The life and works of Pope John Paul II

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Saturday, April 26, 2014

AMONG the 264 popes recognized by Catholic tradition since St. Peter, only a handful made a deep and lasting mark in history or even among Catholics and non-Catholics alike


Pope John Paul II was one of those who did. In life and in death, he was known for many things and given many titles: the most influential leader and statesman of the 20th century, Man of the Year, the Millennial Pope, and John Paul the Great.


Tomorrow, April 27, the Feast of the Divine Mercy, he and Pope John XXIII will be canonized as new saints at the Vatican City in Rome, Italy.

John Paul II always had a very special place in the hearts of the Filipino people. This was mutual; he never hid the soft spot he had for Le Filippine.

But who is this man who is so deeply loved and adored by the multitude?

Growing Up

Karol Józef Wojtyla was born in 1920 from humble beginnings in Wadowice, a small market town in Poland. His mother Emilia was a schoolteacher, while his father Karol was a retired army officer and tailor. Both were devout and pious.

The couple already lost a daughter in infancy, so Lolek, Karol’s childhood nickname, grew very close to his brother Edmund.

Lolek’s early life was marked by great losses, the beginning of several crosses he had to bear. At eight years old, he lost his mother and at 12, he lost Edmund, perhaps the closest person he ever had.

In his youth, Lolek was an athlete, enjoying long hikes, skiing, swimming and soccer. He moved to Krakow with his father so he can study philosophy at Jagiellonian University. While there, he honed his talents as an actor, a playwright and a linguist.

In 1939, World War II broke out and Nazi German occupation forces invaded Poland. Auchwitz, the largest death camp where almost a million Jews were exterminated, wasn’t too far from Wadowice. With university closed, Karol was forced to do manual labor in a limestone quarry and a chemical factory.

It was in 1941 when his father died of a heart attack. “At twenty, I had already lost all the people I loved,” Karol wrote.
Completely alone in the world, with the war still going on around him, he knocked on the door of the bishop of Krakow and asked to enter the clandestine underground seminary.

He survived the Nazi Occupation of World War II and was ordained into thepriesthood in 1946. He became bishop and later, Archbishop of Krakow.


On October 16, 1978, Karol Wojtyla, 65, ascended to the Papacy, choosing the name John Paul II and adopting the motto, “Totus Tuus” or “All Yours.” He was the first Polish pope and the first non-Italian in 455 years.

The pontificate of Pope John Paul II has been one of the more important in centuries, for the Church and for the world. He contributed to the collapse of Communism, significantly improved alliances with Jews, Muslims and Christians, fought the “culture of death,” stressed the empowerment of the lay and the importance of marriage and family to save the world, among others.

He was one of only two popes to have visited the Philippines, making two remarkable visits: the first time was in 1981 to beatify San Lorenzo Ruiz and companions, and the other in 1995 to preside at the World Youth Day at the Luneta Park.

The closing Mass of that event attended by 5 million people still holds the world record for the largest number of people gathered in a singular religious event.

He is the only pope to have visited Bacolod City and credit for that rightfully belongs to the late Bacolod Bishop Antonio Y. Fortich.

Significantly, it is in Bacolod City where John Paul is memorialized in a manner very close to his heart.

JP Institute

The human person had always fascinated Karol Wojtyla. He was convinced that it is only through love that the human person is revealed. “Love is responsibility… When a man and woman are linked by love, one takes on the other’s destiny and future as if it were their own,” he wrote.

A significant legacy left behind by John Paul II is the establishment of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family.

The Institutes are located worldwide in Rome, Washington DC, Benin, Brazil, India, Mexico, Spain, and Australia. In the Philippines, the John Paul II National Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family can be found right here in the Diocese of Bacolod.

This institution has been granted the status Centro Associato (Associate Center), a step towards becoming a Session of the Pontifical Institute of Rome.

The Institute, in consortium with the University of St. La Salle, offers a two-year masteral degree course specializing in marriage and family. Over the years, it has attracted students from Zamboanga, Pangasinan, Laoag, Mindoro, Marinduque, Cotabato, Legaspi, Sorsogon, Naga and as far as Thailand, Myanmar, and China.

Through its faculty and graduates, the Institute places itself at the service of faith and of the greater community in the Philippines and the Far East. When this community rises to make the legacy of this great man and saint linger on and on, then there can be no greater honor for him than this.

John Paul II has an enduring legacy in the Philippines, particularly in Bacolod. The John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family is his “living legacy.”

Msgr. Victorino Rivas, director of the JP II Institute, said the Institute is not merely named after the pope; it is, in fact, an Institute that he himself created.

I believe that one way of honoring Pope John Paul II, who will become a saint Sunday, is by supporting the Institute.

Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on April 26, 2014.


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