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. Know What

    Catholics' declaration of Sainthood is a private matter within their club, similar to any other club's posthumous honors bestowed on members, such as the Exalted Ruler of the Elks Club or whatever. It has no bearing on non-members, any more than their once-practiced not eating meat on Friday or their magic holy water.

    The general public just gets annoyed when the Church proclaims that their doctrines are universal truth (often ridiculously with a capital 't' or even all caps!) and that their private rules must be followed by all to achieve a supposed eternal life.

    January 15, 2011 at 12:53 pm |
    • CatholicMom

      Know What,
      You are not a member of the Body of Christ?

      Just some update info for you since you don’t belong to Christ’s Church or His Mystical Body [I am assuming]…..we may not sacrifice by not eating meat on Friday anymore but we still sacrifice whatever we know will be a sacrifice from the heart, and for some, it is still sacrificing meat. A sacrifice is ‘giving up something’ of great importance to you, otherwise it is not truly a sacrifice at all. This makes the sacrifice personal and works extremely well. The purpose is to recall the Sacrifice Jesus made for us.

      Holy water is not magic…but a means to an efficacious blessing.

      January 15, 2011 at 1:54 pm |
  2. Val

    The pope is supposedly in heaven as an angel but needs imperfect humans on earth to nominate him as saint? What kind of teaching is this? What bible does the catholic church read ? This is not bible base and certainly not practiced by the early christians.

    January 15, 2011 at 12:10 pm |
    • CatholicMom

      Catholics read the Bible that was compiled with all the inspired Books by the Catholic Church nearly 400 years after Christ’s Ascension; the Bible with none of the Books removed as they were taken out in the 1500’s by protesters. It is a sin to change anything of the Bible…remove words, add words and a certain sin to remove whole Books!

      January 15, 2011 at 1:26 pm |
  3. T

    Soon being a saint will be so marginalized it won't mean very much. What is the prerequisite for being a saint? A miracle?

    I believe that they should have stopped creating saints after Vatican 1. Saints are man made and created by men in Rome and Constantinople to have people other than god to pray to. It went hand in hand with localizing and colonizing the religion globally.

    We all know how the three Abrahamic religions feel about worshiping "other gods". So why create saints for different causes so people can pray to them. We don't believe in Indulgences anymore and they are no longer needed to raise money to build places such as St. Pauls Cathedral and or the Vatican......

    Pure Delusion. I don't mind if people believe it, just don't force my children to learn about it in school or support it with my tax dollars.

    I wonder if Cardinal Wuerl created the story of the Miracles on his own, or was told to by the other Cardinals under threat. Perhaps he believes there was divine intervention to create the stories to further the end. The End definately justifies the means where dishonesty is concerned....

    January 15, 2011 at 10:16 am |
    • CatholicMom

      We are all called to be saints. The prerequisite for being a Saint is to be sinless. No unclean thing will enter Heaven so all who enter Heaven are sinless.

      The Church does not ‘create’ saints. The Church only ‘recognizes’ them. Of course, Heaven is surely occupied by many more Saints than just the ones the Church has recognized.

      All persons are destined to be Saints at the moment of their conception.

      January 16, 2011 at 12:57 pm |
    • Muneef


      Respectfully I say I doubt if any man is sinless! Even our father and mother Adam and Eve had made a sin in their life and surely all prophets and messengers of God had their sins although tried the hard way not to do so....but it is told that who hides his sins from public is the best of manners than those commit it openly in public carelessly...since committing it openly gives a bad example to others and opens way for more sins of others to come openly....

      January 16, 2011 at 8:42 pm |
    • CatholicMom

      By the grace of God nothing is impossible!

      January 21, 2011 at 4:54 pm |
  4. Albert

    It's interesting and completely accurate when it is stated that he "strictly adhered to traditional church teaching". This should not be confused with the teachings of the Bible and of Jesus Christ. The Catholic does not represent Christianity. It represents everything that Jesus condemned. Read and study your Bibles. Leave this Church while you still can.

    January 15, 2011 at 8:52 am |
    • CatholicMom


      Strange that you do not ‘strictly adhere to traditional Church teaching’ yourself when you espouse the Bible….why not adhere to it…when it tells you to holdfast to the traditions? [ 1 Cor 11:2, 2 Thess 2:15, 2 Thess 3:6.]

      January 15, 2011 at 1:18 pm |
  5. Sevenveils

    1 Reason all the 9 reasons mentions don't matter:
    He protected and thus was a co-conspirator of all the Child Molesting priests. What happened to the saying: :The Buck Stops Here? "Bah, talk to god, that's where the buck stops." was his answer.

    A Saint? hardly!

    January 15, 2011 at 7:23 am |
  6. Idolmind05

    Oh and he let priest play with little boys and did nothing but cover it up, wake up!!!!!!!

    January 15, 2011 at 5:58 am |
  7. Symbolic

    Best ever pope in the history of the Roman Catholic Church. He's definitely a Saint !

    January 15, 2011 at 1:59 am |

    Reason 1: He was the Vicar of Jesus Christ. The succsesor of the Apostle Peter and the leader of The Holy Roman Catholic Church that was founded by Jesus Christ himself.

    Reason 2-10: See above.

    January 15, 2011 at 1:29 am |
  9. marta

    I have many negative opinions on catholic church but it doesn't change my impression that he was an exceptional and great man. By the way I don't think that he would even like to be announced saint. He always felt much more human than saint. He was a very intelligent man, he had many doubts , he was a thinker. I am sure that it was painful to him that he couldn't change more the face of a church but he probably did not feel competent enough to become the revolutionary pope. So he became traveling pope,always close to people and approachable,promoting language of love and tolerance.

    January 15, 2011 at 1:28 am |
    • CatholicMom


      Why do you think the Pope would want to change the face of the Church? The Church is the House of God which Jesus Christ is the cornerstone….which houses the Body of Christ……changing the face of the Church would be changing the face of Christ….and who would think of such foolishness?

      January 15, 2011 at 1:08 pm |
  10. Daniel

    all catholics are idiots

    January 15, 2011 at 1:20 am |
    • Nothing but the Truth

      Yes they are. Daniel is right. If people read there bible instead worshiping man which is sin, they would see that the catholic religion, not relationship with Jesus Christ, is totally pagan. The mother Harlot as revelations calls it. The bible says to NOT pray to man, only to God, but yet people pray to mary, to the pope, to St peter etc. This is idolatry. the entire catholic religion is demonic from there clothing which is based is a copy of ancient Babylon pagan garments, to the upside down cross that is a Well known Satanist symbol, to the Bent Cross that there pope carries which also a satanist symbol. People need to wake up and read ans stop believing everything they hear. Check the history of Satanist, and pagan teachings, symbols and people will see that they are identical to the Catholics. The vatican, and goverments control everything WAKE UP PEOPLE, AND STOP BEING SHEEP!! GOD IS COMING SOON!!

      January 15, 2011 at 4:21 am |
    • CatholicMom

      Nothing but the Truth,

      Praying can be done through intercession as a plea or request; or praying can be done as worship which is only for God. We Catholics know we can pray both ways.

      January 15, 2011 at 1:03 pm |
    • Muneef

      Yes agree that to pray for someone is totally different than when you say worship someone...!?!
      We may pray for our messengers of God as we do call it the Abrahamic prayers where we pray to God for our messengers of God Muhammed PBUH and Abraham PBUH. But as to worship it is something else than prayers, as it seems to me that prayers are some things said while worship is practiced movements such as our Islamic Salah which consists of Worship practiced and prayers been said together five times a day...other than the speacial day of the week which is Friday for us and Saturday for Jews and Sunday for Christians....!? Wonder is atheists or pagans have speacial day of the week??

      January 16, 2011 at 8:17 pm |
    • Muneef

      Those who went beyond messengers of God we call Sofies or Sofizem so if to pray for priests them your religion is Like Sofizem that which is considered Mastic leads to stray...and that was one on the reasons that has driven Islam to become in to so many branches because each branch decided to follow only teachings of one Preist (Imams)...
      So what I am saying is that system promotes becoming divided in to more branches or paths within one faith...and although there are many (Imams) but we as Sunni worship God and pray for the Messenger of God only but may say prayers of mercy for all males and females considered of the Good ones and the righteous and Muslims that are alive or dead....as well as praying asking mercy for our parents and families...

      January 16, 2011 at 8:33 pm |
  11. Catholics Are Idol Worshipers

    Excuse Me, but that man you people call a POPE that catholics WORSHIP along with other IDOLS like MARY, PAUL, CHRISTOPHER ETC.. YOU CATHOLICS ARE IDIOTS!!! DO NOT WORHSHIP ANYTHING OR ANYONE OTHER THAN GOD!!!!!!!!!!! Do you read your BIBLE?????????

    January 15, 2011 at 1:05 am |
  12. Johnathan

    As a non catholic I must admit that I shed a tear when he died, he was one of the great popes and really reached out to the world while trying to promote peace and religious tolerance. Although I may not agree with Catholicism as a whole, he was a great man.

    January 15, 2011 at 12:21 am |
  13. fsmgroupie

    boss of the child rapists becomes a saint? baaah baaah cried the sheep. can my child be an alter boy too? baaah baaah

    January 14, 2011 at 11:46 pm |
  14. midnightrambler444

    Let's not forget his top notch salesmanship in selling of chemicals to german government back in the 40's. That was helpful and profitable in so many ways for some. Horrifically bad and awful for others.

    January 14, 2011 at 11:17 pm |
  15. Christopher Marowski

    I am a catholic so be definition I am biased. But I can tell you that by the number of the comments (no matter what they say) I can judge that John Paul II really mattered.
    And I can assure you that nobody any more cares about what the citizens of this bankrupted, demoralized and uneducated country called America say. You Americans go down the drain of human history because of your greed, stupidity and demoralization.

    January 14, 2011 at 9:47 pm |
  16. Alex

    Pleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeease,the whole thing is a joke

    January 14, 2011 at 9:26 pm |
  17. Wholly Mary

    Just another in a long line of rich, controlling, bigoted MEN who have developed a cult of personality for themselves.
    Saint? NO THANKS!

    January 14, 2011 at 9:23 pm |
  18. Celi

    In Brazil, I had opportunity to see him. From his popemobile, in one moment, he looked at me. I never forget his smile
    for the people, and his blue eyes, very clear. I am so happy I had this moment with a saint.

    I am sad people don´t believe in God. I get peace and hapinnes. There are many trhings to face after our death, it wiil depend on what we have done here.

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

      Your witness made my eyes tear up because I know that everyone that day saw him that same way through the Holy Spirit blessing each and everyone!

      January 15, 2011 at 12:53 pm |
  19. caleb

    I never met the late Pope, but to me growing up John Paul was the very essence of a decent human being. Whether you agree with his policies or not matters very little. The fact that he was the head of the Catholic church and tolerant is in my opinion pretty amazing in itself.

    January 14, 2011 at 9:11 pm |
  20. Enoch

    (Ps 75:2-5)
    When the right time has come, I will be the judge in righteousness.
    When the earth and all its people become feeble, I am the support of its pillars. (Selah.)
    I say to the men of pride, Let your pride be gone: and to the sinners, Let not your horn be lifted up
    Let not your horn be lifted up: let no more words of pride come from your outstretched necks.

    January 14, 2011 at 9:01 pm |
    • Marlene

      Pride resides in all of us and is not exclusively the purview of non-believers.

      January 14, 2011 at 9:24 pm |
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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.