Fr. Z in WaPo on John Paul II’s beatification

John Paul III have a piece in the Washington Post today at their invitation.  The typo, rather omission, in the second paragraph (as it appears in the online version as I write) is good for my humility.

Many argue that John Paul II should not be beatified so quickly … or at all.  I set those arguments aside for this piece and focus on things we can underscore as bright points of his pontificate.

The whole thing is my emphases and comments.

Fearless in Hope and Love

By Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

In some cities in the USA when a local team wins a basketball game, crowds burn cars.   But when John Paul II’s body was lying on view in St. Peter’s Basilica, one first responder, police officer and volunteer worker after the next told me that there had not been a single act of civil disobedience or problem reported.  That means something.  During the days which preceded his funeral, armed with media credentials I was able to move freely through the checkpoints and channels for the millions, literally, of people who stood in slow moving lines for scores of hours to see the dead Pope’s body for the last time.  Peacefulness, prayer and patience reigned.

At the end of the funeral, the wind blew closed the cover of Book of the Gospels. Men lifted John Paul’s coffin onto their shoulders.  They stopped before the open doors of the Basilica and slowly pin-wheeled, as if to give him one last public wave.  A shout went up, simultaneous because of the huge video screens along the nearby streets.  That shout, which echoed across a silent and motionless Rome, may have been the single loudest purely human sound ever raised on high in that City of over 3000 years.

There began the rising chant of the people, “Santo Subito… Sainthood Soon”.   It may have been a manifestation of the old adage Vox Populi Vox Dei… The Voice of the People is the Voice of God.  I don’t know that, but it was unlike any chant I had ever heard before.   Of course when in Rome you hear the word “subito”, especially from a waiter, you almost never expect what you’ve requested to happen quickly.  And yet here we are at his beatification.

Leaving aside the issue of the record breaking speed of the late Pope John Paul II’s beatification (2220 days, 15 days faster the Bl. Mother Teresa of Calcutta), we should all be able to remember and agree on some of the achievements of his life as a good man, a faithful member of his Catholic Church, and life-long disciple of the Lord and Savior he so obviously loved.

A pebble can prompt a tumultuous landslide.  John Paul dropped a great many stones.  Many of them are still gathering speed.  On the geopolitical plane, the visit of John Paul II to his native Poland after his election as Pope helped to diminish worldwide the soul annihilating forces of atheistic Communism.  Within the Church, after a decade and more of internal rebellion and chaos, John Paul’s manifest confidence, love of neighbor and focus on the Redeemer of man initiated the gradual rebuilding of order and morale, especially among young people, which continues still under the pontificate of Pope Benedict.

From the early loss of his parents and the hardship of a youth under Nazi occupation, including forced labor and serious injury, to the sorrow of seeing his beloved Poland and her people suffer under Communism, from witnessing open defiance on the part of clergy and theologians within the Church to being shot by an assassin in St. Peter’s Square, from the horror of emerging of stories about abuse of children, to the ever increasing agony of Parkinson’s Disease which sapped his vitality and imprisoned him in physical weakness, John Paul radiated hope.

Even as he became smaller, he seemed to become all the greater, for it was Christ who increased in him.  Young people were inspired by his joy.  The frail elderly man gradually brightened as a beacon of hope to us all.  Let us not forget that we too are daily drawing closer to our own decline and death with their attendant pains and challenges.  We will be no less precious and valuable when we grow weaker.  In his choice to suffer publicly, John Paul taught us that love of God and beauty of soul are the truly human values which matter, not wealth or youthful beauty or passing worldly goods.  John Paul stood as a sign of contradiction in an increasingly shallow and materialist age.

John Paul strode onto the Church’s stage announcing a virile, muscular Catholicism even as he relentlessly taught in his writing and preaching about the dignity of the human person, that we must not treat others – especially women, the unborn and the elderly – as objects to be used or discarded for our own selfish convenience.  Each person, from the defenseless unborn to the defenseless senior, is precious in God’s sight and made in God’s image and likeness.  John Paul’s “theology of the body”, as it has been dubbed, presented a view of man with which countless young people were able to resonate.

As Blessed John Paul, or just plain Pope, or simply Karol, he was a giant of a man who persevered in his simple message to his very last heartbeat: Do not be afraid to love your Lord with all your heart and strength and love your neighbor as you love yourself.

Fr John Zuhlsdorf, a convert from Lutheranism, is a writer for various Catholic publications. He wrangles a popular blog with frank commentary on Catholic issues (  He was ordained a priest in 1991 by Pope John Paul II.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Chrysologus says:

    This is beautiful, Father! I see you, in this piece, refrained from your typically “frank” (to use the word from the bio) tone. Some of us with thinner skin can find such “frankness” upsetting.

  2. Thank you, Father. An excellent piece. The late Holy Father is one huge reason I converted to Catholicism. Beautiful. Simply beautiful.

  3. Chrysologus, Fr. Zuhlsdorf has a choleric temperament. (Look it up.) It helps to understand him and, when necessary, forgive him.

  4. ray from mn says:

    Thank you, Father. Especially in the Washington Post, that needed to be said. [Which is why I wrote this the way I did.]

    Unfortunately, in their tagline below your article, they have what apparently is your original webpage url listed: I guess I have never thought of you as a wrangler, but the WaPo does. Although some of the commentors on your blog do need to be lassoed and tamed now and then.

  5. Young Canadian RC Male says:

    “John Paul strode onto the Church’s stage announcing a virile, muscular Catholicism even as he relentlessly taught in his writing and preaching about the dignity of the human person, … John Paul’s “theology of the body”, as it has been dubbed, presented a view of man with which countless young people were able to resonate.”

    Well, count me in the minority to disagree with this statement. Personally, I look back on JPII as more of an intellectual type of pope who wrote great theological works such as TOTB and his many encyclicals, and apostolic exhortions/letters. Were his writings profound and powerful? sure I’ll give you that much. However he does not strike me as presenting a “muscular type of catholicism” unlike the current pope, B16 who is actively out there doing things as Pope and trying to restore orthodoxy via means like trying to reconcile SSPX with the church and restoring brick by brick the TLM. Growing up, JPII didn’t have an impact in my life and he was more that “nice guy my grandma has a big picture of in her main hallway”. Same goes with his book TOTB. In fact in all my years of Catholic education, including 4 at a high school that actually teaches you what an encyclical is and moral theology from the CCC and doesn’t water down the faith, I never heard of this TOTB until recently when I re-discovered my faith, and also the Catholic blogosphere.

    If anyone can suggest evidence as to how JPII gave a “muscular type of catholicism” I’d like to see how that applies.

  6. tealady24 says:

    JPII was this world’s answer to evil. I know, without a doubt, that while he was alive, we all were walking in the shadow of a saint!

  7. benedetta says:

    Excellent piece.

  8. avecrux says:

    Young Canadian RC Male –
    I’m not sure of your age. I’m 40.
    My husband and I were speaking just the other day of the difference Pope John Paul II made in the Church – and it is profound. The CCC did not EXIST before him – it was his project – so we did not have a high school that taught moral theology from the CCC. Just getting the CCC out there was a “muscular” act.
    I was privileged to attend a Papal Mass in Los Angeles when I was 16 years old. It was a turning point for me. It was the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows (1987) and when John Paul II spoke about hope in suffering, I knew what he was saying was genuine. I could see that he walked the talk. That inspired me to do the same. THAT is “muscular”.
    My husband was in seminary during the 80’s. It was truly horrible – he says it was the most morally corrupt environment he had ever the misfortune to live in. Without internet, he knew of nowhere else to go. I, too, had considered a religious vocation – but had no idea where to go….
    There is a new flourishing in religious life. Young people have so many options now – and internet makes them aware of what they are. This renewal is “muscular”.
    Pope Benedict is building on the foundation Pope John Paul II laid. We look at it almost as two parts of the same papacy. Remember – if you admire Pope Benedict – when my husband was in seminary and went to see him speak, he was one of the most despised men in the Church. It was Pope John Paul II, however, who gave him a prominent place in the Curia and really paved the way for the influence of Cardinal Ratzinger worldwide.
    My husband and I see ourselves as kind of the last of the “lost” generation… catechized in the 70’s (“He invites us all to His banquet-eating table – His banner over me is LOOOOOVVVEEEEE!”), but awakened, energized, convicted and challenged by Pope John Paul II. We experienced the Church before and we know the difference he made.
    God bless.

  9. Tom Piatak says:

    An outstanding piece. John Paul is being beatified because he lived a transparently holy and Christian life, a fact recognized both by Catholics and non-Catholics. I had questions about some of his actions, but I have never for a moment doubted his holiness. Would that every Catholic lived the kind of life John Paul did.

  10. sacerdosinaeternum says:

    Wait…where’s the famous Fr Z’s emphases and comments ?! :) Great article!

  11. stpetric says:

    Yup, you pegged it!

    And Young Canadian RC Male, if you seek his monument, just look around you. Without JPII, no BXVI. He didn’t accomplish everything that needs to be done in the Church, but he got her back on course when she was heading off the rails, and that in itself is a major accomplishment. But even more to the point, he inspired millions–me among them.

  12. FrCharles says:

    Keep wrangling, Father. :)

  13. EWTN Rocks says:

    Excellent article Fr. Z! I particularly like the paragraph starting with the sentence “At the end of the funeral, the wind blew closed the cover of Book of the Gospels.”

  14. Mike says:

    Very good piece. I think the critics of JPII have some points, but then again, if they are right about how deep the crisis of the Church is and was, then they must logically recognize how even the best Pope can’t solve them with a few strokes of a pen in a few years. This is going to take at least a half century to repair and restore–JPII was a vital stepping stone to B16…with prayer, our present Pope will reign a long time, and his successor will build on what he has done. And of course, just think of all the holy Popes and saints in heaven, praying for precisely this?

  15. inara says:

    well done!

  16. Young Canadian RC Male says:

    Thanks for your account. As for my age, I’m 27, and did my high schooling from 97-2002.
    Oh my, I totally forgot in my initial post that it was the JPII years that brought out the Catechism I so rely on. I think now I understand a bit of the “muscle” you refer to. It was when he preached and what he meant, that is proclaiming a genuine faith even as head of one of the biggest institutional organizations in the world (albeit the Divine one!). I am sorry for the both of you with your experiences as the lost generation, especially your husband with the seminary. I have only read things between Fr. Z. and other blogs and can only imagine the atmosphere. It must have been horrible unless you painted yourself liberal red (colour here in canada for the Liberal party) or lavender purple (implication there).
    You and stpetric, you are also right. Without JPII Benedict wouldn’t have been in the place he is today. I’m sure that without JPII’s help, B16 wouldn’t have risen from his status as a periti/theologian on the Vat-II council to head of the CDF to the Holy Father he is today.

    Oh. I forgot something important: JPII started the World Youth Days, and word is on the blogosphere, that generation has more overall vocations with traditionally minded men coming out of it!

  17. green fiddler says:

    Deo gratias for Holy Father JPII! We will continue to be strengthened by his example of holiness and his intercession for our Church.

  18. AlexE says:

    Young Canadian RC Male,

    I am your peer, just a couple of years older than you, and by no means am I trying to bash you but I would like to some observations. Brick by Brick restortation has to have a foundation, I would like to consider that foundation Eccelsia Dei. As has been pointed out there is the CCC, I remember at the tender age of 14 getting a copy and being excited because I would finally know what our Church taught. I am also in formation for the preisthood so I would like to mention “Pastores Dabo Vobis” and amazing document on priestly formation. Which I believe was the foundation for the improvement in seminaries in America, if not elsewhere. Growing up in a liberal diocese, not the one I study for, having the truths of the Church come out was a big deal. I remember when his document on the importance of Sunday came out and it was in the newspaper.The full weight on TOTB has to be measured out, but it was a primary source for my philosophy thesis, I believe it has one of the most needed anthropologies. Lastly, this commented is more general, but I some how see heroic virtue to not mean perfection. I hope I am right because I also believe that perfection isn’t possible in this life, and my only hope for santification is that I might be heroically virtous at some in my life

  19. Christo et Ecclesiae says:

    @ avecrux

    That was very inspiring and so true concerning JPII’s “muscular” Catholicism… Except I have to, I actually really love the “His banner over me is love!” song… But NEVER in the liturgy, of course. ;)

  20. ttucker says:

    Excellent article.
    Until he got old and sick, JPII was a great role model for Catholic men. He was indeed a great example of masculinity- an athlete, a skier, a mountain climber- and yet also able toshow emotion, and in love with Jesus and Mary. He wasn’t remote, cloyingly pious, or unable to connect to the average person.
    What a man.
    What a saint.

    [until he got old and sick. ESPECIALLY when…. I hope I die before I have to man up to what he did.]

  21. Maltese says:

    Fr. Z, you are a gifted writer. I may not agree with everything you write, but that amazingly gifted writing!

  22. JMody says:

    People, really. At least Fr. Z mentions up front that there ARE counter-points which he does not cover in this article, but I am tempted to ask what the rest of you were watching. So really, the charitable way to phrase the question in my mind is probably more like “What other papacies are you familiar with that this one strikes you as so worthy?”
    He founded World Youth Days, and World Youth Days contribute to tradition-minded vocations? So there were NO tradition-minded vocations before that? EVER?! And so he should be declared a saint “SUBITO”? What if we try to declare him a saint correctly and validly, and not worry about the time aspect? And what if we acknowledge that there were plenty of vocations once upon a time, with a drastic dip starting in the 1960’s and only barely turning around, perhaps thanks to JP2?
    What other catechism have you read that this one is so great? I find it horribly verbose, and borderline scandalous in some pretty critical areas because it seems to try to say things in any way and every way except the direct way. Read any prior catechism discussion of the death penalty and then read this one, and then ask yourself “Has the Church changed her view on the morality of capital punishment?” and you will be disturbed.
    He helped bring about the fall of Communism, really? Or if you take a closer look at things, is it really only the collapse of the Soviet Union we should credit him with, and now those “soul-annihilating” ideas are spreading through academia and pop culture instead of under Soviet-backed terror and sabotage, around the entire world? Not police methods and red stars, but the soul-killing value system. Look in Asia at Vietnam and North Korea and China — and look at the ‘values’ in Singapore and Japan for contrast. Look at half the countries in Latin America and all of North America. Look at all of Europe and Africa.
    Again, he was a great guy in a lot of ways. But so was Paul VI, who was arguably a more succinct communicator, who gave us Humanae Vitae. And so too was Pius XII, who provided another manly example of bearing a tremendous, virtuously heroic burden for the Faith, and who wrote so well on faith and reason, and declared the Immaculate Conception to be a matter of faith. And what about Bl Pius Xi, who was so clear in teaching about families, and contraception, and Communism, and ecumenism, and who stood up to the Church’s enemies in Italy and Mexico and Spain and Germany as well as his health enabled him to? JP2 is in great company, so to say HIS life is so CLEARLY worthy of sainthood, nay sainthood NOW, just smacks of a short-sightedness or something that I can’t quite name.
    So what? If we are seen to be engaged in blatant hagiography, does that help or hurt the Faith? If we are seen to bend to public opinion? And finally, Rome being quiet is astonishing, but is that because of the man or the office, or most likely, a little of both? Many significant, effective, wonderful Popes have lived, and not all are capital-S saints. Rushing this one seems to cheapen or even insult all the others.

  23. JKnott says:

    A beautifully expressed essence of Pope John Paul, Father!

    “Even as he became smaller, he seemed to become all the greater, for it was Christ who increased in him.”

  24. chihiro says:

    Great piece, Father. Thank you for speaking on JPII’s behalf. We need this, the world needs this.

  25. Geoffrey says:

    “Until he got old and sick, JPII was a great role model for Catholic men.”

    No, no, no… never “until”. He was/is a great role model for Catholic men of all ages! More than once I have prayed that the Holy Spirit remind me of Ven. John Paul the Great’s courage and model of suffering should I reach that age.

  26. Andrew says:

    Here, here!

    Fr Z gets a bit irritated with me when I send him my posts too much (and rightfully so) but I hope he will be indulgent enough with me, to include my latest contribution here, which is a summary of the role of John Paul II, in the papal encylical Humanae Vitae. I don’t feel this issue has received enough mention in any of this debate regarding the wisdom of beatifying John Paul II now.

    Dear friends,

    With the beatification of John Paul II to
    take place on Sunday, few people realize his role in the most controversial
    papal encyclical of the 20th Century, Humanae Vitae, issued by Paul VI on June
    30, 1968.

    Pope John XXIII, his predecessor had
    established the Papal Commission on Human Reproduction to look at population
    questions, and to re-examine the Church’s opposition to contraception.
    This was expanded under Paul VI.

    In 1966 the vast majority of the 72 members
    recommended an acceptance of this practice by the Church. A minority of
    only 7 persons on the commission asked for the traditional teaching to
    be upheld. These were four theologians, two bishops, and a cardinal.
    Of course this body was merely consultative.

    It seemed that finally the Catholic Church,
    was going to join the modern age. But two years later, with the
    release of the encyclical, Paul VI shocked the world by reiterating the
    traditional teaching that contraception was intrinsically wrong, and also
    contrary to human dignity.

    Why was this? Paul VI had been
    reading the writings of a young Polish bishop by the name of Karol Wojtyla who
    in 1960 published a book entitled Love & Responsibility. These
    writings advocated the traditional view, but in addition to the fact Bishop
    Wojtyla was also a personalist philosopher, he introduced novel arguments that
    also found its way into the encyclical letter, about it not being consonant with
    the dignity of the human person.

    Many religious writers attribute the
    present day crisis in the Catholic Church, to the terrible dissent that followed
    in the wake of Humane Vitae, with whole bishops conferences like those in
    Austria & Canada (the Winnipeg Statement) opposing the
    encyclical. The following decades witnessed massive defections from
    the Catholic faith, with a terrible decline in priestly & religious
    vocations, liturgical anarchy, and relativist catechesis, creating a whole
    generation of ignorant young Catholics, not to mention the many Catholic
    families who used contraception, often at the encouragement of their

    Paul VI’s prophecies about what might
    happen if contraception became accepted proved all true, with Austrian chemist
    Carl Djerassi, who invented the pill, saying it had created demographic

    The Church will be forever indebted to the
    man to be beatified on Sunday, that Paul VI stood firm, and was not swayed
    by the Papal Commission. Surely, this is one, among many
    reasons, John Paul II is being elevated to the altars on

  27. Prof. Basto says:

    “From the early loss of his parents and the hardship of a youth under Nazi occupation, including forced labor and serious injury, to the sorrow of seeing his beloved Poland and her people suffer under Communism, from witnessing open defiance on the part of clergy and theologians within the Church to being shot by an assassin in St. Peter’s Square, from the horror of emerging of stories about abuse of children, to the ever increasing agony of Parkinson’s Disease which sapped his vitality and imprisoned him in physical weakness, John Paul radiated hope.”

    Indeed, Father, indeed.

    And that hope that the late Holy Father radiated was the Christian hope.

    All through the sufferings of his life, it was Christian hope, Christian devotion, that animated him, and that led him, even after he was stricken by disease, to continue in the execution of his apostolic mandate.

    Thanks for the piece.

  28. ttucker says:

    You guys are right to point out the error in what I wrote. He was indeed an inspiring example even after he got old and weary and sick. Perhaps even more so. What courage, perseverance, and self-sacrifice. Absolutely right.

  29. irishgirl says:

    Excellent article, Father Z!
    I loved John Paul II, and I was able to see him four times in my life-three times in Rome as the Pope, and once in Philadelphia, PA as Cardinal. I was deeply impressed by his holiness, his love for Our Lord and Our Lady, and how he went to the ends of the earth seeking the lost sheep.
    I have ‘Trad’ friends who do not like him-in fact, one of them told me this past Sunday that he ‘hated’ him because of the sexual abuse scandals and the liturgical abuses. I wish I was able to refute what my friend told me….but I’m just a dumb laywoman after all! I have not the eloquence of. say, Father Z in coming to JP II’s defense. So I keep my opinions to myself in order to keep my friends…sigh…
    It always broke my heart as I saw our late Holy Father’s sufferings in the last years of his life-I could never bear watching the secular media’s stories about him because they always focused on his ‘frailty’. What the heck did THEY know? In his weakness, there was strength! He passed from this life in peace, serenity, and with the love of the ‘little ones’ in the Church and all over the world! ( By ‘little ones’ I mean those who live their quiet, ordinary hidden lives which the media never pays any attention to, much less listens to).
    ‘Santo Subito’, John Paul II! We ‘little ones of no account’ still love you and miss you! Pray for us! Pray for your successor, our beloved Benedict XVI! Let him know tomorrow that you, with Christ and in Christ, are with him!

  30. avecrux says:

    @ Young Canadian RC male –
    Yes, the publication of the universal catechism was huge. I think we are only beginning to see the fruits of that… for example, it is only in recent years that text books in the US have been required, by the USCCB, to be “in conformity” with the CCC. In fact, here in Chicago, the Archdiocese published their comprehensive curriculum for religious education, based on the Catechism, in the last 18 months -and catechetical leaders are required to attend. They have been working on putting this together for several years. Slowly, things are trickling down. My children and yours (whether they be physical or spiritual…. you didn’t mention your state in life) will be growing up in a much healthier Church. Thanks be to God!!! :)

  31. avecrux says:

    @ Christo et Ecclesiae –
    Ha ha! Sorry! Didn’t mean to insult a song you like… Actually, what I was critiquing was the very deficient theology of the song. Being invited to the “banquet-eating table” didn’t teach us anything about the sacrificial nature of the Mass. Really – we were clueless. And, the second verse is: “Peter built the Church on the rock of OUR FAITH”. Another 70’s expression of bad theology. Oh – and we sang it *with the accompanying hand motions* during Mass. I better go. I’m having ‘Nam flashbacks.

  32. David Homoney says:

    Father Z,

    Great article. All the talk aside, I have a deep affection for Blessed JPII. He was the only Pope I knew until the election of Pope Benedict XVI. He had a profound influence on the Church and on the world. I know I was deeply affected by his witness, especially at the end. When the aches and pains of life hit me he provides an example of quiet Christian suffering, a witness of one who joined his suffering with that of Christ on the Cross for the Church and the world. It was a powerful testament.

    I have to admit I hated seeing the virulent Pope hit so hard. Needless to say, there is no doubt the man was holy. People who were in his presence all said you could feel it. He was an example to us all. How many of us hold anger and grudges over such minor things and yet John Paul forget a man that shot him, hardly an easy thing to do. I agree that he laid the foundation upon which Pope Benedict is rebuilding the Church.

    Requiem Aeturnem dona eis domine, et lux perpetua luceat eis. Requiescat in pace. Amen.

    Benedicite Johannes Paulus II

  33. Random Friar says:

    Was this pope manly? He was a strong athlete for much of his life. When it came to Parkinsons/Parkinsons-like wasting away, he pushed through it when most men would’ve crumbled, doing the job that needed to be done.

    I wish I was half the man at 80 he was when I was half his age! Now, there’s a lot more “Father needs a rest” and “Father forgot where he put his glasses” moments!

    And remember again, many of those more orthodox orders/provinces/congregations began their boom under his pontificate. That was a JP2 generation. It’ll take another 5 years for the Pope Benedict generation to come fully into its own, when, as they say in college football, “he can start with an entire team of his own recruiting classes!”

  34. Young Canadian RC Male says:

    Avecrux – single eligible bachelor for now, Christ willing my vocation becomes marriage though many parts of my life suggest otherwize.

  35. Young Canadian RC Male says:

    AlexE – Don’t suppose you are Canadian to by any chance? hmmm, never heard of the document you’ve mentioned, though I have seen a number, but I am joyed that at the age of 14 you got that much happiness out of gettting the CCC for the 1st time. I also hope that you do succesfully complete your formation and become an orthodox, spirited priest full of the Love of Christ.

    Just as an aside, try to see if you can learn the TLM/EF form of the Mass while in seminary even if you just do it in private (Summorum pontificum I think allows you to say it privately without scrutiny, but if it could get you booted, dont sacrifice your education for it. A very good unofficial translation of SP is here: I’ll add you to my prayers when I pray vocation prayers from any of my prayer books or my Serra Club prayer card.

  36. Ioannes Andreades says:

    ” That shout, which echoed across a silent and motionless Rome, may have been the single loudest purely human sound ever raised on high in that City of over 3000 years.”

    In any case, much louder than the shouts from the spectators for blood and carnage in Nero’s circus.

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