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Papal Did You Know?

Compiled by Robert Strybel

  • In 1969 and again in 1976 (two years before being elected pope) Poland’s Cardinal Karol Woytyla toured Polonian communities across the United States and Canada, meeting thousands of Polonians at Masses, banquets and other gatherings.
  • John Paul II began his first papal pilgrimage to Poland (1979) by falling to his knees and kissing the tarmac of Warsaw Airport, the soil of his native land. That gesture became his trademark around the world. When his health began to fail, he blessed the native soil presented to him on a tray.
  • Karol Woytyla, the third-longest serving pope, was born in Wadowice on May 18, 1920. He was ordained on November 1, 1946, appointed bishop on July 4, 1958, named archbishop of Kraków on January 16, 1964, raised to the rank of cardinal on June 26, 1967 and elected pope on October 16, 1978.
  • • John Paul II’s ninth pilgrimage to Poland (August 16-19, 2002) was one of his shortest, but his previous 22-city homecoming to Poland in June 1999 was the longest papal visit in the history of his pontificate.
  • To mark the silver anniversary of the Karol Woytyla’s election as pope, a postgraduate research center devoted to his life and work has been set up in Kraków. It conducted classes and seminars and include a multimedia library of John Paul II’s writings and other works documenting his entire pontificate.
  • One of John Paul’s most fervent hopes was fulfilled when at the age of 80 he was able to preside over Jubilee Year 2000, ringing in the Third Millennium of Christianity.
  • • One “nice” Polish joke asks: “How many Poles does it take to change the world?” The answer: “Two—an archbishop from Krakow and a shipyard electrician from Gdansk (Lech Walesa).”
  • John Paul II’s 1979 visit to Poland was widely believed to have inspired his countrymen to challenge communist rule. The peaceful Solidarity revolution that erupted a year later eventually led to the collapse of the iron curtain and the end of the cold war.
  • Following the pope’s homecoming to Wadowice, the kremowki (cream cakes) he publicly recalled from his youth became an instant market hit. Kremowki papieskie (papal cream cakes) are now a major Wadowice tourist attraction, although many are imported by local retailers from Poznan and Krakow.
  • Following the pope’s 1980s visit to Detroit’s once predominantly Polish enclave-suburb of Hamtramck, a vacant corner store on the town’s main street was torn down to make way for a papal mini-park. A statue of John Paul II looms above the enclosure whose wall sports traditional Polish motifs.
  • John Paul opposed all forms of killing, including war, and teaches that God’s gift of life is only His to take. He thus differs from one-sided liberals who oppose capital punishment but support abortion and euthanasia, and equally biased conservatives, who favor the death penalty and warfare but oppose “mercy killing” and the murder of unborn babies.
  • Don Samull of Dearborn, Michigan (a Detroit suburb), the publisher of Polonia’s well-known Polish-American Calendar, devoted his entire 1999 calendar to the life, activities and characteristics of the John Paul II.
  • The pope rarely had time to watch television, but he does occasionally enjoyed a televised soccer match which reminds him of his own soccer-playing youth.
  • • Karol Woytyla’s nearly lifelong good health began to falter following a near-fatal 1981 assassination attempt. He later underwent colon surgery, had his appendix removed and suffered a hip fracture.
  • Woytyla was called Lolek (short for Karol) by family, friends and schoolmates. His mother called him Lolus (an endearing diminutive) and told her friends she had a premonition that her son would one day achieve greatness.
  • The Polish-born Pontiff is enjoyed Polish pierogi (especially the meat-filled variety), flaki (tripe soup) and sernik (cheesecake) as well as Italian pizza and pasta dishes. They were prepared by several Sercanki (Sacred Heart Sisters) from Kraków.
  • Romania was the first predominantly Eastern Orthodox country visited by the Polish-born Pontiff. He later made pilgrimages to other Orthodox strongholds including Greece, Ukraine and Bulgaria, but has so far been prevented from visiting Russia by that country’s paranoid religious leaders.
  • John Paul II has authored more than a dozen encyclicals on various aspects of Catholic doctrine and morals. In them he reaffirmed his strong belief in Christian altruism, solidarity, forgiveness, peace, charity and the strong, loving, supportive Christian family as the cornerstone of any nation’s well-being.
  • As Archbishop of Kraków, Woytyla waged a peaceful and eventually successful struggle with the communists to build a church in Nowa Huta. The regime had wanted to the new steeltown to be ‘a socialist showplace’ with a huge statue of Lenin but no churches.

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