His Holiness John Paul II, while still suffering from his hip surgery, managed to still release his blueprint Apostolic Letter on November 10, 1994 Tertio Millennio Adveniente which outlined several stages of preparation for the celebration of the Third Millennium of Christianity which we are one week from celebrating as the great Jubilee 2000 awaits on Christmas Eve. Two weeks later he conducted his sixth Consistory on November 24th where several new cardinals were named including Cardinal William Keeler of Baltimore and Cardinal Adam Maida of Detroit as well as Cardinal Thomas Winning of Scotland. Recovered sufficiently from his surgery, the Holy Father wasted little time in getting back on the road in early 1995 with Papal Visits between January 12 to the 21st; first to the Philippines, where millions turned out to welcome him with a record four million turn-out for his Papal Mass; then it was on to Papua, New Guinea, Australia and finally Sri Lanka. On March 25, the Feast of the Annunciation he issued his eleventh encyclical Evangelium Vitae called "The Gospel of Life" - a landmark document on the value and inviolability of human life upholding the sanctity of life against abortion, euthanasia and capital punishment. Two months later, after having just returned from a two-day trip to the Czech Republic and Poland for the sixth time back on May 20-22, he returned to the Vatican where, on the Solemnity of the Ascension on May 25th, he released his twelfth encyclical Ut Unum Sint - "That They May All Be One" on the Church's commitment to ecumenism. On June 3-4 he made a quick trip to Belgium, then Slovakia between June 30 and July 2nd. He expressed grave concern for the slaughters in Rwanda and Sudan on his trip to Cameroon, Kenya and South Africa from September 14-20. He beatified Blessed Edith Stein. He finally made it back to the U.S. eastern seaboard in October where he addressed the UN and drew record crowds in the pouring rain in stadiums in New York and Baltimore. He also played a major influence from afar in the Beijing UN Conference for Women. He wrapped up the year in December by debuting the Vatican on the Internet at Christmas with the new site www.vatican.va. He beatified 127 including 65 martyrs from the French Revolution and 45 from the Spanish Civil War, while canonizing six including three martyrs of Kosice and Saint Eugene de Mazenod, OMI, the founding bishop of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate.
The year 1996 dawned with the Holy Father staying home for January, but in February he was off again, this time to Central America from February 5-11 with stops in Guatamala, Venezuela, El Salvador, and Nicaragua. Later that month on February 23rd the Holy Father issued an Apostolic Constitution on the Vacancy of the Apostolic See and the election of the Roman Pontiff with Universi Dominici Gregis ("Shepherds of the Lord's Whole Flock") in which he laid down guidelines for the Conclave that an election could begin no sooner than 15 days after a Pontiff has died and no later than 20 days after the death of his predecessor. All cardinals under the age of 80 would be allowed to vote with the total not being more than 120. Tunisia was on the itinerary of April 17th for a one day visit, then Slovenia for two days from May 17-19 and Germany between June 21-23. He traveled to Hungary on September 6-7 and followed a week later with a three day visit to France. He released another book "Gift and Mystery" that would rise to the bestseller list just as "Crossing the Threshold of Hope" had. He called for unity with the Orthodox and condemned President Clinton for his late-term abortion veto as he strongly and rightly assailed the United States for their stance on abortion. His voice was heard by many for he played a major pivotal role at the UN Conference on World Population in Egypt by rallying the third world countries to vote down mandatory abortion and population control. Score one for the Culture of Life! In October he went under the knife again, this time an appendectomy. On the Solemnity of All Saints Day, still recuperating, he celebrated his 50th year - his Golden Anniversary - as a priest with a special concert at the Vatican as the choir conveyed "It is your song that unites the Church." He beatified 29 and canonized three. Late in 1996, more than before, there was visible evidence that he was aging and noticeably his hands shook more, giving rise to speculation from the world media that the Holy Father was in the early stages of the ailment known as Parkinson's Disease.
The Year 1997 was the First of the Three Year Preparation for the Jubilee with the Year dedicated to Jesus Christ, the Son of God with all focus on Him and the next two years would be devoted to the Holy Spirit and God the Father respectively. The countdown to the millennium had begun. On April 12-13 he traveled to Sarajevo. Throughout 1997 he beatified seventeen others including the first gypsy to become blessed Ceferino Gimenez Malla. The Pope met with Mother Teresa and her successor Sister Nirmala in the Spring. It would be their last meeting of these two modern-day saints, for the Holy Father would mourn her death along with the entire world in the Fall when she passed away on September 5th. On April 25-27 the Pope returned to the Czech Republic where Catholic President Vaclav Havel received him warmly. On May 10 he made a two day stop in Lebanon and returned to his beloved Poland for the seventh time between May 31st to June 10th. Despite consistent rumors that the Holy Father had Parkinson's Disease, John Paul II confounded all the so-called medical and media experts by just going and going and going. Even in the summer heat of Paris he outlasted the youth who clamored for shade at World Youth Day in August where the tremendous unexpected turnout astounded prognosticators and local clergy who had expected far fewer people between August 21-24. In October he jetted to Brazil where in Rio de Janeiro he closed the International Conference for Families, having left Rome on the Feast of Saint Therese of Lisieux. He capped the year by declaring the Little Flower of the Child Jesus a Doctor of the Church - the third woman to be granted such an honor, and closed the year with the Synod of the American Bishops combining North, Central and South America for what was called the Synod of the Americas.
The Holy Father dedicated 1998, the second year of the Jubilee, to the Holy Spirit and made his first ever trip to Cuba where he was wildly received by the faithful as a stern and cautious Fidel Castro looked on. John Paul II called for greater freedom for the people religiously and politically and for an end to the U.S. Embargo. The fruits of that visit have been greatly manifested as the Faith was revigorated throughout the tiny island and thanks to the insistence of Havana's Archbishop Cardinal Jaime Lucas Ortega y Alamino Castro has relented considerably, once again allowing the celebration of feast days including Christmas. Returning to Rome the Pope conducted another Consistory - February 21st - where he elevated 22 new cardinals including Cardinal James Francis Stafford, former Archbishop of Denver who hosted World Youth Day in 1993 and now a member of the curia, and Cardinal Francis George, OMI the new head of the Chicago archdiocese, who replaced the departed Cardinal Joseph Bernardin. On March 16 he approved release of "We Remember the Shoah" which was an extension of reconciliation and understanding to our Jewish brethren for the suffering of the Holocaust. While most Jews accepted it and saw it as a sign of hope between the two faiths, radical Jewish factions criticized it as not going far enough and initiated their attack anew on poor Pius XII. In early May the Bishop of Rome was shocked and saddened by the murder of his loyal Swiss Guard Alois Estermann and his wife by a disgruntled underling Swiss Guard. Alois was the young man who cradled and protected the Holy Father as the Popemobile sped away in St. Peter's Square in 1981. The Holy Father had just granted Estermann the highest honor of Commandant of the Guard and was to have been installed a few days later.
John Paul II again gave thanks on the seventeenth anniversary of his near-death shooting episode on May 13th and enjoyed a quiet, relaxed 78th Birthday at the Vatican on May 18th looking forward to bringing Holy Mother Church into the glorious third millennium. In June he journeyed to Austria amidst much tumult and uprising, soothing the people as no other Pope ever could without backing down or giving into liberal demands after he had placed a solid, orthodox bishop in the See of Vienna - Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn who also had been elevated to the College of Cardinals in February. Before the hot summer months he vacationed in the Italian Alps for a week, then retired to the papal summer home just outside of Rome in the hills at Castel Gandolfo where he remained until visiting Brescia in Northern Italy to honor Pope Paul VI at his birthplace on September 26th. Just prior to canonizing the Church's newest saint Saint Edith Stein or Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, he traveled to Zagreb and Split in Croatia where he beatified the controversial and maligned Archbishop of Zagreb during the war years and the Communist occupation of Cardinal Alojzie Stepinac while at the same time doing all he could throughout his pontificate to ease relations between the Jews and Holy Mother Church and trying to bridge relations with other faiths, especially the Eastern Orthodox Church.
Just before the 20th anniversary of his elevation to Supreme Pontiff he made an impromptu phone call to an Italian television station on air to voice his gratitude and on the eve of his twentieth anniversary, on October 15th he issued his thirteenth encyclical Fides et Ratio on "Faith and Reason" which showed how when science complements all of God's creation, then it is in harmony with Him and good. It was also an affirmation of Karol Wojtyla's whole philosophy and many consider it his "last will and testament" on the fundamental questions of human existence. His beautiful opening paragraph sums it up best, "Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth - in a word, to know himself - so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves." On November 29th, the First Sunday of Advent, he released his Papal Bull Incarnationis Mysterium announcing the Great Jubilee to be celebrated throughout the universal Church on the 2000th anniversary of the birth of Christ.
The Pope opened the final year of the second millennium by dedicating it to the Heavenly Father and on January 12th, Academy Award nominee and eventual winner Roberto Benigni joined the Pope at a special Papal screening of his runaway, moving classic "Life is Beautiful" which brought tears to the eyes of this beloved Polish Pontiff as memories of his homeland and the plight of the people during World War II, especially the Jews, swelled up on his countenance. He had more to empathize with as in Kosovo and Africa ethnic cleansing and persecution of Catholics was intensifying. With all the bitter fighting going on and so many third world countries suffering, he set the Message of Lent as one for all to share the banquet of the goods of the earth - for all to be good and do good. He spoke out strongly against same-sex marriages and the moral permissiveness that has spawned the rash of homosexuality as the norm throughout so many places in the world and he exhorted the media to exalt human dignity and values. He flew to Mexico City and the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe to officially close the Synod of the Americas towards the end of January with a special one-day stop in St. Louis as a favor to his dear friend Archbishop Justin Rigali, the conservative prelate he had placed in charge of this crucial Catholic mid-America see after the death of Archbishop John May. Many expect Archbishop Rigali to be included in the ranks of the Sacred Conclave in the next Consistory. While in the gateway city the Pope met another Cardinal, record-setting home run champion Mark McGwire who gave the Pontiff an autographed bat and jersey.
Taking sick with the flu during February he stayed close to the home fires receiving the new President of Ireland Mary McAleese and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat who invited the Pope to Bethlehem during the Jubilee Year. The Bishop of Rome began the Ad limina visits with the Italian bishops and strongly warned involved nations against force in the Kosovo crisis. On March 11 he received the Iranian President Mohammed Khatami giving all indications that relations between Tehran and the Vatican were improving after the turbulent reign of the Ayatollah Khomeini. On March 28th the Holy Father hosted a special World Youth Day at St. Peter's. Calling for an Easter truce in the Serbia-Kosovo war, he dispatched Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran to personally meet with Serbia's President Slobodan Milosevic. The Archbishop worked around the clock in helping bring about a cease-fire in Kosovo, meeting not only with Serbia representatives but also Secretary of State Madeleine Albright of the United States. On April 4th he released an Apostolic Letter to artists entitled "The Way of Beauty" in which he entreated all artists to "search for new 'epiphanies' of beauty so that through their creative work as artists they may offer these as gifts to the world."
On May 2nd, before an overwhelming packed St. Peter's Square the Holy Father beatified Padre Pio. On June 4th he received UN Secretary General Kofi Annan after insisting for a meeting only two days earlier to settle the Kosovo crisis and the growing persecution in East Timor. On June 2nd he left for his longest visit ever to Poland which would take him on a whirlwind tour of 21 sites in 10 days, but he took sick in Krakow and had to cancel the last few days including his closing outdoor Mass in Krakow. His fever also caused the Vatican to cancel his unscheduled stop in Armenia because the Armenian Patriarch Karekin I was dying of cancer. He would not get to see him for Karekin died a month later. Many wondered aloud if this would be the Pope's last trip to his homeland since he had turned 79 and was truly showing the effects of his age. In July he tweaked the interest of the world media in his Weekly Wednesday General Papal Audiences when he began a series on Heaven, Purgatory and hell. It seemed like hell in Catholic East Timor as September was a black month there with hundreds of thousands being killed or displaced, exiled from their beloved land after pro-Indonesian militia took revenge for the East Timorese unanimous vote for independence. The Holy See was the lone voice crying in the wilderness to the world to come to the aid of East Timor. As usual the major powers sat on their hands, waiting to see what would happen as countless more were killed or left homeless and the country ravaged. Finally Australia answered the call and the UN and US followed suit, but by then it was almost too late to the chagrin of East Timor's religious leader and Nobel Peace Prize recipient Bishop Carlos Ximenes Belo. A new biography was released on the Holy Father, written by George Weigel called "Witness to Hope" which the Pope had cooperated with, giving Weigel free access to everything. It is considered the most comprehensive compendium of this great Pontiff's life. On September 30th with the Vatican and St. Peter's Square ablaze with brilliant fireworks accompanied by the Te Deum sung by the Vatican Choir, the Holy Father blessed the newly restored lighter, brighter facade of St. Peter's finished in time for the Jubilee Year. On the Feast of St. Theresa of the Child Jesus he proclaimed the merits of three other women as patrons of Europe - a German, an Italian and a Scandanavian: Saint Edith Stein, St. Catherine of Siena, and Saint Bridget of Sweden. They joined the three male patrons of Europe Saint Benedict and Saints Cyril and Methodius. He proclaimed the three women as new patrons as he opened the three-week pivotal European Synod of Bishops in Rome. On October 3rd he beatified six more which brought the total of Blesseds during his 21 year pontificate to a record 938. The beginning of December he left for one of the more grueling trips of his papacy - to India where he closed the Asian Synod of Bishops after having no choice but to turn down Hong Kong and Hanoi in Vietnam because of communist interference. While Hindu radicals in India demanded apologies for forcefully converting their people dating back to Saint Francis Xavier, the Holy Father asked forgiveness for any transgressions against the people of India but would not apologize for evangelizing the Faith for that is what Jesus commanded. From the searing heat of the Bengal region he went to the opposite extreme in Georgia for his first trip to this former Soviet satellite where, like in Romania, few Catholics live but was received warmly by officials and the people even though he wasn't warm, catching a chill that was evident.
Returning with a cold to Rome, he rested and recuperated in anticipation of ushering the universal Church into the Third Millennium when he officially opens the Holy Door, one that depicts in relief on the door the Creation through Pope Pius XII who commissioned and dedicated the door at the entrance of St. Peter's. Rather than use the traditional hammer to open the door, the Holy Father will rap with his hand to signify his humanness and ask God to guide all His people through the door with the help of Our Lady as the light to shine our way to a glorious era where Jesus awaits to sanctify our journey. Elected in 1978, like Pope Leo XIII who was elected in 1878, John Paul II will usher in a new century. But this will be special for the harvest of the fruit is still on-going and this great Supreme Pontiff of our time has no intentions of hanging up his plow for he is intent on continuing to sow and reap so that God's great Heavenly garden will have an even greater harvest thanks to the efforts of this seed planter and soul harvester - a humble, holy Pope who personifies what the Vicar of Christ should be - the servant of the servants.
For more on this living saint of our times, who the voters overwhelmingly nominated as the number one most influential Catholic of the 20th Century by a wide margin, we recommend our editorial on the occasion of the 21st anniversary of his pontificate written in the weekend issue of October 15-17 this year. See John Paul the Great, Doctor of the Church for we truly believe he belongs in the strata of Pope Saint Leo the Great, Pope Saint Gregory the Great and Pope Saint Pius V. In conclusion, John Paul II has been the perfect person for God to have sent in His wisdom for these troubled times. He possesses the insistence of Pope Pius IX, the determination of Pope Leo XIII, the holiness of Pope Saint Pius X, the reverence and protocol of Pope Pius XII, the intelligence of Pope Paul VI, the easy-going jovialty and innovation of Pope John XXIII, and the warmth of Pope John Paul I. As his days grow fewer this beloved Polish Pontiff is truly the "Lion of Winter" - the earthly Good Shepherd who will not rest until all the sheep are together again. He will go down in history as a fair, holy and remarkable man who, but for the grace of God and Our Lady's intercession, might have left us in 1981. Instead God chose to keep him with us still and the Church is greater for it. Thank you, your Holiness for all you have done and we join you in your dedication, perseverance, and devotion to the Blessed Mother who we entreat to continue to intercede to the Father to keep you with us a while longer - for we, like you, are dedicated to her holy cause - Totus Tuus.
O Wisdom that comest out of the mouth of the Most High, that reachest from one end to another, and orderest all things mightily and sweetly, come to teach us the way of prudence!
O Adonai, and Ruler of the house of Israel, Who didst appear unto Moses in the burning bush, and gavest him the law in Sinai, come to redeem us with an outstretched arm!
O Root of Jesse, which standest for an ensign of the people, at Whom the kings shall shut their mouths, Whom the Gentiles shall seek, come to deliver us, do not tarry.
O Key of David, and Sceptre of the house of Israel, that openeth and no man shutteth, and shutteth and no man openeth, come to liberate the prisoner from the prison, and them that sit in darkness, and in the shadow of death.
"But Mary said, 'Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to Thy word.' And the angel departed from her."
Luke 1: 38