John Paul II. The Pope of Dialogue

 

John Paul II is known as the Pope of dialogue. The Holy Father initiated a process of broad intercultural and interfaith dialogue with the awareness that only such a road would lead to a lessening of prejudice, stereotypes, and fundamentalist attitudes towards practitioners of other religions, which are so often the cause of conflict and war. There cannot be peace among nations without peace among religions. No other Pope and no other religious leader has done as much for dialogue as Pope John Paul II.

The need for greater tolerance regarding worldviews, religions, and cultures, first became a topic of discussion during the discussions of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). This need for greater understanding was stressed especially as it related to efforts towards world peace. In the document titled “Dialogue and Proclamation”, the Church indicated four forms of dialogue: the dialogue of life as an ability to coexist on a daily basis, the dialogue of action as the common efforts of different organisations which all strive towards the same goal, the dialogue of theological exchange which seeks to deepen understanding and appreciation of the religious heritage and spiritual values of others, and the dialogue of religious experience.

The task of interfaith dialogue is mutual discovery – understanding of the partner in dialogue and of the richness of his or her religion. The essence of dialogue is the search for traces of God’s presence in other religions. Interfaith dialogue is also understood as the search for communion between young people on the road to peace. The Holy Father wrote in his encyclical “Redemptoris Missio” (1990) that at each of these levels, everyone is responsible, and it is the duty of every Christian and Christian community. As an expression of a new commandment, this dialogue requires complete engagement and cannot be limited to polite words, ambiguous wordings, or meetings which more resemble media events than true dialogue, and that dialogue is not a result of tactics or calculation, but rather is a dignified, justified, and demanding action.

Throughout his pontificate, Holy Father John Paul II demonstrated many times his commitment to mutual self-discovery, respect, and toleration for other religions and their followers, as well as non-believers. As the first such highly ranked authority of the Church, he crossed the threshold of a mosque and synagogue, prayed before the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, and placed a note there expressing a desire for unity. On the initiative of the Holy Father, in 1986 a World Day of Prayer for Peace was held in Assisi, the home of St. Francis. Among its other aspects, this was an interfaith prayer meeting for peace on Earth.

The social and political activities of the Holy Father brought about a lessening of conflict in many regions of the world, and led to peaceful transformations in Europe.

The road to holiness

On the 16th of October 1978, the Polish cardinal Karol Wojtyła was elected as the Bishop of Rome and the 264th successor of St. Peter, taking the papal name of John Paul II. He was the first Pope chosen from outside of Italy since 1522. The inaugural ceremony of his pontificate took place on the 22nd of October 1978 at St. Peter’s Square, and on the 12th of November he was ceremonially installed at the Basilica of St. John Lateran, the traditional cathedral of the Bishop of Rome.

In the course of his pontificate, which lasted 26 years 5 months and 17 days, John Paul II undertook 104 apostolic missions abroad and 94 within Italy itself. In total, he visited 130 countries on every inhabited continent, many of them repeatedly. He spoke to the faithful in many languages; he was fluent in Polish, Italian, French, German, English, Spanish, Portuguese, as well as Latin and Greek. He visited his homeland of Poland eight times. He conducted 1166 general audiences during which he met 18 million pilgrims from around the world. Between the years 1978 and 2005, the Holy Father wrote 14 encyclicals, 42 apostolic letters, 11 apostolic constitutions, and 14 exhortations. The pontificate of John Paul II brought the Church into a new era, its third millennium. The social and political activities of the Holy Father brought about a lessening of conflict in many regions of the world, and led to peaceful transformations in Europe. John Paul II initiated a process of broadly understood intercultural and interfaith dialogue, establishing among others the World Youth Days, a tradition of prayer meetings of young people from around the world organised with the Pope.

On the 2nd of April 2005 at 9:37 p.m., the Holy Father John Paul II left us for his Father’s Kingdom. Both directly from St. Peter’s Square and by means of electronic media, millions of faithful worldwide kept vigil with this outstanding man in his last days. The immediate reaction to the news of his passing was an outpouring of applause for his pontificate and shared singing of the hymn of praise, Te Deum laudamus. The crowds gathered at St. Peter’s Square began to raise the cry: Santo Subito! This was an enormous and conscious expression of the greatness of his pontificate, and of gratitude for a life full of love, humility, and good will.

On the 27th of April 2014, John Paul II was proclaimed a saint of the Catholic Church.

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