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. Sede

    David Gibson: what are you smoking?!
    That NOPE put into legislation what the Church always said It could never give....and he was brazen and committed scandalous, heinous, public acts of apostasy in the history of the Church. There is no way he was a Pope...because he was not even a Catholic.
    If he is a saint, then the First Commandment is out of fashion (impossible).
    Those of you that praise him should be ashamed for making excuses for such sins.

    January 14, 2011 at 9:00 pm |
    • CatholicMom

      If you call yourself Catholic and for all the years of his Pontificate you claimed you had no Pope and further accused him of not being Catholic you are fortunate you didn’t die during that time….God has given you more time to consider your sin and to reconcile.

      January 15, 2011 at 12:47 pm |
  2. 2Cents

    He helped end Communism?

    January 14, 2011 at 8:53 pm |
    • Gaja

      Not yet! When he was living they( communists-terrorists-russians) have stopped or diminished doing their bad in europe. But they have their people everwhere and they will do everything they want to more and more – they started from Poland with the airoplane accident on which the 96 people were killed telling and they did nothing to explain – their rapport was the same like opinion after 1/2 hr after drame. Even they prepared false propaganda, that one of passangers -general – had 0,6 promile of alcool and tommorow they will say that it was him who conducted the airoplane! Or may be the wife of president was conducting. More sensation – easier to belive! Just like Himmlers`propaganda for America!. So God blesse America against communism! I say this because I know it.

      January 14, 2011 at 11:07 pm |
  3. Bill

    Move all of them down one, as none of them are more important than this:

    1. He lead the greatest coverup of child molestation of a group in the 20th Century, if not ever.

    He will now and forever be known to me as the Patron Saint of child molesters.

    January 14, 2011 at 8:48 pm |
  4. White Man

    Here is one reason he did not matter, he was a christian. God does not exist. This is the problem with this world we celebrate the weak and worthless, a disgusting christian virtue.

    January 14, 2011 at 8:46 pm |
    • CatholicMom

      White Man,
      Your name must be at the top of the list of those who sign up for abortion.

      January 16, 2011 at 12:38 pm |
  5. Muneef

    Will not be surprised to learn that even popes at the Vatican or some where else has to be nominated by Jews before Christians as it does happen in the white house and else where...!?!

    January 14, 2011 at 8:43 pm |
  6. Merrilyne

    I hope he gets it he was a great man. And I am not Catholic, but I remember him and his memory makes me smile. I wish he was still here.

    January 14, 2011 at 8:32 pm |
  7. Muneef

    After all the new pope might face the same pressure for being from Germany which it the country that has drove them to gas chambers and so on the story would go unending black mail. And if any stoped that then he is anti-Semitic and has to vanish either from position or from life as a whole...!? That is all what life is about,as we become to learn....!?

    January 14, 2011 at 8:27 pm |
    • CatholicMom

      Pope John Paul II harbored no ill towards any peoples. All are brothers and sisters and each Pope does his best to promote reconciliation amongst all, out of love of God.

      January 16, 2011 at 12:34 pm |
    • Muneef

      Respectfully say your heart is spiritual and you see life spiritually while today we face a materiel world of Politics that had driven and manipulated religions to serve it's own greed driven purposes...!! Reality is different although sorry to say I have no torch to carry but only words to be said..and God is my witness that I said it and did my best of ability not to keep silent which is counted for as" a devilish act of silence".

      January 16, 2011 at 7:59 pm |
  8. jcski

    And he helped end the era of polish jokes and western eurpoeans beliefs of the inferiority of the poles..You pretty much can find a picture or statue of him on every block in Poland's major cities.

    January 14, 2011 at 8:21 pm |
  9. Muneef

    Correction please;
    This above man of God deserves respects even from Muslims although felt sorry for him at old age when was made to go Israel and kneel there and ask forgiveness from the Jews for some historical ill treatment by Christians...am sure if he was younger and stronger he would have not done what they have made him do to strengthen there political position among nations and do not know if made him acknowledge the happening of the gas chambers thing?! Not that I deny that happening but think that they were not only Jews who suffered from it but all those who were considered weak or unfit as for the perfect race that Hitler was intending to bring up so who ever did not meet those specifications criteria had to end in the gas chambers and that what I have heard of from a long time ago,although agree that most of those victims would have been Jews since Hitler had some thing against them in particular ....!?

    Poor man of God being Polish got him be pressurized by Polish Jews who are majority as I believe more than any other place in Europe...!?


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

      All people are children of God. All are your brothers and sisters.
      Pope John Paul II was not forced into saying or doing anything.
      Please, unharden your heart towards Jews.

      January 15, 2011 at 11:51 am |
    • Muneef


      Got nothing towards Jews but towards those force occupants of Palestine who killed and drove off Arabs breaking their arms. Those are no brothers of religion they are mearly devils who do not deserve to live...

      January 16, 2011 at 6:35 am |
    • CatholicMom

      If you continue to carry the torch for wrongs committed by people against people years ago, the feuding will never end….like children….saying….. ‘he’ did this to my relatives a long time ago and even though ‘I got nothing towards them’ as you said, you are willing to not reconcile with any of them because you say they are devils and deserve to die.

      Are these people still alive who did all the wrongs? Or do you now direct your hatred to their descendants who may not even know the history? Can you find even one guilty one still alive that you can call a devil and say you have the right to break his arms? When you finish breaking the arms today will you then be the same as devils and not deserve to live [by your own standards]?

      Only the evil one would keep this alive in mankind’s heart, hardening it to the core. Don’t let the evil one have his way with you.

      January 16, 2011 at 12:18 pm |
    • Muneef

      Respectfully you are talking in the past tense when up to today they are pushing the people out from their houses and from their lands and country....they shower them with illegal weapons...?? They shoot infants, children, youth?
      They even had no mercy for that kind Angelic American girl who stood beside those poor unarmed people when for her kindness and bravery was run over by a bulldozer leveling her on with the ground...?? Those are no men of God and a bloody pier who says so.

      January 16, 2011 at 7:46 pm |
    • Muneef

      Respectfully you are talking in the past tense when up to today they are pushing the people out from their houses and from their lands and country....they shower them with illegal weapons...?? They shoot infants, children, youth?
      They even had no mercy for that kind Angelic American girl who stood beside those poor unarmed people when for her kindness and bravery was run over by a bulldozer leveling her on with the ground...?? Those are no men of God and a bloody liar who says they are so. ...!?

      January 16, 2011 at 7:48 pm |
  10. BLM

    Truly! If you don't believe - that is fine with us. Not a big deal at all. Believers will try to be good. Of course, they, LIKE YOU, will fail, but they will be all the better for it. And I am honored to be a Sheep under the care of the Good Shepard. As JC said. "I know my sheep and my sheep know me" In ALL cult leaders you can find self interest. In Christ there was none! For Him to be successful, he had to let himself be tortured beyond belief and killed. No self interest there. Of course the nonbeliever will make fun of that act, and that's okay. In America it is their right. It means nothing. They know nothing of the perfect sacrifice of the pascal lamb and the reconcilliation his success brought to heaven and earth. They will find out when they die - and I bet at that time Christ will extend his hand to them - I guarentee you that if that happens they will sieze it. So let them babble - we're in the next world for a long time, much longer then we're in this one - we'll have plenty of time to bust their chops 🙂

    January 14, 2011 at 8:10 pm |
    • Marlene

      Would Jesus have responded to his critics as you have? I don't believe so. It is very easy to speak the words but to act them out is much more challenging.

      January 14, 2011 at 9:23 pm |
    • Don

      The lamb had to be a REAL lamb, not metaphorical. Read Leviticus–and Leviticus counts, since christians believe that until jesus died the OT laws were still in effect.

      January 15, 2011 at 12:10 pm |
  11. Muneef

    This above man of God deserves respects even from Muslims although felt sorry for him at old age when was made to go Israel and kneel there and ask forgiveness from the Jews for some historical I'll treatment by Christians...am sure if he was younger and stronger he would have not done what they have made him do to strengthen there political position among nations and do not know I made him acknowledge the happening of the gas chambers thing?! Not that I deny that but think that were not only Jews who suffered from it but all those considered weak or not of the perfect race that Hitler was intending to bring up so who ever did not meet those specifications criteria had ended in the gas chambers and that what I heard of from long time ago although agree that most of those would have been Jews since Hitler had some thing against them in particular ....!?

    January 14, 2011 at 8:09 pm |
    • DeAguaDulce

      Nobody forced him, Muneef. It was an act of reconciliation and the asking of forgiveness because of what Europeans had done to the Jews.

      January 16, 2011 at 12:16 am |
    • Muneef

      Yes it was some thing like that but he was made to if not forced to...

      January 16, 2011 at 6:04 am |
    • CatholicMom

      If you insist that Pope John Paul II was 'forced' then it was by the Holy Spirit's proddings only.

      January 16, 2011 at 11:55 am |
  12. NewRome

    He is also responsible for millions of deaths caused by the Church policy on contraception.

    January 14, 2011 at 8:05 pm |
    • CatholicMom

      Pope John Paul II tried to explain the horrors of disobedience to God....yet man still chooses death for millions of innocence through abortion.

      January 15, 2011 at 11:47 am |
    • Don

      As opposed to the enslavement of women by making abortion illegal or a "sin" (whatever that is).

      January 15, 2011 at 12:08 pm |
    • CatholicMom

      For a woman, giving life to a baby is natural, not enslavement.

      January 16, 2011 at 11:52 am |
    • Don

      Preventing her from removing from her body that which she does not want, while forcing her to have an endobiological parasite within her (yes, that's literally what a fetus is. Call me cold if you want, but there's no value judgement in that specificially. I stated a fact, just like stating a leech is a parasite. The value judgement is regarding the prevention of removal.) is enslavement.

      January 16, 2011 at 12:58 pm |
  13. BLM

    There is more proof for Jeus living then there is for folks like Plato and Aristotle. Belief in God is a gift from God (Martin Luther) All men are wicked (Jesus Christ) Who is the prince of this world as described in the bible? I'm sure the haters know this - not! THis is Satan's domain, so anyone who is "good" stands out. Pope John Paul was a true lamb of God. He is as good as we can be. Still a sinner, still nothing without God. He also reconciled the church with science like evolution. This is huge. So when someone does the devil's work while clothed as a priest it is not God's fault and is against Christ's teaching. Love each other as I have Loved you. Forgive each other as I have forgiven you. No one can argue against the wisdom and eithics of these statements uttered so long ago by the risen Christ.

    January 14, 2011 at 8:01 pm |
    • EuphoriCrest

      BLM: Your ignorance is appalling. We have the writings of Plato and Aristotle to prove their existence. Jesus never wrote anything. And why not? If his dad wrote your bible, why couldn't his kid write something?

      January 14, 2011 at 9:04 pm |
    • Marlene

      Many of the early church fathers were Platonists. There is significant evidence (their actual writings) for Plato and Aristotle. Jesus left nothing in writing. His teachings were passed down to us by his small group of followers (question-which were the earliest writings found in the New Testament?), later amended by church fathers debating within their own communities and coming up with a final doctrinal position.

      January 14, 2011 at 9:15 pm |
    • CatholicMom


      Evolution is a theory. It suggests there IS a God,... which is what the Church affirms...There is a God.

      January 15, 2011 at 11:43 am |
    • Don

      Gravity and electromagnetism are theories as well (Quantum THEORY of Gravity).

      Hint: theory does not mean what you think it means, CatholicMom. It does NOT mean hypothesis. It does NOT mean guess. It does NOT mean something you dreamt up while watching clouds when you were 10.

      January 15, 2011 at 12:11 pm |
    • CatholicMom

      You must have gotten an F in science.

      January 15, 2011 at 11:32 pm |
    • Don

      You certainly did, CatholicMom.

      January 16, 2011 at 12:58 pm |
    • thinker

      haha Catholic mom, u've definitely not studied science at a graduate level. Don is correct. Check my other post to your ignorant reply on evolution. Evolution is FACT, where as evolutionary theory tries to explain the fact of evolution! for an explanation why, check my earlier posts.

      January 16, 2011 at 4:03 pm |
    • AnotherCatholicMom

      Yes they are correct. My children study Music theory, but that doesn't mean that the existence of music is still being debated, we know it exists, they are learning the concepts, the theories that make up the field of music.

      There is a great book by Francis Collins called "The Language of God" that reviews some of these basics. He was the head scientist in the genome project and a wonderful christian and sees no conflict between what the church teaches and evolution. Even the catholic church does not teach creationism. For a brief overview see the following article: http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE7052OC20110106

      January 16, 2011 at 4:32 pm |
  14. shamgar50

    All these so-called miracles, are hoaxes or misinterpretation of events by the ignorant and gullible. NO, I repeat, NO miracle has ever been verified, ANYWHERE! If someone tells you they have, check out the source of the verification. It will not hold up under scrutiny.

    Religion is for the weak minded, easily deceived, or those needing to get elected.

    January 14, 2011 at 7:59 pm |
    • Marlene

      A miracle is an event whose probability is exceptionally low. However, it is still a probability that can occur.

      January 14, 2011 at 9:11 pm |
    • CatholicMom

      How do you explain these miracles?

      January 15, 2011 at 11:38 am |
  15. Ann Githui

    Much love en respect to Pope John II.

    January 14, 2011 at 7:56 pm |
  16. Katherine Kelley

    What an incredible awesome man! A role model that was so tangible to his people! He knew joy and pain equally and knew how to imitate our awesome Lord by his endless forgiveness. Thank you my God for giving us such a human leader.

    January 14, 2011 at 7:52 pm |
  17. Muneef


    You know although have disagreed with you for so long and tried to defend and protect Islam and Religion but some how now I agree with you that it is better to live as secular nations even if had religions among our communities...?

    You will ask me why I will say it is true Religions can not be taken or depended on as rulers! Again you will ask why that is?
    I will say seeing who Religions became very very Rich from it's followers but will not support the living of other poor branches of their faith! We see here that the rich Christian branches are not supporting for example this Coptic branch in Egypt working as Rubbish collectors and junk yards? Say have Christians helped it to have a decent life or at least develop what they know best with equipment's at least towards recycling as green move this way they would have helped them needy for decent living and conserved environment and nature? But instead of that they would ignore of compel them to become into their path before they give a lending hand or assistance....?!? Well am not saying Christians among them selves only but even for Islam and Judos are no different from that and that's why you have uneven wealth and growth distribution !?
    We have a saying that says "To cut mans living is like cutting his head and those who depend on him for support"!? This is called Poverty and Hunger which makes Man Angry and who becomes Angry Rebels against all if no justice or mercy found in to undertaking terrorist acts against the di-scrim-inating systems on basis of Faith or Path or Race !? Any statistics how many poor and rich from the branches of each faith of at least the three Abrahamic faiths or Religions ?!? Only then we will know how cruel they are to each other when God says in his scriptures that we are all descended from one nation..the nation that were saved by Noah's Ark PBUH...! We are one nation being on the Faith of Abraham and derived from him and his followers!? But still Brother to Brother or Faith to Faith or Path to Path or Branch to branch are being stingy to each other and Greed drive them against each other, the living being means nothing to them as being just a Mankind a Human Being a creation among creations...!? So it is either with us or against us thing...!?
    We have to drive those branches to share love,charity and respect of belief among them selves and then driving those three Religions to have the same among them selves only then we will see peace and prosperity on people of earth and only then you will find disbelievers believe that there is God because there is love of sharing and caring among all otherwise sorry to say Religions are no different than Gangsters who have no love for God Creations believers or not...!?
    Peace to you Reality and Guys for helping me to realize why you dispute religions and not for disbelieving but for knowing that this is not what is reflected on earth towards each other as you saw more hate among them than it is love and more wars among them than it is peace...?!?
    But surely what we are doing is not the right solution to correct this and to make them do what they should for good deeds causes and not co-nspir-acy causes..nor for ra-ci-al causes....!? The Charity is to help them to make a decent living and not to feed them only doing nothing,but are to get them to help and support them selves making a living...!? And such as those could be become the driving force for nature conservation and green recycling projects and so on....?!                           

    January 14, 2011 at 7:51 pm |
    • Reality


      Your ramblings continue to worsen.

      January 15, 2011 at 8:23 am |
  18. george in texas

    i want a term limit for pope. i noitce that the country of vatican is democratic but has no judiciary because they don't want to judge anybody.

    January 14, 2011 at 7:47 pm |
  19. george in texas

    why is there no re-election for the pope? this is no way to do term limit. and why do the voters in pope's election have to go into hiding, stay away from tv and remain ignorant while they decide to vote for the pope?

    January 14, 2011 at 7:41 pm |


      January 14, 2011 at 8:27 pm |
  20. Bookenz

    Organized religion is just a way to manipulate people and gain power and wealth. The end.

    January 14, 2011 at 7:41 pm |
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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.