Poland celebrates 100th anniversary of John Paul II’s birthday

It was 100 years ago on May 18, 1920, that Karol Wojtyła, the first non-Italian in 455 years to become Pope, was born in the southern Polish town of Wadowice. Today, Poland and the Catholic world commemorate the great spiritual and political leader that John Paul II was and also his absolute dedication encapsulated in his motto “Totus tuus ego sum, et omnia mea tua sunt. Accipio te in mea omnia. Praebe mihi cor tuum, Maria" ("I belong entirely to you, and all that I have is yours. I take you for my all. O Mary, give me your heart").

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On Monday morning Pope Francis offered a mass at the altar of the Polish pope’s tomb in St. Peter’s Basilica to mark the 100th anniversary of John Paul II. Pope Francis will also address Poles on Monday at 8pm. The address will be broadcast by Poland’s public broadcaster TVP and will also be made available by the Kraków archdiocese on its YouTube channel.

“From Heaven may he continue to intercede for the People of God and peace in the world,” Pope Francis said on Sunday of his predecessor John Paul II, adding that he was remembered “with much affection and gratitude.”

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The Polish Pope

There is no doubt that this is how Poles remember their compatriot who was the first non-Italian in 455 years to become Pope.

In Poland, Karol Wojtyła is remembered as the Pope of the Poles, the protector of their spiritual sovereignty and their national independence, for which he strived together with US President Ronald Regan. John Paul II’s active stance and courage was evidenced on his first pilgrimage to Poland on June 2-10, 1979, when the country was still under communist rule.

This trip went down in history under the motto „Gaude Mater Polonia” (“Rejoice, oh Mother Poland”) and it is also at that time that the Pope uttered the prophetic phrase “May your spirit descend and renew the face of the earth – this earth!”

It is believed that had it not been for this papal visit, the Solidarity Movement that contributed to the tearing down of the Berlin Wall and the transformation from communist to independent rule in Poland would have never happened.

John Paul II himself used to stress that he owed his life not just to God and his parents Emilia and Karol, but also to all those who in 1920 fought for the free Poland that found itself under assault from the Bolshevik Red Army.

“You know that I was born in 1920, in May, that is when the Bolsheviks marched on towards Warsaw. That is why, ever since the day of my birth, I have been carrying a great debt with regard to those who stood tall that day against the invaders and triumphed, paying for this victory with their own lives” he said in 1999.

“The matters of my homeland have always been very important to me. All that my nation goes through I hold dear in my heart. I deem the good of my homeland my good,” said John Paul II in 1998.

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The builder of interfaith bridges

In the West, as written by Vatican News, Karol Wojtyła, i.e. John Paul II, is remembered as the “great Pontiff who came from behind the Iron Curtain, who during his long Petrine ministry brought the church into the new millennium; who saw the Berlin Wall fall that divided Europe in two; who hoped to see a new era of peace dawn but who, in his elder years when he was dealing with illness, had instead to face new wars and destabilising and ruthless terrorism which uses God’s name to sow death and destruction.”

John Paul II is also remembered as the builder of bridges between religions. It was in this ecumenist spirit that he held talks with other religious leaders such as Tenzin Gjaco, the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet. Yet perhaps the most telling of John Paul II’s interfaith policy was his taking part in a prayer at the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus on May 6, 2001. It was the first time in history that a Catholic Pope visited and prayed in a mosque.

Never surrendering to the pre conviction of the clash of civilisations, he reconvoked the heads of the world’s religions in Assisi in January 2002. “He spoke to everyone and never left anything unattempted in order to avoid the irruption of a conflict, thus favouring peaceful transitions, and promoting peace and justice. He travelled far and wide across the globe to embrace all the peoples of the world, proclaiming the Gospel. He fought to defend the dignity of every human life. He paid a historical visit to Rome’s Synagogue,” Vatican News wrote.

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Beatification and canonisation

During his pontificate, John Paul II concluded 104 papal trips, visited 129 nations, wrote 14 encyclicals, nominated around 240 cardinals, 2,500 bishops and 2,000 priests. He also beatified 1,338 and canonised 482 people.

John Paul II died on April 2, 2005. His beatification during the reign of Benedict XVI made way for his official and legal worshipping in Rome and Poland. In 2013 Pope Francis corroborated the healing of Costarican Floribeth Mora Diza by John Paul II as a miracle, which allowed for the canonisation of the Polish Pope on May 27, 2014.

Celebrations in Poland

The 100th anniversary of John Paul II’s birthday is celebrated in Poland in line with the anti-COVID-19 regulations. One of the ways in which the great Pole is to be commemorated is Monday’s classical music concerto, “Santo Subito: The Prophet of Our Times”. It will be televised by Poland’s public broadcaster TVP, who have made a whole range of documentaries and feature movies on John Paul II available at www.jp2.tvp.pl.

Pope Francis will also address Poles on Monday at 8pm. It will be broadcasted by TVP and will also be made available by the Kraków archdiocese on its YouTube channel.

Meanwhile, in Warsaw, Cardinal Kazimierz Nycz will conduct a holy mass at 8:20pm in Warsaw. Another mass will be conducted by Bishop Romuald Kamiński in the - currently under construction - John Paul II sanctuary in Radzymin.

It is also today that the JP2online browser of photos and other John Paul II-related material marks its official launch.