“God will bless America, so that she may increasingly become – and truly be – and long remain One Nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
God bless America.
God bless America.
— John Paul II, Washington DC, 1979
On May 18th, the Church and the world celebrate the centennial of John Paul II’s birth. That day brings memories and reflections about Karol Wojtyła, a unique man from Poland who became Pope John Paul II, electrified the world by his presence, words, energy, and smile. The Pope who emerged on the world scene on October 16th, 1978, with a strong voice of a young man who was ready to start things immediately, a gifted philosopher, writer, and linguist whose pontificate changed the course of history. A spiritual leader, global statesman, and peacemaker, he was always ready to take action in the most crucial global matters. Finally, the Polish Pope was a globetrotter with an extraordinary ability to communicate with all those he encountered, whatever their cultural backgrounds.
For many years, Saint John Paul II demonstrated his warm sympathy for the Americans. Under the patronage of Our Lady of Guadalupe, he traveled to all parts of the American continent twenty times. He pilgrimaged from Argentina to Chile, Brazil, Paraguay, Haiti, the United States, Alaska, and Canada, shaping people’s minds and hearts, reaching massive crowds, and changing history.
In October 1979, John Paul II made his first trip to the United States. Over the course of a week, he visited six cities and delivered sixty-nine speeches and sermons. “I greet you, America the beautiful!” – he said to the crowds in Boston. He entered the USA with a speech at the United Nations that marked the moment when the Catholic Church became the foremost institutional voice on the world stage for the defense of human rights and human dignity. In Washington DC, he met with President Jimmy Carter. He became the first pope to enter the White House. John Paul II also spoke on the Mall delivering the most important message of his journey: “Human life is precious because it is the gift of a God whose love is infinite (…) And when God gives life, it is forever”. This moment energized the pro-life movement in America, not only among Catholics but among their fellow citizens of different denominations, the evangelicals in particular.
His influence on America can be measured in many ways. On the American continent, Saint John Paul II sent a very powerful message that the church was going to stand with the forces of freedom and democracy. He generated Catholic involvement in the process of democratization. He simply made it possible.
John Paul II played a significant role in the fall of dictatorships in Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, and Haiti. He also helped to solve the conflict between Argentina and Chile as both countries were on the brink of war. John Paul II was a real godsend to the Americas at that time.
John Paul II’s activities were a perfect example of evangelization. In the American continent, he initiated a World Youth Day. The Polish Pope launched a new and global initiative for young people in Buenos Aires in 1987. He wanted to unite the young generation of the world. In 1993, the celebration of the Church’s youth and vitality took place in Denver. The holy festival of love, faith, and unity truly blossomed in Colorado. In 2002, World Youth Day took place in secular Toronto. John Paul II united people together of all faiths, of all ethnic backgrounds, and this unity brought forth goodness. There was a real thunderstorm. The crowd was laughing. The crowd was cheering. This event was a big transformation for the Pope, bishops, young people, and many others.
John Paul II’s vision of One America took concrete shape in 1997 when he convened the Synod for America, which led to the landmark document Ecclesia in America. Ecclesia in America marks a decisive turning point in the history of the Church, especially in North America.
John Paul II liked America and Americans. He left more than his heart, soul, words, lessons, or strength on the American soil. He brought encouragement to those who wanted to renew or build their life around the Catechism of the Catholic Church. He also urged a public dialogue on the culture of freedom and helped Americans understand the dignity of life, its pricelessness, and beauty.
The bishop of Rome spoke about the human person like no one else on the earth. One of John Paul II’s greatest contributions to the American continent and the world was his vision of the human person as a being created out of love and created for love. Therefore John Paul II called us to come together in solidarity to build a civilization of love founded on the universal values of peace, solidarity, justice, and liberty.
Finally, John Paul II was grateful for American prayers and assistance to Poland suffering under Communism. His partnership with President Ronald Reagan and their collaboration towards defeating the totalitarian regime played a crucial role in bringing freedom to Poland and the entire Eastern and Central Europe. Those two leaders – one became the spiritual leader of the world, and the other of the political leader of the free world – changed the course of world history. Each needed the other. Together, they provided the keys to victory. The two great men are no longer with us, but our need for moral clarity and moral leadership remains.
Happy Birthday, Saint John Paul II! May God bless you and protects you always. Please watch over us, and bring us light in the darkness. We are grateful for all the gifts you left for us, for the way you changed our history and our world. We will never forget.
Dear Saint John Paul II, Pray for us!
Author of “Wind from Heaven. John Paul II – Poet who became Pope”