Pope John Paul II
Pastor to the world, he led a revolution of conscience
The pontiff also reached deeply into the Third World when filling key posts in the Roman Curia and in enlarging the number of cardinal electors--those eligible to vote in a papal election--from 120 to more than 130. "He transformed the College of Cardinals so that now it is truly international," says Chester Gillis, chairman of theology at Georgetown University. "That was of tremendous benefit to the church."
He also relaxed the rules for making saints, requiring--among other things--that candidates for sainthood be credited for two postmortem miracles rather than four. Partly as a result, John Paul II canonized more new saints during his pontificate than did all of his 20th-century predecessors combined. The pope's intent, says the Rev. Peter Gumpel, a member of the Vatican's Congregation for the Causes of Saints, was to give Catholics throughout the world "models of the Christian faith . . . drawn from their own lands and cultures" and to encourage more Catholics to engage in prayers and other devotional practices associated with veneration of saints. John Paul also gave a face and a voice to a new spirit of ecumenism.
Passion for ministry. Among the changes, none were more apparent than those he brought to the papacy itself. As a pastor and bishop in Krakow for many years, he came to Rome with a passion for ministry and little interest in the administrative chores required of a pope. Unlike two of his 20th-century predecessors, Paul VI and Pius XII--both of whom immersed themselves in the managerial details of running the Vatican state--John Paul II devoted his energy to travel and diplomacy and to teaching and praying for his flock. "He saw himself as a pastor to the world," says the Rev. Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, head of the Jesuit order and a member of the Roman Curia.
That mixture of ministry and diplomacy set a pattern John Paul II would follow, visiting more than 135 nations--some of them multiple times--and journeying the equivalent of three times the distance to the moon. Through his record-setting travels, the pilgrim pope inspired the faithful and instilled new vigor in the church's missionary efforts. Through his pilgrimages to Africa, notes George Weigel in his 1999 papal biography Witness to Hope, the pope "strengthened the faith of new Christians by the millions and made them free like brothers and sisters in the household of Catholicism."
Whenever he traveled, he kept a grueling pace that even in the early days often would bring him to the brink of exhaustion. In later years, to conserve his ebbing strength, the pope's schedulers were careful to plan fewer events with more rest time between stops.
From the very beginning, John Paul II made it clear he would not be content to follow the pattern of so many of his predecessors to merely occupy the throne of St. Peter, busy himself with the pageantry and polity of office while venturing seldom beyond the Vatican walls. Since his earliest years as a parish priest in Poland, Karol Wojtyla saw himself first and foremost as a pastor whose rightful place was with his flock. "Some people think that the pope should not travel so much, [that] he should stay in Rome, as before," John Paul II said during a visit to Zaire in 1980. "I often hear such advice, or read it in newspapers. But the local people here say, 'Thank God you came here, for you can only learn about us by coming. How could you be our pastor without knowing us? Without knowing who we are, how we live.' This confirms me in the belief that it is time for the bishops of Rome . . . to become successors not only of Peter but also of St. Paul, who, as we know, could never sit still and was constantly on the move."