Q - I have heard a lot of people referring to Pope John Paul II as "John Paul the Great". I do not feel comfortable giving him this title although I think he is one of the greatest popes ever. What do you think about calling him John Paul the Great now, and how does a pope receive that designation?
A - Thanks for the questions. The first question is easy for me to answer, since JPII has had such a formative influence on my life - I have no problem with it at all. The second question requires a bit more background.
There are three other popes who have been called "The Great":
- Pope St. Leo I
- Pope St. Gregory I
- Pope St. Nicholas I
So, why would we list John Paul II as another "Great"? There are many reasons, so here is a short list:
- He was the third-longest reigning pope of all-time (26 years).
- His leadership helped bring down the Iron Curtain of Communism.
- He was one of the most prolific authors of papal documents and he was widely considered one of the best philosopher-theologians of modern times.
- He presided over the writing of the Catechism and the new Code of Canon Law.
- He traveled more than any other pope in history.
- His charismatic personality drew him to a wide range of people.
- He saw more progress in Ecumenical dialogue (especially with the Orthodox Churches and secondarily with Lutherans) than any other Pope.
- He helped continue the healing of wounds between Judaism and Christianity that has been simmering for centuries. This healing was started by previous Popes, but went to new levels with JPII.
- He advanced the teachings of the human person and sexuality to new levels in his Theology of the Body.
- His holiness and virtue have helped lift him to the level of a "Blessed" and will soon make him a "Saint".
- He loved the Church's doctrine, but he also had a very nice understanding of how to pastorally apply the teachings of the Church.
- His love for young people helped start World Youth Days.
- He continued to lead the Church while suffering greatly, thus showing us how to carry our crosses with dignity and love.
- He was a great defender of all human life. The poor, the baby, the elderly, etc.
- He helped lead the Church into a new millennium and prepare the Church for the changes that come with time, by challenging us to a "new evangelization" of fallen-away Catholic cultures and peoples.
- He recognized more Saints than any other Pope - much needed in a culture of death and injustice.
- Many more reasons are not in this list.