On October 16, the Roman-Catholic church celebrates the 43rd anniversary of Karol Wojtyła’s election to become Pope John Paul II.
The Cardinals who had gathered for the conclave in 1978 decided that the 58-year-old Archbishop of Kraków, southern Poland, was the one best suited to lead the Holy See for the decades to come.
The election of a comparably young Pope, meant that he would be able to become the second longest reigning Pope, spending more than 26 years as the Head of the Catholic Church. Only Pope Pius IX (1846–1878) served for longer, potentially with the exception of the first Pope, St Peter, who according to some sources sat on the throne for between 34 to 38 years.
The Polish Pope was elected following a conclave in which 111 cardinals had voted. Of these, 56 were Europeans and 26 were Italians. In accordance with the law, the deliberations and voting took place in the Sistine Chapel.
He became the 264th Supreme Pontiff of the Catholic Church and the first Pope since 1903 never to have been an official of the Roman Curia.
In his first speech, to the main Italian crowd that had gathered in St Peter’s Square, he said that the cardinals had “called on me from a distant country, far away, but always so close to its union in Christian faith and tradition. I was afraid to accept this choice, but I do so in a spirit of obedience to our Lord Jesus Christ and in total entrustment to His Mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary.”
The solemn Mass inaugurating the pontificate took place on 22 October in St Peter’s Square in Rome. In his homily, the new Pope said: “Do not be afraid! Open, open wide the door to Christ.” This message is considered one of the social and theological foundations of his pontificate.
Cardinal Wojtyła decided to take the name John Paul II to honour his recently deceased predecessor John Paul 1. The Polish Pope broke a number of records during his pontificate, including the highest number of international pilgrimages (104). His most frequented destination was Poland (9 visits), followed by the U.S. and France (7 visits).
All in all, he visited 129 countries on all continents. In addition, he made more than 140 apostolic journeys in Italy.
His first trip was to the Dominican Republic, Mexico and the Bahamas in January 1979.
During his pontificate, Pope John Paul II published 14 encyclicals, 14 exhortations, 11 apostolic constitutions and 43 apostolic letters.
He canonised 478 saints (including 9 Poles and two saints connected with Poland) and beatified 1318 blessed (including 154 Poles).
Pope John Paul II left a legacy of an ecumenical Pope who attempted to improve the Catholic Church's relations with Judaism, Islam, and the Eastern Orthodox Church, while maintaining the Church's conservative positions on matters such as abortion, artificial contraception, the ordination of women, and a celibate clergy.
He has also played an important role in providing the leadership needed to end Communist rule in his native Poland and the rest of Europe.
On 19 December 2009, John Paul II was proclaimed venerable by his successor, Benedict XVI, and was beatified on 1 May 2011. He was canonised on April 27th 2014. Although it is traditional to celebrate saints' feast days on the anniversary of their death, that of John Paul II (22 October) is celebrated on the anniversary of his papal inauguration.