Jesus, too. Or he did when he was a young man, I think. Or if Jesus managed to live as long as the pope, I think Jesus would have looked like him. So eventually they would have looked alike.

      January 14, 2011 at 5:20 pm |
    • GSK

      @Yabba, lol are you serious? Jesus had blond hair and Polish looking face? lol hilarious!

      January 14, 2011 at 5:22 pm |
    • Yabba

      GSK. Here is what I mean. I was served a tortilla once with what I thought was an impression of Jesus's face on it. I saved it from being eaten, but when I showed to my friend, she said it looked like the pope. Long story short: I got hungry later, came to agreee with her and ate the tortilla!

      January 14, 2011 at 5:38 pm |
    • gerald


      Benedict in his book DID NOT say it was okay to use condoms to prevent aides. He said and I quote "this is not a moral solution". Monogamy and abstinance are the cure for aides. Those who practice these have little or no chance of getting the disease. Simple fact. You want popes to preach condoms. That's like saying that a cure for poverty is stealing.

      January 14, 2011 at 8:43 pm |
    • rigel54

      Jesus today would not have championed uncontrolled reproduction. He would have counseled moderation, and quality of life.

      January 15, 2011 at 7:01 pm |
    • CatholicMom

      The way you talk…it’s like you think of people as mere rabbits.
      [ excuse me, just testing to see if it will post in the correct spot this time.]

      January 15, 2011 at 7:45 pm |
    • Yabba

      CatholicMom. You're test was successful: it posted correctly.

      January 15, 2011 at 9:19 pm |
  17. Mark

    He was a great Pope. Missed dearly

    January 14, 2011 at 4:37 pm |
    • CatholicMom

      The way you talk…it’s like you think of people as mere rabbits.

      January 15, 2011 at 7:41 pm |
  18. JohnQuest

    I was a young man when he visited New York, I still remember how people (Non-Catholics) admired him. Although I came from a non believing family I understand how some would be inspired by him.

    January 14, 2011 at 4:36 pm |
  19. katherine

    I love this man!

    January 14, 2011 at 3:56 pm |
    • Catie

      The Catholic Church is the most giving charitable organization in the world. Even with its flaws, as you mentioned the Pope is just man, it is a very Christ centered and devout Faith. Why dont you take the time to go to a Mass and see that. Or have you been brainwashed by someone who is not even Catholic as to what Catholicism is. I dont go to the Dentist when I hurt my foot. So dont go to a non Catholic Priest if you want information on being Catholic. I have been to so many different Churches and synogagues. The Catholic Mass is the most reverent Scripture filled Mass I have ever attended. Although, I will say a Jewish service is extremely reverent and a joy to attend as well. So get off your high horse!!

      January 14, 2011 at 6:30 pm |
    • gerald


      Who do you think he kept out of prison? Any proof of your accusations or do you just through out shot gun blasts that have no basis in fact. It is not any pope's fault that people in countries where he has no jurisdiction are not in jail. The primary reason that many are not in jail is in fact statute of limitations.

      January 14, 2011 at 8:40 pm |
    • CatholicMom

      From where do you get your info?

      The Church in no way condones the use of condoms. Pope Benedict XVI said that if a prost!tuted who had AIDs used a condom so his partner/victim would not get AIDs from him, the prost!tute would be showing that he was having a conversion of heart in that he was starting to have concern for another’s well-being. That is all!

      In Africa and other places where the use of condoms was pushed on the people there showed a significant increase in AIDs due to a variety of reasons….mainly…more people felt safe so ‘had more s3x’; the condoms failed due to poor quality or other reasons…improper use, and not using every single time but, having false hope in safety… Just like when seat belts came out….now everyone thought they were safe and drove even faster so more horrific crashes and death.

      January 15, 2011 at 9:36 am |
  20. neoritter


    I think it should be added to #1 his athleticism. Before his Parkinson and some of the assassination attempts he was very active in sports and was very healthy for a 58 year old.

    January 14, 2011 at 3:40 pm |
    • brenda portillo

      Im 28 and although I never met him, I admire him and his acts. He always reminds me of how much humbleness and courage it takes to be true to your faith, and he is an example to a true Christian.

      January 14, 2011 at 4:59 pm |
    • ybs

      Religions! Ha, ha, ha... sheep are always sheep!

      January 14, 2011 at 8:37 pm |
    • gerald

      Most who read the Bible become atheist? Really? Sounds like your pride speaking. Silly nonsense.

      January 14, 2011 at 11:03 pm |
    • CatholicMom


      To be ‘not of the world’ means to be not attached to material things…what to eat, what to wear, what shall be my next earthly pleasure, etc. To have a mindset towards how to do the will of the Father…that is, how can I help the poor, the sick, the hungry, the lonely, and so on…that is where our minds should be…all about loving people and making things right in the world…right and just for all persons..including those who cannot help themselves….that is what Pope John Paul II wanted for the world…but he was not of the world. He was a servant’s servant.

      January 14, 2011 at 11:49 pm |
    • neoritter

      jt – the article is on why Pope John Paul II mattered. Not whether he should be a saint or whether he was a good Christian. Please don't put up straw men.

      Tom – it should be noted that those teachings do not condemn anyone to death. There's a simple, easy, and CHEAP way to prevent things. DONT HAVE $EX. Occam's razor just makes so much sense doesn't it.

      ybs – all I'm hearing from you is, "BAH BAH BAH." When you can start thinking for yourself and act like a mature and intellectual person you can choice the rest of us adults in the conversation.

      I want to thank all of the above and the rest of the bigots in this thread. The sign of contradiction is a good indication that a person should be a saint. I want to thank you for helping John Paul II to become a saint. :]

      January 15, 2011 at 5:04 am |
    • neoritter

      Peter was far removed?

      January 15, 2011 at 10:07 am |
    • rigel54

      Don't forget that he also continued and strengthened policies that worsened global population problems, dooming millions to lives of misery and squalor and interfered with efforts to control AIDS, dooming many thousands to miserable deaths.

      January 15, 2011 at 10:38 am |
    • Larry


      Based on your reasoning, St. Thomas More should have never been canonized. More was very much a part of the world – he was a high-ranking, aristocratic member of the court of King Henry VIII and yet he was also highly devoted to Scriptural law.

      Jesus tells his followers to go out into the world and spread the news of what they witnessed – Jesus did not say disengage with the world completely. My Catholic theology teacher from 10 years ago has over 30 years of biblical scholarship – he says St. Paul would have blogged today if he was alive.

      It sounds like your interpretation of the Bible is off-base and misguided.

      A little knowledge can be so dangerous when we misinterpret the laws of God or of anything. (i.e. Jihadists terrorizing people in holy wars. Or that Tucson shooter misunderstanding the Bill of Rights)

      January 15, 2011 at 5:33 pm |
    • rigel54

      @Brenda: Which acts. Please be specific.

      January 15, 2011 at 6:57 pm |
    • rs1201

      Before considering him for sainthood or whatever it is that the Vatican is considering him for, they should speak confidentially to italians of different religious backgrounds. The comments they would hear would not be complimentary nor would they show that he merits any type of beatification. That is unless the church considers the condoning of prejudicial treatment of non catholics as totally acceptable. The Vatican has considerable influence and power in italian day to day life and that power and influece is used to the detriment of non catholics. I visited Italy during his papacy and spoke to leaders of other religions and they were literally afraid to criticize him. They just said that he and the Vatican made things extremely difficult for them in Italy as non catholics. They would not elaborate for fear that perhaps I would somehow leak whatever they confided in me. I had no intention of doing so. I just wanted to know whether this pope who was admired by the entire world deserved that adoration or not. After hearing what I heard, I came to the conclusion that not much had changed in the Vatican's policies towards non catholics...it remained just as intolerant of others as it ever was.

      January 16, 2011 at 7:47 am |
    • CatholicMom


      I would have to say that St. Thomas More was not of this world. He held a good job and was able to support his family well but that fact does not make him ‘of the world’; hoarding wealth, not caring for others with it, thinking of self in everything [what to wear…what to eat…what pleasures to seek] is what makes a person ‘of the world’.

      St. Thomas More was put to death after a long period of imprisonment and maltreatment because he refused to concede that King Henry VIII’s power was ‘above or over’ God’s power.

      January 16, 2011 at 11:22 am |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.