16 October 1978: Election of John Paul II – 40 YEARS!

Where were you when you heard the news that a man from Poland had been elected to the See of Peter?

Were you even born yet?

It was on this date in 1978.   Wow.  40 years.  4 DECADES.

Apropos recent debates that have strongly emerged in the Church, I note a couple passages from his encyclicals.

First, from his 1993 Encyclical Veritatis splendor 103-4:

Only in the mystery of Christ’s Redemption do we discover the “concrete” possibilities of man. “It would be a very serious error to conclude… that the Church’s teaching is essentially only an ‘ideal’ which must then be adapted, proportioned, graduated to the so-called concrete possibilities of man, according to a “balancing of the goods in question.” But what are the “concrete possibilities of man”? And of which man are we speaking? Of man dominated by lust or of man redeemed by Christ? This is what is at stake: the reality of Christ’s redemption. Christ has redeemed us! This means that he has given us the possibility of realizing the entire truth of our being; he has set our freedom free from the domination of concupiscence. And if redeemed man still sins, this is not due to an imperfection of Christ’s redemptive act, but to man’s will not to avail himself of the grace which flows from that act. God’s command is of course proportioned to man’s capabilities; but to the capabilities of the man to whom the Holy Spirit has been given; of the man who, though he has fallen into sin, can always obtain pardon and enjoy the presence of the Holy Spirit.”

In this context, appropriate allowance is made both for God’s mercy towards the sinner who converts and for the understanding of human weakness. Such understanding never means compromising and falsifying the standard of good and evil in order to adapt it to particular circumstances. It is quite human for the sinner to acknowledge his weakness and to ask mercy for his failings; what is unacceptable is the attitude of one who makes his own weakness the criterion of the truth about the good, so that he can feel self-justified, without even the need to have recourse to God and his mercy. An attitude of this sort corrupts the morality of society as a whole, since it encourages doubt about the objectivity of the moral law in general and a rejection of the absoluteness of moral prohibitions regarding specific human acts, and it ends up by confusing all judgments about values.

Next, from his 1995 Evangelium vitae 57 [note how he uses the word “innocent”]:

Therefore, by the authority which Christ conferred upon Peter and his Successors, and in communion with the Bishops of the Catholic Church, I confirm that the direct and voluntary killing of an innocent human being is always gravely immoral. This doctrine, based upon that unwritten law which man, in the light of reason, finds in his own heart (cf. Rom 2:14-15), is reaffirmed by Sacred Scripture, transmitted by the Tradition of the Church and taught by the ordinary and universal Magisterium.

The deliberate decision to deprive an innocent human being of his life is always morally evil and can never be licit either as an end in itself or as a means to a good end. It is in fact a grave act of disobedience to the moral law, and indeed to God himself, the author and guarantor of that law; it contradicts the fundamental virtues of justice and charity. “Nothing and no one can in any way permit the killing of an innocent human being, whether a fetus or an embryo, an infant or an adult, an old person, or one suffering from an incurable disease, or a person who is dying. Furthermore, no one is permitted to ask for this act of killing, either for himself or herself or for another person entrusted to his or her care, nor can he or she consent to it, either explicitly or implicitly. Nor can any authority legitimately recommend or permit such an action”.

As far as the right to life is concerned, every innocent human being is absolutely equal to all others. This equality is the basis of all authentic social relationships which, to be truly such, can only be founded on truth and justice, recognizing and protecting every man and woman as a person and not as an object to be used. Before the moral norm which prohibits the direct taking of the life of an innocent human being “there are no privileges or exceptions for anyone. It makes no difference whether one is the master of the world or the ‘poorest of the poor’ on the face of the earth. Before the demands of morality we are all absolutely equal”.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. I miss him so much. Right after he passed I started asking his intercession on a certain matter, one that would only take a miracle to achieve and, bingo! It took a little while but was worth the wait. His book, “Rise, Let Us Be On Our Way” is a great read. I couldn’t put it down and when I was finished I was wishing it would never end.

  2. e.e. says:

    I was not yet born when JPII was elected. He was still pope when I became Catholic. I was able to see him at World Youth Day in Toronto in 2002 — very fond memories. I miss him…

  3. ex seaxe says:

    Yes, only half a lifetime ago for me. I had arranged to go drinking with a work colleague after Mass, and the first thing he said when we met was that the Archbishop of Krakow had been elected Pope. This was a complete surprise to me, I had never heard of him.
    I also remember where I heard of the election of John Paul I. I was at Mass in Westminster Cathedral, musicless in the middle of the holidays. Just as the celebrant was about to start the Preface the diocesan MC came gliding over, said something to him, and left a piece of paper. When it came to the mention of the Pope in the Canon, the celebrant paused and peered suspiciously at the piece of paper, before hesitantly pronouncing the name John Paul.

  4. jaykay says:

    It was 17.18 pm our time, so I was still at work. Probably didn’t hear about it until I got home at about 20.00 (as it was then, so is it now) and heard the evening news, given the slow transmission of news back then, and Walkpersons with radio still being in the future. I was conservative even back then, but being young probably a bit swayed by the press which, while not the swamp creature it is now, was still liberally inclined, especially in its religion reporting. However, I seem to remember that there was a bit of a love-in for him for at least the first year or two before the claws came out.

  5. Elizabeth D says:

    I was 4 months old! And John Paul II was my third Pope already! I have no memory of it, sadly.

  6. Fr. Kelly says:

    I was a sophomre in High School. We had just moved to the US of A from Ireland where we had mourned the death of Pual VI. I started in a new school as a sophomore so I was experiencing a certain amount of isolation and loss. I remember in Latin Class with Fr. Joseph Hren,O.P., who made us all call him, Pater, when the announcement came over the PA speaker that we had a new Pope, John Paul I and we were to rejoice greatly.
    There was a certain amount of discussion about the name since apparently it should have been John Paul not John Paul I. We were told he insisted on the number because, he said, “There will be another.” Barely a month later over the same PA speaker came the announcement that John Paul I had died.
    In the whirlwind of emotions, it seems like only a few days later that we were told “annuntio vobis gaudium magnum — habemus papam, … Joannes Paulus II …”
    We were overjoyed that we had a Pope again, that the prophetic declaration had been fulfilled, and that we understood the announcement, thanks to our beloved Latin teacher, Fr. Hren.

  7. jovan66102 says:

    Father asks, ‘Where were you when you heard the news…’. I was walking down Oread Avenue in Lawrence, KS, when I saw a newspaper headline. I was not yet a Catholic, but even so, I began to ‘sing’ to myself, ‘Habemus Papam!’

  8. dinsdale says:

    My memory of this event pales in comparison to this account from a student in Krakow:

    “I was walking down a street in Krakow on my way home, when suddenly all around me windows and doors opened, and people came pouring out on the streets, singing and dancing. Wojtyla is Pope. Wojtyla is Pope. People were crying, and I began crying, too. I just couldn’t stop myself. Then suddenly someone began singing the national anthem. And we all just stood there and sang it over and over again. In no time there were hundreds and hundreds of people in the street, and then we walked to the cathedral to be joined by thousands and thousands of others.”

  9. Benedict Joseph says:

    I was just twenty-seven.
    My first thought was “…thank God. But don’t tell that to anyone.”
    I just knew he was going to get things back on track. Well, he didn’t, but he kept us from hanging over the edge of the precipice upon which we are now ensconced.
    I still love him, venerate him, but the deficiencies that were apparent yet which out of reverence and respect for the Chair, and our love for his person we dared not articulate, have now borne their fruit. It is tragic. It wasn’t supposed to be this way.
    Hindsight is 20/20.

  10. teachermom24 says:

    I have no memory of his election (“Catholic” was not even on my radar at the time), but I do have distinct memory of his death as it came the year after my entry into Church. I was so moved by his funeral Mass and so hoped Cardinal Ratzinger would become the next Pope. Right after his canonization, I asked for his intercession for a troubling medical condition and was healed at that moment.

    Neither Pope St. John Paul nor Paul VI were perfect on earth but they brought extraordinary good to the Church through their pontificates, each in their own way. Who is “all good” or “all bad” on earth? No one (except our Blessed Mother).

  11. adriennep says:

    I was a heathen living the single “good life” in San Francisco but somehow that twinkle of his eye got my attention. That and he being this rare Polish countryman. Somehow he spoke to me then and said Be Not Afraid…but it took me watching with fascination from the outside for another 26 years of his pontificate before I got it. By then the pages of the Gospel were blowing over his casket. In one small way I felt I had missed out. In another, I was lighter than air walking into my local Catholic parish and saying Here I Am!

    They were not unduly excited as I had hoped…but thankfully that did not stop anything.

  12. Grant M says:

    I was 21, not a Catholic, and in fact, didn’t have very much to do with any sort of church. All I knew about the Catholic Church was that it had finally discarded its antiquated Latin Mass about ten years previously.
    A prolonged journalists’ strike had reduced our evening newspaper to classified advertisements, but the local Catholic community (possibly the Polish Catholic community) paid for an “ad” which showed a photograph of the new pontiff, together with a brief announcement of his election. That was the only news and photograph in the paper that evening, so it stood out. I must have heard the news a day or so before, however: “First non-Italian Pope in over four centuries!”
    I never dreamed at the time that one day he would be “my” pope for the first four years of my life as a Catholic. (Or that I would be serving the TLM, which it turned out was not dead, just a well-kept secret, and kneeling close enough to the priest to hear him whisper the name of John Paul in the Canon.)

  13. Gregg the Obscure says:

    I was a teenaged Protestant. (spooky!) Those were still the days when “polack” jokes were common, so i probably thought that this fellow wasn’t all that bright. How wrong I was.

    just a couple short years after that, a friend was on his way from Lutheran to Catholic. we talked through many issues. That planted seeds that took many years to bear fruit. I finally entered the Church in 2001.

  14. FN says:

    I was two years old. One of my earliest memories is the huge color picture of JPII at my best friend’s house (an Irish family). Though my family was not Catholic it held a mysterious beauty for me as did their Sacred Heart poster with an electric votive candle in front of it. 22 years later I converted. I believe my early exposure to that family and their “in-your-face” faith planted seeds that bore fruit. Now I have a giant crucifix and a Benedict XVI poster hanging where my children’s friends can see them!

  15. youngcatholicgirl says:

    I was a long way from being born. My parents hadn’t even met yet. ;)

  16. Simon_GNR says:

    I was a teenage Anglican and a regular churchgoer. I have no specific memory of hearing about JPII’s election but one of my first thoughts was “Well, I hope this one lasts a bit longer than the last one!” He was very young for a pope and, being Polish, was an unusual choice, the first non-Italian for hundreds of years. He certainly did last longer than his predecessor, with one of the longest ever pontificates. John Paul II’s visits to Ireland (1979) and Great Britain (1982) got a lot of coverage on British television and I found him to be a charismatic and attractive person. He spoke with real authority and confidence about the Catholic faith. John Paul II was one of the factors that led me to explore Catholicism and I became a Catholic at Easter 1987.

  17. Geoffrey says:

    I was born the year after his election. I grew up seeing his picture in my Italian grandmother’s house. I would ask her: “Who is that?” She would always reply: “That’s the Pope. He’s not Italian, you know”.

    I mourned greatly when he died, as he was the only Pope I had ever known. The future was scary. Then Benedict XVI was elected and all was right with the world. How I miss those days.

    Sancte Ioannes Paule Magne, ora pro nobis, ora pro Ecclesia!

  18. JulieHoward says:

    I was in 4th grade (9 years old). I don’t remember the election at all, much to my disappointment. I do remember many babies being named John Paul at that time. I was blessed to attend several of his Masses and a general audience in Rome over Christmas/New Years 1990/1991. He walked about 3 feet away from me, it was a very special moment.

  19. JulieHoward says:

    I was in 4th grade (9 years old). I don’t remember the election at all, much to my disappointment. I do remember many babies being named John Paul at that time. I was blessed to attend several of his Masses and a general audience in Rome over Christmas/New Years 1990/1991. He walked about 3 feet away from me, it was a very special moment.

  20. Semper Gumby says:

    Habemus Papam. Noli Temere.

    These JPII videos never get old.

  21. KateD says:

    I was in the entry way of my grandma’s house. Grandma ran down the stairs and grabbed me and spun me around and then started dancing around the living room triumphantly singing “Habemus Papum! Habemus Papm!” I think there were noise makers involved. I was 7 and it was really exciting…grandma was a force to be reconed with in any circumstance, but her exuberance on this day?…yeah, there’s no way to describe it, Grandma was an experience. You know that song, “Crazy He Calls Me”? The line, “the difficult I’ll do right now, the impossible will take a little while”, that may be an apt way to describe her. There was no such thing as “can’t” or “impossible”, in our lexicon as children and young adults. If we weren’t able to accomplish something, especially where bureaucracy was involved we defered to grandma and it was done within minutes. I suspect she relished the opportunity to dress down those who use their administrative authorities to cause others hardship and pain.

    On this day all her energy was focused on celebration…

    I’m not sure I was quite aware of the concept of “pope” prior to that moment, but boy was I aware then!

  22. KateD says:

    I was in the entry way of my grandma’s house. Grandma ran down the stairs and grabbed me and spun me around and then started dancing around the living room triumphantly singing “Habemus Papum! Habemus Papm!” I think there were noise makers involved. I was 7 and it was really exciting…grandma was a force to be reconed with in ANY circumstance, but her exuberance on this day was focused entirely on celebration.

    The concept of “pope” prior to that moment was not in my purview , but boy was it after that day!

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