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Stories of a Saint

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Oct. 22, 2014

This October 22 marks the first time that the Universal Church celebrates the optional memorial of St. John Paul II.  That means that within the liturgy of the Mass and the Divine Office, the Church seeks the special intercession and celebrates the life of one of Her newest saints.  St. John Paul II’s life and work was not limited to touching the life of the Catholic Church.  

He was very influential in the overthrow of Communism in his home country of Poland in the late Twentieth Century. 

One of the many stories in St. John Paul II’s life, where God’s divine hand clearly influenced the situation, was the way he was selected to hold the very important role as the archbishop of Krakow.  The archbishop of Krakow wielded considerable influence locally and nationally, so it was a crucial that the Communist leaders of Poland control who held the office. On June 15, 1962, the sitting archbishop of Krakow died, leaving the office open for a new candidate.  In order for a new archbishop to be appointed, the names of the different candidates had to be submitted to the communist authorities before a candidate’s name could be submitted to the Holy Father.  Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski, the Primate of Poland (leading bishop), had submitted several names to the communist authorities.  Each time, the communists rejected his candidates.  

They had a specific candidate whose name they wanted to be put forward:  Karol Wojtyla (the future John Paul II). 

Wojtyla was an auxiliary (assistant) bishop of the city of Krakow.  He was a seminary professor the communist leaders thought they could manipulate.  He was only forty-two years old, and as a seminary professor, they thought that he would be too naïve to understand the maneuverings of worldly politics.  If they were able to manipulate him in small ways, the communist leadership hoped to eventually use Wojtyla as a tool to cause fragmentation in the Church in Poland.  But because the communists were atheists and had no faith in God, they did not understand that God can bring good from evil, even the evil intentions of the Polish Communist leadership.  When Wojtyla’s name was proposed to the communist leadership, they were very excited to have the name of ‘their candidate’ sent off to Rome for approval.  What they didn’t realize is that secretly, many Catholics leaders in Poland also wanted Wojtyla to become the archbishop of Krakow. 

Faithful Catholics recognized Wojtyla as a quiet bishop who proposed “cultural resistance” against the communists.  A major theme in Wojtyla’s writings concerned the dignity of each human person as created in the image and likeness of God.  Far from promoting the dignity of each citizen as a human person, the atheistic communist system viewed people as “tools” for the building up the material wealth of the state.  A logical consequence of this system of governing is that “things” eventually take precedence over “people”.  Wojtyla’s writings and  “cultural resistance” should have been a red flag for the communists, but they were thinking only in terms of material power.  Wojtyla did not seem as much of a threat as the fiery Cardinal Wyszynski. Yet the wisdom of this world could not grasp the importance of Wojtyla’s teachings, and as a result, the best man for the job ended up as the archbishop of Krakow.  After he had been archbishop for a few months, the communist leaders realized too late that they would not be able to manipulate the dynamic Wojtyla.  In the years that followed, Karol Wojtyla guided a peaceful revolution that eventually led to the overthrow of Communism in Poland.  

Once he became pope, he helped to overthrow Communism in all of Europe.  

Through his intercession, may we all seek to be wise and gentle in courageously living out our Catholic faith, particularly in the face of oppressive forms of government that violate the dignity of each human person.  




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