Tuesday, October 22, 2013

What is So "Great" About John Paul II?


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
Here is the interesting thing, none of the three have ever been officially recognized by the Church as "great". It is a popular title given, that rises up from the people and tradition surrounding the men. Since they received the popular title, the have been listed in Church documents with "The Great" appended to their name, but never has the Church given the title to them officially.

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.
I expect history won't downgrade John Paul from being the next "Great" Pope.

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