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. tallulah13

    I have read about the life and death of John Paul 1. There is a very good case made for a natural death. He was not the healthiest of men, and the stress of being elected to the position of such huge responsibility, which he did not want, took it's toll. I'm all for a good conspiracy theory, but I think in this case, somebody is crying murder to sell a few books.

    January 16, 2011 at 12:52 pm |
  2. Margeaux

    "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%."

    Are you serious when you write this! Firstly, they are supposibly against this sort of thing – aren't they? Secondly, they tried to cover up what they did do! I was raised as a RC until I was 12 and stopped going. My family was full of abuse, but because my father was so religious, people thought our family situation was great. What fools people can be.

    January 16, 2011 at 12:00 pm |
  3. Deja

    I think if any Pope ever deserved some kind of award or recognition, it was Pope John Paul 1. A terrific man of God. Seems the bad priests and cohorts within the Vatican, that were terd in with Mafia, killed him, as he started asking questions and demanding to know certain things. He wanted to "clean" things up. Sad indeed!

    January 16, 2011 at 10:30 am |
  4. Cameron

    The only thing that I remember John Paul II doing was having a nice pool built for himself and his cronies at Castel Gandolfo. If you want to find a catholic who really devoted his life to making the world a better place, then go to his namesake, John Paul I.

    January 16, 2011 at 10:22 am |
    • Deja

      Hi Cameron, I googled that thing you said about the pope and the pool, and found this:

      Strange, why did he find it necessary to do that, I wonder?

      January 16, 2011 at 10:39 am |
    • EuphoricCrest

      Deja: JP2 regularly self-flagellated because of his guilt over the child abuse cover up in which he directed. Instead of doing the right thing, he thought he could just punish himself and let the crimes continue. After whipping himself, he would sleep naked on the stone floor. Privately, he was really messed up.

      January 16, 2011 at 5:28 pm |
  5. Deja

    Wow...another story i found when checking out the a-s-sasination attempt on Pope John Paul 11. Seems the story deepens, and has ones tied to the story I posted above.

    A Vatican connection?
    On June 26, 2000 Pope John Paul II released the "Third Secret of Fatima" in which he said that Ağca's as-s-as-sination attempt was the fulfillment of this Secret. May 13 (the date of the as-s-as-sination attempt) is the anniversary of the first apparition of the Virgin Mary to the three children of Fatima, something the Pope has always regarded as significant, attributing his survival on that day to her protection. Some doubt the Church's full disclosure of the contents of this Secret, believing that it actually predicted the Apocalypse. While in prison on remand, Ağca was widely reported to have developed an obsession with Fatima and during the trial claimed that he was the second coming of Jesus Christ and called on the Vatican to release the Third Secret.

    On March 31, 2005, just two days prior to the Pope's death, Ağca gave an interview to the Italian newspaper La Repubblica.[27] He claimed to be working on a book about the as-sa-ss-ination attempt. La Repubblica quoted Ağca claiming at length that he had accomplices in the Vatican who helped him with the as–sa-s-sination attempt, saying "the devil is inside Vatican's wall". He also said:

    "Many calculating politicians are worried about what revealing the complete truth would do. Some of them fear that the Vatican will have a spiritual collapse like the Berlin Wall. Let me ask, why don't the CIA, the Sismi, the Sisde and other intelligence agencies reveal the truth about the Orlandi case?
    Q: They say it's because there is still some uncertainty in the Emanuela Orlandi case.
    Ağca: In the 1980's, certain Vatican supporters believed that I was the new messiah and to free me they organized all the intrigue about Emanuela Orlandi and the other incidents they won't reveal."
    Emanuela Orlandi, the daughter of a Vatican employee, disappeared at age 15 on June 22, 1983. Anonymous phone calls offered her release in exchange for the release of Ağca. Archbishop Paul Marcinkus was alleged to be part of the kidnapping, although no charges were ever laid.

    A week after this interview, Associated Press reported Ağca denying having made such claims.[28]

    In November 2010, Ağca publicly asserted that Cardinal Agostino Casaroli had been the man behind the a-s-sa-s-sination attempt on John Paul II in 1981.[29]

    Juan María Fernández y Krohn, a former Roman Catholic priest who tried to stab Pope John Paul II
    Poor John Paul!! Had alot of nuts after him.

    Taken from Wikpedia....John Paul 11 As-sa-s-sination Attempt

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

      Why do you spell assassination like that?

      January 16, 2011 at 2:34 pm |
  6. Ignatius

    He was all dogma with no humanity. He put the welfare of the church before everything. The abuse oif children by priests was under his watch, whihc he watched and tried his best to hide the crimes.

    January 16, 2011 at 9:39 am |
  7. inteze

    "1 And I saw a beast rising out of the sea, with ten horns and seven heads, with ten diadems upon its horns and a blasphemous name upon its heads. 2 And the beast that I saw was like a leopard, its feet were like a bear's, and its mouth was like a lion's mouth. And to it the dragon gave his power and his throne and great authority. 3 One of its heads seemed to have a mortal wound, but its mortal wound was healed, and the whole earth followed the beast with wonder. 4 Men worshiped the dragon, for he had given his authority to the beast, and they worshiped the beast, saying, "Who is like the beast, and who can fight against it?"

    January 16, 2011 at 6:51 am |
    • Muneef

      Just wonder what does that story tells and if any thing like it in life at the moment the beast with seven heads? Now could that beast be of Political or Religious beast...??

      January 16, 2011 at 8:58 pm |
  8. rhys Matthew Gacasan

    "Position that makes him the leader of the worldwide Catholic Church" To me mattered = Something that occupies space and can be perceived by one or more senses; a physical body, a physical substance, or the universe as a whole. THATS HIM UNIVERSAL MAN!

    January 16, 2011 at 2:48 am |
  9. lacoaster

    I am not a religious or political person, but when we discuss John Paul II, John F. Kennedy, Dr. King and people of that ultra high human quality, going back and forward in a discussion questioning their great character traits does not make too much sense to me. If anyone believes that their acts were not significant or true, then I believe the person should show with good actions they can do better than them and reach more lives than they did. Don't say, show. And commit to study and research on his or her own, so religious or political leaders don't have to do the thinking and analysis for the person. I bet that for some people that are religious or political fanatics, asking them to use their own intelligence without the hand holding or manipulation from someone else, would be like somebody asking me to fly from California to Bahamas with my bare hands. And yes, to show more than the men I mentioned, the person will need more than a bible under the arm and/or some college. This is about real living, sacrifice and noble character. BTW, I am not questioning anything about Jesus or Obama.

    January 16, 2011 at 1:16 am |
    • CatholicMom

      The recognized Saints have always been an inspiration to the Faithful to endure and persevere until the end!

      January 16, 2011 at 1:10 pm |
  10. Reality


    And from the following list of obvious Christian scripture stories, how did the church decide which books were inspired? Some "angelic revelation"?

    Early Christian Writings, earlychristianwritings.com/

    – a list of early Christian doc-uments to include the year of publication–
    30-60 CE Passion Narrative
    40-80 Lost Sayings Gospel Q
    50-60 1 Thessalonians
    50-60 Philippians
    50-60 Galatians
    50-60 1 Corinthians
    50-60 2 Corinthians
    50-60 Romans
    50-60 Philemon
    50-80 Colossians
    50-90 Signs Gospel
    50-95 Book of Hebrews
    50-120 Didache
    50-140 Gospel of Thomas
    50-140 Oxyrhynchus 1224 Gospel
    50-200 Sophia of Jesus Christ
    65-80 Gospel of Mark
    70-100 Epistle of James
    70-120 Egerton Gospel
    70-160 Gospel of Peter
    70-160 Secret Mark
    70-200 Fayyum Fragment
    70-200 Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs
    73-200 Mara Bar Serapion
    80-100 2 Thessalonians
    80-100 Ephesians
    80-100 Gospel of Matthew
    80-110 1 Peter
    80-120 Epistle of Barnabas
    80-130 Gospel of Luke
    80-130 Acts of the Apostles
    80-140 1 Clement
    80-150 Gospel of the Egyptians
    80-150 Gospel of the Hebrews
    80-250 Christian Sibyllines
    90-95 Apocalypse of John
    90-120 Gospel of John
    90-120 1 John
    90-120 2 John
    90-120 3 John
    90-120 Epistle of Jude
    93 Flavius Josephus
    100-150 1 Timothy
    100-150 2 Timothy
    100-150 T-itus
    100-150 Apocalypse of Peter
    100-150 Secret Book of James
    100-150 Preaching of Peter
    100-160 Gospel of the Ebionites
    100-160 Gospel of the Nazoreans
    100-160 Shepherd of Hermas
    100-160 2 Peter
    100-200 Odes of Solomon
    101-220 Book of Elchasai
    105-115 Ignatius of Antioch
    110-140 Polycarp to the Philippians
    110-140 Papias
    110-160 Oxyrhynchus 840 Gospel
    110-160 Traditions of Matthias
    111-112 Pliny the Younger
    115 Suetonius
    115 Tacitus
    120-130 Quadratus of Athens
    120-130 Apology of Aristides
    120-140 Basilides
    120-140 Naassene Fragment
    120-160 Valentinus
    120-180 Apocryphon of John
    120-180 Gospel of Mary
    120-180 Dialogue of the Savior
    120-180 Gospel of the Savior
    120-180 2nd Apocalypse of James
    120-180 Trimorphic Protennoia
    130-140 Marcion
    130-150 Aristo of Pella
    130-160 Epiphanes On Righteousness
    130-160 Ophite Diagrams
    130-160 2 Clement
    130-170 Gospel of Judas
    130-200 Epistle of Mathetes to Diognetus
    140-150 Epistula Apostolorum
    140-160 Ptolemy
    140-160 Isidore
    140-170 Fronto
    140-170 Infancy Gospel of James
    140-170 Infancy Gospel of Thomas
    140-180 Gospel of Truth
    150-160 Martyrdom of Polycarp
    150-160 Justin Martyr
    150-180 Excerpts of Theodotus
    150-180 Heracleon
    150-200 Ascension of Isaiah
    150-200 Acts of Peter
    150-200 Acts of John
    150-200 Acts of Paul
    150-200 Acts of Andrew
    150-225 Acts of Peter and the Twelve
    150-225 Book of Thomas the Contender
    150-250 Fifth and Sixth Books of Esra
    150-300 Authoritative Teaching
    150-300 Coptic Apocalypse of Paul
    150-300 Discourse on the Eighth and Ninth
    150-300 Melchizedek
    150-400 Acts of Pilate
    150-400 Anti-Marcionite Prologues
    160-170 Tatian's Address to the Greeks
    160-180 Claudius Apollinaris
    160-180 Apelles
    160-180 Julius Cassianus
    160-250 Octavius of Minucius Felix
    161-180 Acts of Carpus
    165-175 Melito of Sardis
    165-175 Hegesippus
    165-175 Dionysius of Corinth
    165-175 Lucian of Samosata
    167 Marcus Aurelius
    170-175 Diatessaron
    170-200 Dura-Europos Gospel Harmony
    170-200 Muratorian Canon
    170-200 Treatise on the Resurrection
    170-220 Letter of Peter to Philip
    175-180 Athenagoras of Athens
    175-185 Irenaeus of Lyons
    175-185 Rhodon
    175-185 Theophilus of Caesarea
    175-190 Galen
    178 Celsus
    178 Letter from Vienna and Lyons
    180 Passion of the Scillitan Martyrs
    180-185 Theophilus of Antioch
    180-185 Acts of Apollonius
    180-220 Bardesanes
    180-220 Kerygmata Petrou
    180-230 Hippolytus of Rome
    180-250 1st Apocalypse of James
    180-250 Gospel of Philip
    182-202 Clement of Alexandria
    185-195 Maximus of Jerusalem
    185-195 Polycrates of Ephesus
    188-217 Talmud
    189-199 Victor I
    190-210 Pantaenus
    193 Anonymous Anti-Montanist
    193-216 Inscription of Abercius
    197-220 Tertullian
    200-210 Serapion of Antioch
    200-210 Apollonius
    200-220 Caius
    200-220 Philostratus
    200-225 Acts of Thomas
    200-250 Didascalia
    200-250 Books of Jeu
    200-300 Pistis Sophia
    200-300 Coptic Apocalypse of Peter
    203 Acts of Perpetua and Felicitas
    203-250 Origen

    January 16, 2011 at 1:11 am |
    • CatholicMom

      The Scripture that the Catholic Church compiled and placed in the Bible was done so by the guidance and guarding of the Holy Spirit working through the Magesterium.

      January 16, 2011 at 1:05 pm |
    • Reality


      It is the Magisterium.

      And said Magisterium did not choose the "inspired" scriptures. Might want to read some history on the situation.


      "Historical development

      While the Magisterium of the Catholic Church is well-defined today, it has not always been so clear a doctrine. Until the formal pronouncements in the 19th century, the subject of teaching authority in the Church was a matter of disagreement and confusion, and indeed, the concept of papal infallibility still remains controversial in some Catholic circles."

      Read more: http://www.answers.com/topic/magisterium#ixzz1BEyShoaJ

      January 16, 2011 at 5:38 pm |
  11. Amrullah Yousafzai, Margalla Hills

    As a muslim I have respect for Pope John Paul II. He worked for harmony and understanding between faiths. The same cannot be said of the current pope.

    January 15, 2011 at 10:49 pm |
  12. Deja

    Mur-der in the Vatican and The Mafia (The Mur-der Of Pope John Paul 1)

    «Pope John Paul II was in the unique position to bring all Luciani’s plans to fruition. Not one of Luciani’s proposed changes became a reality. Whoever had murdered the Pope had not murdered in vain.

    «Villot was again appointed Secretary of State. Cody remained in control of Chicago. Marcinckus, aided by Mennini, de Strobel and Monsignor de Bonis, continued to control the Vatican Bank and continued to ensure that its criminal activities with Banco Ambrosiano flourished. Calvi and his P2 bosses, Gelli and Ortolani, were free to continue their massive thefts and frauds under the protection of the Vatican Bank. Sindona was able, at least in the short term, to maintain his freedom in New York. Baggio did not go to Venice. The corrupt Poletti remained Cardinal Vicar of Rome.»

    For more ample information on the key people involved, read the relevant pages in Yallop's “inferior whodunnit”! He continues in the form of a council for the prosecution:

    «Many millions of words have been written since the election of Karol Wojtyla in attempts to analyse and understand what manner of man he is. He is the kind of man who could allow men like Villot, Cody, Marcinkus, Mennini, de Strobel, de Bonis and Poletti to remain in office. Marcinkus is directly answerable to the Pope and for the Pope to be unaware of the degree of guilt that clings to Marcinkus defies belief...»

    At any rate, in every sphere, «Wojtyla did nothing... it is the Papacy of double standards: one set for the Pope and another for the rest of mankind. The Papacy of John Paul II has become a triumph for the wheeler dealers, for the corrupt, for the international thieves like Calvi, Gelli and Sindona, while His Holiness has maintained a very highly publicized image not unlike some perpetual rock and roll tour. The men behind the tarmac-kissing star are ensuring that it is business as usual and takings at the box office over the past five years have boomed..

    With the election of Wojtyla it was straight back to the values of Paul VI, with interest. With regard to the infiltration of the Vatican by Freemasons, for example, the Vatican through the current Pope, has now not only taken on board a variety of Masons from a variety of Lodges but it has also acquired its own in-house version. Its name is Opus Dei — God’s Work.»

    Let us leave Opus Dei aside. The fact remains that, after a six year reign, there is still this inertia, this insensitivity to disorder, to mounting and overflowing anarchy, this total absence of command, this fear of all confrontation, this tolerance of the wicked and this thirst for popularity.
    There are also these chains of gold that Karol Wojtyla was unable to break immediately: «He gives his blessing for large quant-ities of dollars to be available secretly and illegally to Solidarity in Poland.» Still, the warning shot from Moscow delivered on 13 May 1981 may have been a lesson, and the Pope’s last visit to Poland put paid to the alliance with Solidarnosc. But given the support of his financial backers, how could he set himself up as their judge? Corruptible, if one may be so bold as to use the word, for a good cause, accepting Cardinal Cody’s little bags of gold, protected, as was Paul VI on his visit to the Philippines, by the inevitable Marcinkus from the put-up attempt on his life at Fatima in 1982, how could he at the same time examine their conduct and punish their crimes?

    Is it possible to describe as an accomplice a Pope who is constantly looking the other way and appears to be totally unaware of what is going on in his own House? Yes, most certainly, replies Yallop. He was chosen, he was elected for this reason. He lives and continues to live for this reason and he will escape every attempt on his life as long as he as-s-umes full responsibility for it.

    January 15, 2011 at 9:28 pm |
  13. The_Mick

    He was certainly a great Pope. I wish he had modernized the clergy so that, at the least, married men could be priests. The current Catholic Church is failing it's members by not providing enough priests to man it's parishes, many of which are collapsing.

    January 15, 2011 at 8:18 pm |
  14. mefisto

    Yes, great man. I admire his coverup of the katolic church pedofiles. Really fricking great!!!

    January 15, 2011 at 5:38 pm |
  15. Val

    And which bible is that , catholic mom? Your religion is full of human and pagan worshipping!

    January 15, 2011 at 4:18 pm |
    • CatholicMom

      I love my Douay-Rheims Bible. Which one do you love, Val?

      January 15, 2011 at 11:43 pm |
  16. Jim

    When a man says knowing him brought me closer to God, there is nothing more to say.

    January 15, 2011 at 2:06 pm |
  17. slw

    John Paul II was a charismatic but extremely conservative Pope who inspired believers but did nothing in the face of abuse revelations and continued to forbid condoms, resulting in a greater spread of AIDS and suffering. Leaving aside why his God would have invented AIDS (a God who is involved in all things but responsible for none), this Pope merely did what he had to do to perpetuate the Catholic church in the modern, media-driven age. He was inspirational and maybe even brave in his native Poland, but that is the best one can say.

    January 15, 2011 at 1:37 pm |
  18. Daithi mac curtáin

    Pope haters are only mouth epic's for the devil who is the enemy of all and who will use every one inside and out side the church to try and destroy it.

    January 15, 2011 at 1:18 pm |
  19. BionicBub

    There have been too many murderers, monsters and thieves among the popes for the papacy to be a legitimate office of any religion, much less Christianity. The Roman church is particularly guilty of brainwashing from cradle to grave and preying on the very poorest people in the world to support the lavish lifestyles of the popes, cardinals and archbishops, who crave gold, jewels and the most sumptuous of feasts while ignoring the starving people in their midst.

    January 15, 2011 at 1:13 pm |
  20. gimli420

    Let's not forget his career as a young man, working for the IG Farben company in Auschwitz. Farben used the slave labor at the concentration camp to make synthetic rubber for German trucks and tanks, they produced the Zyklon-B gas used to exterminate the inmates, and then collected and melted down their gold dental fillings. What a humanitarian.

    January 15, 2011 at 1:12 pm |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
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.