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John Paul II - Pontifex Maximus
John Paul II, successor of John Paul I (1978) and spiritual inheritor of the names and mission of two of his direct predecessors* John XXIII (1958-1963) and Paul VI (1963-1978), is the first non-Italian pope in 455 years. According to calculations, the average of a pontificate throughout 2000 years of the history of the Church is about seven and a half years. John Paul II has begun the twenty-fourth year of pontificate, therefore already the fourth papal "tenure". He continues his service despite a bloody assassination attempt, which took place on 13 May, 1981 in St. Peter's Square in Rome.
John Paul II is the first Polish pope and surely the first Slavonic pope. Both features are well visible in his life and service. The particular demonstration of care for prosperity and all-round evolution of Poland became pilgrimages to Homeland, made in years 1979, 1983, 1987, 1991, 1997 and 1999. Each one had different character, which was related to changing the political, social and religious conditions, but each pilgrimage reinforced hope and gave birth to many transitions in good. Pilgrimages to Poland constitute an element of the unprecedented current of world pilgrimages, which make John Paul II rightly considered Pope Pilgrim. His silhouette with a characteristic papal cross is known and easily recognised everywhere. There is no other person in the world who enjoys such great and stable appreciation and popularity.
The person and the pontificate of John Paul II have had an immense contribution to make famous the name of Poland. It is the Pope who plays the role of the best and the most efficient "ambassador" of our country. We experienced it especially in times of the creation of "Solidarity", in difficult years of martial law, and often we experience this fact today.
According to ancient Latin formula a pope is called "Pontifex Maximus", i.e. "Supreme Priest ", in other words "Arch priest". The name "pontifex" derives from the noun "pons", i.e. bridge. A goal of every pope as St. Peter's successor is building bridges, which means overcoming tensions and conflicts and creating and enhancing interpersonal bonds. The most fundamental dimension of this so greatly responsible activity embraces Catholics and Christians of other beliefs but the vocation of religion and religious leaders is also creating and maintaining solidarity with all people.
The task to "build bridges" takes up a special meaning now, in the context of strenuous process of the unification of Europe. Since the beginning of his pontificate John Paul II has been doing everything to demonstrate and develop the spiritual identity of the Old Continent. Till 1989 Europe had been strongly divided while the results of musty fragmentation still are perceptible. The Holy Father has very efficiently contributed to overcome long-standing tensions, crush barriers diving nations and religious communities and to reinforce interpersonal ties. In such a way he fulfils the mission in which the essence of power he exercises in the Church is reflected.
The service of John Paul II is rightly described as "turning-point pontificate". In the first place it is the times we live in, i.e. turn of centuries and millennia. John Paul II has prepared the Church and the world to experience the Great Jubilee of Year 2000, and then he chaired its solemn celebration. Two events took up a special significance: the opening of the Holy Door in St. Peter's basilica in Rome, on the night of 24 / 25 December, 1999 and its closing on 6 January, 2001. The silhouette of John Paul II against the Holy Door of the Vatican has become a symbol of an unusual breakthrough, which marked life of a present generation. The Holy Door constitute at the same time a meaningful sign symbol of the most sublime values uniting people which are expressed also by bridges.
The Great Jubilee of Year 2000 became an opportunity for deep renewal in personal and collective life. The Pope addressed numerous appeals for the restoration of unsettled social justice in the world, as well as for peace. Although not all of them met with a response they really deserve, they did not remain unnoticed, because they shook and still are gnawing conscience of political and religious leaders.
In the months that succeeded the termination of the Great Jubilee, once again it became clear how an important value peace is. When it became seriously threatened, John Paul II continuously appeals for persistence in overcoming everything, which divides, and searching for those values which can unite and reconcile people. In a speech made on 22 September, 2001 in Astan, during his pilgrimage to Kazakhstan, the Holy Father said: "Matters of argument should not be solved with armed forces* but with peaceful expedients, which means through negotiations and dialogue. I definitely corroborate this way of action, meeting basic requirements of solidarity and peace which people desire more and more consciously". Three days later at the airport of Yerevan in Armenia, John Paul II ascertained: "Peace can be built only on stable ground-work of reciprocal respect justice within relations between different communities and magnanimity from the part of the strongest ones."
Concern for peace finds its expression in the annual message of John Paul II on the occasion of World Peace Day, celebrated on 1 January. In the last one, opening year 2002, the Holy Father wrote: "There is no peace without justice, there is no justice without forgiveness." The ability of forgiving as a condition for justice and settling justice as a condition for peace - this is the most important indication, which is addressed by John Paul II Pontifex Maximus to the contemporary world.
Priest Prof. Waldemar Chrostowski
University of Cardinal Stefan Wyszyhski