John Paul II – teacher of papacy

Fr Pawel Rozpiatkowski

The memory of John Paul II has still been vivid among the believing and practicing Polish Catholics. The research, ordered by ‘Niedziela’ and conducted by the Institute of Statistics of the Catholic Church, directed by Rev. Professor Witold Zdaniewicz, show that the ministry of the Pope changed the Polish Catholics’ lives and still mark their ways of conduct. According to the decisive majority of Polish Catholics Benedict XVI continues the teaching of John Paul II.

The Institute asked Polish Catholics about the most characteristic feature of John Paul II. The most frequent reply, out of 246 responses, was the openness of the Polish Pope to other people. ‘Above all he saw humanity in each person he encountered. And then he saw who the person was, what he was, what his profession or social position was’, declared one of the respondents. ‘Love for all people, openness, understanding every human poverty and high requirements for himself and the others’, someone else wrote. ‘He was the most humane Pope for centuries and he was our fellow countryman’, another Polish Catholic answered. Some other group thinks that the most characteristic mark of John Paul II was his deep contact with God, which was expressed in his prayers. ‘«Totus Tuus – All Yours» – and all things are clear!’, answered another respondent. ‘For me the most characteristic feature of John Paul II was that he was a giant of prayer and an example of great love for your neighbour’, yet another response. Some pointed to ‘his deep faith in Jesus Christ, which corresponded to his wonderful life’. The less frequent responses included the concern of John Paul II for young people and his apostolic pilgrimages all over the world. His human features, like smile and sense of humour, were also mentioned although these were rare answers.

John Paul II in our lives

These were the images of our Pope based on the whole picture he created by his long pontificate. And what does the Pope contribute to our spiritual lives? Which guidelines of the Pope are most important to believing and practicing Catholics? Which make us better, more like God? The responses were much more diversified. The most frequent one was prayer. The image of praying John Paul II has still been vivid among Polish Catholics. It radiates and makes people often pray like him. ‘I admire the Holy Father for his zeal in prayer when I have a problem I pray using his words.’ I spend more time on prayer’, another respondent, evaluating the influence of John Paul II on his spiritual life, gives a simple answer. ‘He is an example of humility and trust in God and the Mother of God, and he gave me an example of the reason for prayer, spiritual effort and suffering.’ The Marian cult is the second issue that has most often appeared in the responses. ‘Mary is our Mother and Mediatrix and our way is our dedication to her’, one of the respondents defined the most important message of the pontificate. ‘It revives the veneration of the Mother of God; it introduces a new dimension to my dedication to Christ’s Mother’, another respondent wrote. The respondents also pointed to the importance of the papal teaching on family and protection of human life. ‘I was always impressed by his concern for Polish families, for the lives of the unborn. I often refer to the thoughts of the Holy Father ‘Overcome yourself!’, ‘Lay down high requirements on you’ in my work as a teacher’, we read in one of the questionnaires. ‘I have got his books, especially the ones about marriage and family. I often read them and use in my work in the pre-marriage counselling centre and in my family’. As far as the studies of the enormous legacy of the papal teaching are concerned the questionnaires show that many believing and practicing Catholics have books of John Paul II in their home collections. They write about the encyclicals, collections of speeches or the poetry of Karol Wojtyla. Many declare to study these documents.

Benedict XVI – continuator

The Polish believing and practicing Catholics express decisively that they regard Benedict XVI as the continuator of John Paul II. They had the chance to get to know him after the inauguration of his pontificate, during his pilgrimage to Poland in 2006, and almost all of them – 94 % say that it was an important event for them. What decides that Benedict XVI is a continuator of the teaching of John Paul II in the eyes of the Poles? As far as the method of proclaiming the Gospel is concerned, the respondents stress that although with less intensity he makes pilgrimages, which is understandable because of his age. They also appreciate his being with young people during the World Youth Days. The Polish faithful notice the continuation on the doctrinal level, too. ‘The encyclicals «Spe salvi» and «Deus caritas est» are the obvious continuation of the teaching of John Paul II about Christian hope and God’s Mercy. His direct contact with the faithful shows that Benedict XVI continues the teaching of John Paul II’, we read in one of the questionnaires. The respondents also appreciate the protection of the deposit of the Church. ‘He faithfully guards the commandments, especially the fifth and sixth ones.’ ‘He proclaims the Gospel with the same power and appeals to endure in faith; he warns against relativism and he does not yield to any deceptive progress.’ ‘Benedict XVI, as many people might have thought, would be more liberal. But he is not. And I think that taking only this fact one can see that the Truth that John Paul II proclaimed cannot be changed, cannot be replaced, and so we have the continuation of the thought of the Polish Pope.’ These are only some of the answers that stress the community of thought and action between John Paul II and Benedict XVI in the opinions of the overwhelming majority of the Polish believing and practicing Catholics. For many of them the frequent references to the documents of the Polish Pope are the evidence of the continuation of the teaching of John Paul II. ‘One can have the impression that the Holy Father has not been changed’, wrote one of the respondents. However, the overwhelming majority does not exclude different opinions. Some respondents, exactly nine, think that the pontificate of Benedict XVI is different than the pontificate of John Paul II to a bigger or smaller extent.

Our Pope

What those who systematically attend Sunday services like about Benedict XVI? The responses show that they still see him through the prism of John Paul II. They like the fact that he continues his teaching. Moreover, they point to his conservatism in the positive meaning of the term, and deep knowledge of theology, and as far as his character is concerned they like his modesty and openness to people. The Poles are also impressed by his simple gestures, for example his systematic usage of Polish at the end of the prayer Angelus. Here are some quotations:

Follower of our Pope

‘What I like about Benedict XVI is that he has not cut himself from what his predecessor left. Like John Paul II he travels all over the world.’ ‘I like that he mentions his Great Predecessor and greets the faithful in their languages.’

Guardian of faith

‘He steadfastly guards the teaching of the Holy Church, i.e. the principles of faith are protected by him. I like him because he does not follow fashionable trends.’ ‘He does not yield to the pressure of reforming the Church and firmly follows the tradition. He guards the greatest values of the Catholic Church, which seems a hard task at the beginning of the 21st century. He is characterised by his unique, in my opinion, mild firmness.’

Wise man

’Very precise formulation of thoughts and full freedom in this respect. His high position in the world of science (already before his election).’ ‘His openness and simplicity, modesty. I had had the occasion to participate in meetings with Benedict XVI and I am convinced that he is a man of God.’ ‘«Mozart of theology» given for this concrete time. An authentic witness of God.’ ‘His deep theological thought is rooted in the teaching of the Fathers of the Church.’


’Openness to people, especially to young people. He is good, quiet, kind, loving, patient, etc. I think and above all he loves Jesus.’ His peacefulness, smile and at the same time dignity.’

He notices us

’He notices Polish people. He speaks our language. He is himself in his gestures. He does not imitate John Paul II. He moves like a sprite.’ ‘His appreciation of the Poles by greeting them in our language.’ Almost 99% of the respondents are proud that we have such popes. 1.7 % of the responses to this question were not valid and almost 80% of the respondents declare to pray for the Pope and his intentions.

Was the pilgrimage of Benedict XVI to Poland in 2006 an important event for you?

94% – yes
3% – no
3% – no answer

Do you remember the Pope and his intention in your prayers?

77,7% – yes
13,7% – no
8,6% – no answer

The survey has been conducted on the sample of 233 believing and practicing Catholics by the Institute of Statistics of the Catholic Church. They were randomly selected from the dozen thousand representatives of the believing and practicing Catholics whose list is at the disposal of the Institute.

They said about John Paul II

He was lying prostrate
I saw Cardinal Wojtyla lying prostrate between the pews. Lying prostrate can be seen today but it is rather rare. It was rare then, too. Two weeks ago I had a similar experience. I was sitting in the organ gallery and suddenly I could see someone lying. I was terrified. Maybe he fell? Maybe something happened to him? I waited for 5-10 minutes. I thought, ‘My God, I will have to phone my family to tell them that the priest died in the chapel!’ But after twenty minutes, thanks God, he stood up.
Fr Jerzy Tomzinski, Pauline father from Jasna Gora

What is he like?
Once I met Fr Stas Dziwisz and we talked about Archbishop Karol Wojtyla. Suddenly, I asked him, ‘What is he like?’ Stas looked at me and stated, ‘Marysia, if he died today we could begin a beatification process tomorrow!’ ‘Is he so holy?’, I asked. And Fr Stas Dziwisz convincingly answered, ‘Yes, he is so holy.’ This conversation took place in the Krakow times when the Father Founder sent me to Archbishop Wojtyla with some matter.
Maria Okonska, co-founder of the Secular Institute of Servants of Our Lady of Jasna Gora, Mother of the Church.

A holy man?
John Paul II many a time spoke about holiness as something natural which each of us should aspire to. It was something normal for him. And he aspired to that. He marched at the lead of the faithful of the Church. He attached supreme importance to prayer, to being with Lord God. How he prayed! Often, bowed, leaned on the walking stick – he did not see us then. We were looking at him and saw how he struggled with God. I saw a face of a mystic who touches God’s matters. He collaborated with Lord God and interpreted God’s thought, God’s plans. And Lord God and the Mother of God helped him a lot. The attempt on his life, ministering in spite of his illness, the grace of dying witnessed to that. Looking at all those years I can say with inner conviction that I saw his sanctity, that I touched the holiness of John Paul II.
Rev. Msgr Jakub Gil, the parish priest of the Church of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Wadowice

From the book by Krzysztof Tadej entitled ‘Blask swiętosci’ [The Splendour of Sanctity]

"Niedziela" 42/2008

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: