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John Paul II celebrates 25 years of papacy

Michael Chambliss | Thursday, October 16, 2003

Today marks the 25th anniversary of Pope John Paul II’s tenure as the Bishop of Rome.

Born Karol Wojtyla, John Paul II is the Church’s first Polish pope and the first non-Italian pope since 1523. As the most traveled pontiff in history, he has helped refocus the world’s attention on the papacy as the center of Church leadership, while addressing moral and social issues across the globe.

In his book Lives of the Popes, Notre Dame theology professor Father Richard McBrien ranks John Paul II as the twelfth most historically important pope. Combining a liberal approach to social justice with a conservative fidelity to Catholic orthodoxy, John Paul II has significantly influenced the global community as well as the direction of the post-Vatican II Church.

In the spirit of the second Vatican Council, John Paul II has concerned himself with the most pressing issues of the contemporary world. He has spoken out against such international issues as the nuclear arms race, capital punishment, consumerism, injustice to the poor and destruction of the environment.

Many consider John Paul II’s steadfast support of the Polish Solidarity movement as having a significant role in the Soviet Union’s collapse.

While progressive in his pursuit of social justice, John Paul II has sought to limit the implementation of liberal theology and doctrine within the Church. He has attempted to move away from conciliarism toward more centralized authority in the Vatican.

Throughout his pontificate, he has been strong in his opposition of women in the priesthood and relatively harsh in his reproof of non-traditional theological interpretations.

Father Richard Warner, director of Campus Ministry at Notre Dame, characterizes John Paul II as a remarkable man for a variety of reasons.

“He’s been a man whose success as a pope for so many years is as much due to his intelligence as to his prayerful spirit. He is a strong advocate of doctrinal adherence, while at the same time a strong advocate of humanism and for supporting the young people who love him,” said Warner.

Some of John Paul II’s most noteworthy successes, he said, include his 1979 trip to Poland, his two addresses to the U.N. General Assembly in 1979 and 1995, his speeches to the Cuban people in 1998 and the succession of World Youth Days from 1987 to 1997, in addition to growth of the Church worldwide.

“He has overseen tremendous growth of the Church in Asia and Africa,” said Warner.

In 1981, an assassination attempt in St. Peter’s Square left John Paul II wounded by two bullets. The pope publicly forgave the shooter, Turkish-born Mehmet Ali Agca, three days after the shooting and credits his survival to the intervention of the Virgin Mary of Fatima, Portugal. In 2000, Agca was officially pardoned for the shooting by the Italian president.

The last 11 years of John Paul II’s office have been marked by his deteriorating health. Although weakened, the Pope has visited the United States as recently as 1999. In past months, concerns have been mounting about the Pope’s physical frailty and inability to complete speeches, but Vatican officials insist that the 83 year-old pontiff is able to continue his work and shows no signs of resigning.

Wedenesday, the Pope kicked off the 25th anniversary celebration by addressing a crowd of 20,000 in St. Peter’s Square.

Special masses honoring Pope John Paul II will be celebrated today in the Basilica at 11:30 a.m. and 5:15 p.m.