This weekend we have two great events on the docket. First, on Friday we celebrate the Feast of Saint Teresa of Avila, the great reformer of the Carmelite Order who shares the distinction of being one of only three female Doctors of the Church. She shares that honor with Saint Catherine of Siena, who counseled Popes and, through her love for Our Lord and His Church, was the main instrument in the Papacy being returned to Rome from the Avignon Captivity, and Saint Therese of the Child Jesus, the young Carmelite from Lisieux, France, whose little way as the "Little Flower" spoke volumes. The latter became the third woman to be accorded the great accolade of Doctor of the Church when Pope John Paul II elevated her to that status two years ago on October 19, 1997 on World Mission Sunday. To make this even more pertinent, as we detailed in our editorial this past Tuesday, St. Therese's relics are making the rounds of 25 states over a one-hundred day period that spans two millenniums. These are indeed, glorious times.
The second great event is Saturday when we commemorate the 21st anniversary of the election of Cardinal Karol Wojtyla as the 264th successor of Peter. No man in the history of the world has met or been exposed to more people than John Paul II. Consider these staggering numbers provided by the Vatican: At least 300 million people have seen him in person throughout his 7,650 plus days as Sovereign Pontiff either in Rome or during his 88 papal visits outside Italy or 137 papal trips in Italy covering over 2 million miles! By the end of this year and the completion of his trip to India and Pakistan this month, plus Iraq and Egypt this December, he will have traveled, as the ZENIT News Agency reports, "the equivalent of three times the distance between the Earth and the Moon." And this doesn't even include his upcoming "Jubilee Journey" in 2000. Talk about saving up frequent flyer miles! For his private and public audiences at the Vatican or Castel Gondolfo over sixteen and a half million have obtained tickets for these special moments with the Holy Father. Add to that the Sunday Angelus appearances and those numbers jump to five times that or roughly 83 million who have seen him in person in Rome or his summer residence. Those figures are astounding. In addition, he has personally visited with parishioners of 286 of the 320 churches of Rome and with only 34 to go has expressed a desire to be the first Vicar of Christ to visit and meet the faithful of every parish in Rome. With his track record, who's to argue?!
Speaking of track records, Saturday this Polish Pope's pontificate becomes the tenth longest in the history of the Church. Amazingly the Vicar of Christ who was Pope the longest remains the first Pope Saint Peter from 30 to 64 A.D. The second longest is Pope Pius IX, the Pontiff who proclaimed the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception and whose papacy lasted 32 years from 1846 to 1878, and his immediate successor Pope Leo XIII who spanned the the 19th and 20th century from 1878 to 1903. Fourth on the list was Pope Pius VI, whose 24 year reign from 1775 to 1799 was during the French Revolution and the American Revolution, then Pope Adrian I (772-795) and Pope Pius VII whose pontifical reign lasted from 1800 to 1823 and included the tumultous, nearly diastrous period when Napoleon took the Pope hostage. Pope Alexander, who ruled from 1159 to 1181, and Pope Saint Sylvester I, whose 23 year pontificate benefited from the Edict of Constantine from 314 to 335, are seven and eight on the list for longevity. It's interesting to note that half of the list are from the past two and a half centuries. The Pope directly ahead of John Paul II is Pope Saint Leo I who stopped the barbarians at the gates of Rome when Attila the Hun turned away rather than ravaging Rome. He, like his counterpart Pope Saint Gregory I are known as "the Great."
Both Leo and Gregory are also Doctors of the Church. Which brings us to a point. As we have referred to earlier here, no man in the history of the world has personally touched more people than John Paul II. We believe with all our heart that our present Pontiff will someday go down in the annals of history as John Paul the Great. And why not? Who else has had such an influence spiritually, politically, morally, sociologically, or geographically? Leaders have come and gone, countries have risen and fallen, evil empires have crumbled during his pontificate. Leo the Great only had to deal with Attila; John Paul the Great has had to deal with the likes of Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Leonid Breshnev, Mikael Gorbachev, Mao Tse-tung, Fidel Castro, Ayatollah Khomeini, Moamar Khadafi, Idi Amin, Ronald Reagan, George Bush, Bill Clinton, Saddam Hussein, Suharto, Jiang Zemin, Slobodan Milosevic, B.J. Habibie and countless others who have sought to change the course of history without taking into consideration the inherent gift of life for all. Gregory the Great reformed the liturgy and started the Church on a brilliant liturgical renaissance that we still cherish today. But consider how John Paul the Great has balanced a Church in great upheaval when he became its chief shepherd in 1978 to guide her through the rough waters of schisms, apostasy, rebellions and mounting martyrdoms in Africa, Asia and South America. Through it all he has never compromised, steering the Barque of Peter with an admirable admiralship toward the safe harbor of the two pillars by his emphasis and undying devotion to the Eucharist and the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Many of the historical events over the past two decades can be directly attributed to his influence. Consider also that he has completely revamped the face of the College of Cardinals with 94 of the 106 cardinals eligible to vote in the Sacred Conclave having been hand-picked by him. But consider even further his impact on global society. Not only has he been named "Man of the Year" by many organizations, most notably Time Magazine's nomination in 1994, but is even under consideration as "Man of the Century" by many publications and organizations. We have had numerous e-mails asking if John Paul II is the TOP 100 CATHOLIC OF THE CENTURY and all we can say is you'll have to stay tuned, but we will give you a hint: you won't be disappointed! Yet, despite all these honors, "man of the year" or "man of the century," even "man of the millennium" are not the only considerations for this phenomenal leader of our time.
Consider the encyclicals he has written, the many, many documents he has released, the emphasis on the dignity of man and stress for the Sanctity of Life in the face of the growing culture of death. Don't forget he had a hand in many of the excellent documents for Vatican II as well. What other Pope, or for that matter, what other person has published best sellers (v.g.,"Crossing the Threshold of Hope") and had a solid gold CD such as "Abba Pater"? When one weighs all the evidence of this man's writings and impact, one would have to seriously consider John Paul II as a future candidate for Doctor of the Church as well. It is not as farfetched as it seems for over the past twenty-one years he has imparted solid teaching and expanded on the Fathers and Doctors of the Church to bring the teachings more into focus in a light many had not understood before. From his first encyclical on March 4, 1979 Redemptor hominis less than half a year into his pontificate in which he elaborated on redemption and human dignity to his masterpiece on the Mercy of God a year and a half later on November 30, 1980 Dives in misericordia; from his May 18, 1986 encylical Dominum et Vivificantem on the Holy Spirit's important role in the life of the Church and the world to the encyclical of March 25, 1987 on Blessed Mother Mary's role in the mystery of Christ and her active and exemplary presence in the life of the Church with Redemptoris Mater. It was in the mid-nineties that he published two of his most important works on the Sanctity of Life with Veritatis Splendor on August 6, 1993 regarding fundamental questions on the Church's moral teaching and Evangelium Vitae, called the "The Gospel of Life" on the value and inviolability of human life, on March 25, 1995. Both were extensions of Pope Paul VI's excellent and controversial encyclical Humanae Vitae. That same year he released Ut Unum Sint - "That all may be one" - on the Church's commitment to ecumenism and last year turned his attention to science and academics with his deep and fascinating encyclical on "Faith and Reason" called by its Latin term Fides et Ratio.
And, in the spirit of Robert Frost, this Pope has "miles to go before he sleeps." Many are speculating that before the millennium breaks the Holy Father will issue another encyclical on the End Times, clarifying the Church's position that the new millennium will not be the end of the world - as many have been scared into believing - but the end of an era, a cleansing time and the beginning of a new life of grace and the intrinsic message of Our Lady at Fatima. He has been working on this document throughout the summer. When all is said and done, we truly expect this Pontiff to mirror the pontificate of Pope Leo XIII in length. Consider that Leo was elected in 1878; John Paul a century later in 1978. Leo's pontificate lasted until 1903. Considering the stamina of our beloved Polish Pontiff, three plus more years are not too much to expect and hope for. We would, of course, pray for longer tenure, possibly to challenge Pius IX and even Peter, but we also have to be realistic. His health has been suspect because of his age for he will turn 80 next May 18th. But, as he has pointed out so many times in his talks and writings, God is the only One Who gives and takes life and we suspect God isn't finished with His Pope-son from Wadowice, Poland yet. When the Father finally does call His faithful servant of the servants home, we can only hope and pray that his successor will strongly consider waving the five-year period of waiting and allow the beatification process to begin for this 264th successor of Peter and soon after his canonization can become a reality and then he can be accorded the deserving honor of not only being called venerable, blessed and saint, but also John Paul the Great, Doctor of the Church.