Poland honors its greatest son – 3rd Anniversary of JPII’s death (Feature Article)
By Robert Strybel, "The Polish Answer Man" Poland honors its greatest son – 3rd Anniversary of JPII’s death (Feature Article)

Third anniversary of John Paul’s death

Poland honors its greatest son

By Robert Strybel, Our Warsaw Correspondent

ul. Kaniowska 24
01-529 Warsaw, Poland

WARSAW–Millions of people around the globe have marked the recent third anniversary of the death of Pope John Paul II, who had shepherded the Roman Catholic Church for nearly 27 years. During that period he set records, established precedents, initiated new pastoral projects, but above all touched the lives of millions of people of different nationalities and faiths. Thanks to a seemingly inexhaustible missionary spirit, he crisscrossed the globe on 104 foreign pastoral pilgrimages and met with more people than any of his predecessors.

More than 17,600,000 pilgrims participated in his more than 1,160 regular Wednesday General Audiences, not counting special audiences and religious ceremonies. His reciprocated love for young people led to his World Youth Days which brought together millions of youths from all over the world on 19 different occasions. His devotion to the family prompted the Polish Pontiff to also initiate World Meetings of Families, which he first introduced in 1994.

A tireless apostle of love, peace and reconciliation, the traveled to places threatened by civil strife, brought together the world’s religious leaders at Assisi, forgave his would-be assassin and appealed for world peace at the United Nations. The hard-working Vicar of Christ penned 14 Encyclicals, 15 Apostolic Exhortations, 11 Apostolic Constitutions and 45 Apostolic Letters in his native Polish, subsequently translated into Italian and other languages. He was also known as the swimming and skiing pope, who loved children and peppered his sermons with light-hearted humor.

            But although he was mourned and continues to be remembered around the globe, nowhere does his memory inspire love and devotion than in his native land and–by extension–across the Polish Diaspora. Across Poland anniversary masses, prayer vigils, concerts and exhibitions were held to honor Poland’s favorite native son, whose death three years ago brought to an end one of Christendom’s longest pontificates. Not only the stations of Poland’s public television network TVP, but also commercial channels provided blanket coverage of the life and work of John Paul II. His pilgrimages to his native land were recalled, portions of his sermons were rebroadcast and people who knew him shared their inside views with the country’s viewing audience.

            People prayed and lit votive lamps in towns and villages across the country, but especially turned out in force in localities closely associated with his life and pastoral ministry. Crowds jammed the square of his birthplace of Wadowice, and young people gathered beneath the window of Krakow’s Episcopal Palace at ul. Florianska 3, his lodgings during papal pilgrimages to Poland’s old royal capital. But is there more to this collective outpouring of devotion than a desire to honor a beloved native son combined with a kind of nostalgia trip?

Contrary to predictions that after embracing capitalism, Poland would turn its back on religion the way Spain has done, that has not occurred. Church attendance and religious vocations have decreased only slightly, and Poland still has one of Europe’s lowest divorce rates – tendencies many attribute to the Polish Pontiff’s overwhelming influence. An overwhelming majority of Poles also supports the Church’s ban on homosexual marriage. In a recent poll conducted by Warsaw University sociologists, 79 percent of the Poles surveyed insisted they were guided by John Paul’s teachings, and 63 percent said his pontificate had changed their lives.

On specific moral issues, 71 opposed euthanasia and 68 percent were against abortion, but only 27 percent were totally opposed to contraception. And 68 percent did not accept the late pope’s rejection of capital punishment. But more than 80 percent believe the anniversary of John Paul’s death (April 2nd) should be marked annually, and as many as 47 percent want it to become a legal national holiday.