Pope St. John Paul II, whose feast day we celebrate October 22, was an example of holiness in a secular age and is the inspiration for JP2 Catholic Radio. He stood against Nazism, helped defeat communism, and taught how all of us are made in the image of God through his theology of the body teachings. He was a unifier who traveled to 129 countries as pope and could speak a dozen languages. His papacy reveals how influential a pope can be in these modern times.
John Paul II was born Karol Wojtyla on May 18, 1920 in Wadowice, Poland. His youth was mingled with tragedies that would impact the rest of his life. From a young age he was very active in sports and the arts, regularly playing soccer and writing plays in his free time. A religious fervor was instilled in him by his father, who raised him through Karol’s teen years since his mother died when he was eight. His brother died four years later. His father also died of a heart attack in 1941. By age twenty, Karol had lost everyone he loved.
He was raised in a free Poland, but communism and Nazism always threatened to take over his country and eventually both did. He studied for the priesthood in an underground seminary in Krakow, while the Catholic Church in Poland was under close watch by Nazis. As a young priest he completed his doctorate in theology and a handful of pastoral assignments. He also taught ethics at Jagiellonian University and Catholic University of Lublin. He became auxiliary bishop of Krakow in 1958 and then archbishop in 1964.
Since his early days he supported the arts, promoting theater any way he could. Even in Nazi Poland he helped run the Rhapsodic Theater, a Catholic underground where persecuted Catholics in Poland could express themselves through poetry and drama without being noticed by Nazis.
Through his play The Jeweler’s Shop he shared his beautiful vision of romantic love, and he expounded upon that vision in his book Love and Responsibility.
His Reign as Pope
When he was elected to the papacy in 1978, he became the first non-Italian pope in 455 years and the first from a Slavic country.
As pope, he wrote 14 encyclicals, including Fides et Ratio–which clearly explained the relation between faith and reason–and Mulieris Dignitatem on the dignity of women.
Regarding the use of new media to spread the Gospel, John Paul II said, “The Gospel lives always in conversation with culture, for the Eternal Word never ceases to be present to the Church and to humanity. If the Church holds back from culture, the Gospel itself falls silent. Therefore, we must be fearless in crossing the cultural threshold of the communications and information revolution now taking place.”
At his weekly General Audiences, John Paul II gave what came to be known as his theology of the body talks, which offered a revitalizing vision of humanity as made in the image of God for a world that had been bombarded by the lies of communism, modernism, and secularism. His theology of the body teachings didn’t teach anything new. He simply taught the meaning and foundation of love in words relevant to our age.
He devoted much of his pontificate to the peaceful conquest of oppressive regimes, speaking boldly against communism and liberation theology, which could be seen as a fusion of Christianity and Marxism.
In the fight against communism, John Paul II joined President Ronald Reagan. The two world leaders peacefully challenged communist authorities throughout the Cold War. As John Paul II spoke of God to a crowd of thousands in communist Poland in 1979 after Christianty had been suppressed in the country for years, the crowd began chanting, “We want God. We want God!” One could almost hear their voices echoing in the background in Berlin in 1987 when President Reagan spoke his famous words, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”
John Paul II was shot by Mehmet Ali Agca on May 13, 1981, the 64th anniversary of the first apparition to three shepherd children in Fatima, Portugal. The pope said it was Our Lady of Fatima who protected him from death, and he forgave his assailant while visiting him in prison years later.
John Paul II’s heart went out to the youth. They were in many ways deprived of the religious zeal that past generations were blessed to witness. In an attempt to revive that religious zeal, John Paul II established World Youth Day, holding the first one in Rome in 1986. Ever since then, the week-long celebration has been held approximately every three years in cities across the globe from Sydney to Rio de Janeiro, attracting millions of youths every time.
The Saint and JP2 Radio
Raul Caro, founder of JP2 Radio, said he saw John Paul II when the pope came to Los Angeles in 1987. Caro had recently gotten married at Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in El Centro. He and his wife decided to take the four hour drive to the L.A. Coliseum, and to sit in the nosebleed section of the stadium to see the pope.
“There was kind of an electric feeling throughout the whole crowd and in the air. We felt ourselves being very elated,” Caro said as he recalled the event. “We heard him talk, and after my wife and I left I said I wanted to get to know this pope more.” He started to learn more about all the things John Paul II had done with President Reagan to help end the Cold War, and the pope’s struggles in Poland growing up.
Back in 2014 when Caro was awarded a grant to start a Catholic radio station, co-founder Fr. Edward Horning suggested they name the station after John Paul II. “He didn’t have to say anymore,” Caro said, recalling the occasion.
John Paul II has been the inspiration in this radio apostolate as it fulfills its mission to convert, invigorate, and inspire listeners in the San Diego and the Imperial Valley community by providing quality Catholic programming centered on Christ, the culture of life, marriage, family, and service to others.
Those wishing to support the mission of JP2 Catholic Radio can do so at jp2radio.com or by mail at P.O. Box 2507, El Centro, CA 92244.
This Day in History: Pope John Paul II Shot (history.com)
Biography: Saint John Paul II (britannica.com)
Pope John Paul II (wikipedia.org)
Featured image sourced from wannapik.com