Every nation also has the right to shape its life according to its own traditions, although of course, this must not consist in violating fundamental human rights, especially the oppression of minorities – said St. John Paul II at the United Nations summit in 1995. Today marks the 102nd anniversary of the birth of Karol Wojtyla.
Karol Wojtyła was born on 18 May 1920 in Wadowice, as the second son and youngest of three children of Karol Wojtyła and Emilia Kaczorowska.
The Pope was aware that he owed the gift of life not only to God and his parents but also to those who fought for a free Poland in 1920. His words spoken during his seventh pilgrimage to his homeland, on 13 June 1999, at the cemetery of those killed in the Polish-Bolshevik war of 1920 in Radzymin bear witness to this.
“You know that I was born in 1920, in May, at that time when the Bolsheviks were marching on Warsaw. And that’s why, since birth, I have carried a great debt to those who then took up arms against the invaders and won, paying for it with their lives. Here, in this cemetery, their mortal remains rest. I come here with great gratitude as if repaying a debt for what I received from them,” he said.
He also prayed in front of the Fraternal Grave of the Heroes of the 1920s and blessed the children of the First Communion.
The Pope grew up in Wadowice, where Jews accounted for about 25% of the population. The Wojtyla family lived in a house owned by a Jew, Chaim Balamuth. On 13 April 1986, as Pope, he crossed the threshold of a synagogue, and on 23 March 2000, he stood before the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem.
The trip to the Holy Land from 20-26 March 2000, unlike most others, was not called an “apostolic visit”. According to the official programme, it was called the “Jubilee Pilgrimage to the Holy Land”.
“The visit has above all the character of a personal pilgrimage to the biblical places and the roots of faith,” Vatican spokesman, Joaquin Navarro-Valls said at the time.
John Paul II made 104 apostolic journeys travelling the world and preaching the Gospel. He visited 132 countries, 129 nations and about 900 localities.
The subjectivity of a nation
Poland was the country which the Pope visited most often. He made nine pilgrimages to his homeland. He always came with a specific message, adapted to the current religious and political situation. “Every pilgrimage was treated by Poles as a national retreat, and millions of people attended meetings with the Pope. Saint John Paul II called Poles to social justice and mutual respect”. – Polish bishops recalled in a special letter to the faithful written on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the birth of Karol Wojtyla.
His pontificate saw, among other things, the collapse of the communist system in Central and Eastern Europe.
The Pope repeatedly spoke about the subjectivity of the nation. In his speech at UNESCO in Paris on 2 June 1980, he stressed that “a nation exists ‘ because of culture’ and ‘for culture’, and that is why it is this great educator of people to ‘be’ more in a community that has a longer history than each individual and their own family”.
He confessed that he is “a son of a nation that has survived the most terrible experiences of history, that has been repeatedly condemned to death by their neighbours – and it has stayed alive and kept it real”.
“It preserved its own identity and maintained its sovereignty amid partition and occupation, as a nation – not on the basis of any other means of physical power, but only on the basis of its own culture, which proved, in this case, a power greater than those powers,” the Pope said.
He stressed that “there is a fundamental sovereignty of society which is expressed in the culture of the nation.” “Keep it as the apple of the eye for the future of the great human family. (…) Do not allow it to fall prey to different kinds of totalitarianism, different kinds of imperialism or hegemony, for which man counts only as an object of domination and not as a subject of its own human existence. For whom also a nation, whether their own or someone else’s, counts only as an object of domination of various interests, and not as a subject,” – John Paul II appealed to UNESCO.
During his address to the UN General Assembly in 1995, the Pope stressed that “only when the nations of Central and Eastern Europe regained their freedom did the hope for peace, which should have come with the end of the Second World War, begin to become real for the many victims of that conflict”.
He then stressed that “no state, nor any other nation or international organisation – has the right to claim that a nation does not deserve to exist”. He pointed out that “with the right to exist there is of course also the right of every nation to its own language and culture, through which it expresses and strengthens what he would call its original spiritual ‘sovereignty’. (…) Every nation also has the right to shape its life in accordance with its own traditions, although of course, this must not consist in violating fundamental human rights, especially the oppression of minorities,” – John Paul II said at the UN.
In an address to the diplomatic corps on 9 January 1988, the Pope pointed out that “lasting peace between nations cannot be imposed by the will of the stronger, but must be the result of a universal consensus reached in a spirit of respect for the rights of everyone, especially the weakest and minorities”. He acknowledged that there are still “nations whose right to independence is not recognised. Some suffer curatorship and even occupation that violates their right to govern themselves according to the values of their own culture and history.”
“Both in the East and the West, respect for the rights of peoples to dispose of their own destiny and to cooperate freely with others for the common good of the peoples can only foster peace to the extent that each nation feels respected and therefore treated as a full partner in international dialogue,” John Paul II explained.
John Paul II was the first Pope from Poland and the first non-Italian successor to St Peter after 455 years, and the youngest Pope since 1864. His pontificate lasted over 26 years and was the second-longest in the history of the Church.
He wrote 14 encyclicals, in which he presented the Church’s faith and its human teaching in a new way, 14 apostolic exhortations, 11 apostolic constitutions, 45 apostolic letters and 31 Motu Proprio.
During the 26 years of his pontificate, he convened 9 consistories, appointed about 240 cardinals, including 5 Poles, and 2,500 bishops; ordained over 2,000 priests; beatified 1,338 people and canonized 482 of them.
He died on 2 April 2005. He was beatified on 1 May 2011 by Pope Benedict XVI. From then on, his veneration became permitted in Rome and Poland. In 2013, Pope Francis recognised the miracle of the healing of the Costa Rican woman Floribeth Mora Diaz through the intercession of John Paul II. The canonisation took place on 27 May 2014 in Rome.