I was hesitating to write an article about the Polish pope. John Paul II is still here with us, although his body is weak, his mind is still strong. I still believe that the pope is 'not finished' yet, as some people and mass media would like to see him, debating his possible successors already. I also did not want to write just one more very general article about the pope. So, I am not going to start talking about his birth and his career, I would just focus on some aspects of his activities and my memories of him. Let me focus here on pope's pilgrimages and his influence into the common person in Poland in the aspect of the political system which we had and his influence on the world.
I saw Karol Wojtyla a couple of times before he became a pope because he was a cardinal and archbishop in my hometown Krakow. He kept a very busy schedule, I remember, we were waiting for him in a parish and he was a half an hour later than planned. But he was very friendly, he hug a kid on the way to the church, the kid that was just standing nearby... I felt, what a pity I was not a kid anymore in late seventies.
It was already twenty five years ago that Karol Wojtyla, Polish cardinal, was chosen to be a pope, known as John Paul II. Although the name of Karol Wojtyla was mentioned in speculations as a potential choice, not too many people believed that non-Italian pope would be selected, especially somebody from Eastern Europe. This was before Solidarity and Perestroyka. In that time no any reasonable person could dream about collapse of Soviet Empire.
Polish pope definitively gave more courage to Polish resistance movement. Among biggest pope's fans was Lech Walesa, leader of Solidarity Workers Union.
I remember that day, October 16, 1978. Polish news media were not very eager to announce Polish cardinal nomination. I learnt about it from a high school friend who called me with the news. Her father heard it on the BBC radio in the evening of that day. Polish radio and TV announced the news later but only briefly. It seemed that the communists needed a time to digest it. Our communistic government did not really know how to deal with this fact. Later it looked that some people in government were actually glad that Polish pope was chosen although they did not want to show it worrying about their position and the response of Moscow.
The relationship between Polish communistic government and the Polish Church was never rosy, although better in 1978, than in fifties and sixties. At least, the governmental TV showed the pope's inauguration and the Polish government officially invited the pope to Poland. I remember how hundreds of cardinals and bishops were greeting the pope sitting on his papal throne. But this pope was breaking the official papal rules since the very first day in the office. I still remember how he left his throne in order to greet an ailing cardinal Tomaszek from Czechoslovakia. They were like equal with equal. The pope did not allow Tomaszek to kneel in front of him. He bowed a homage to Tomaszek's courage and hardship. We all knew and the pope knew it even better than we did, that the fate of Catholic Church in Czechoslovakia was even worse than in Poland. It really put tears to my eyes. In this moment I knew, that this pope is our pope and he will help us to overcome our fate. Finally we had a Pole as a president of another non-communistic country!
That day almost everybody in Poland realized that something's gonna to change. That this election is (maybe?) a sign from heaven, which would give us a hope and courage that we will be able to get rid of the system. In that time almost nobody in Poland had any doubts that the communistic system which was imposed to us by Soviet Union after War World II has no any popular support.
There have been many books written about the Pope. Here is one with his poetry, entitled: The Poetry of Pope John Paul II
Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II, by George Weigel (Author)
You may also enjoy a book written by Rebecca Stefoff entitled: Lech Walesa: The Road to Democracy (Great Lives)