Pope John Paul II

Oct. 9-15, 2003
Pope John Paul II
By Catholic News Service
SUN photo(s) CNS
In past centuries, Catholics went to Rome to see the pope. Pope John Paul II has reversed the practice, traveling to 129 countries in order to meet people where they live, work and worship.

Many observers count that as the most revolutionary change implemented during the first 25 years of Pope John Paul’s papacy. From behind the Vatican walls, a supreme pontiff came into the streets, factories, refugee camps, presidential palaces and churches of the modern world. Logging more than 700,000 miles, the pope has spent 6.5 percent of his papacy outside of Italy and more than 10 percent of his papacy outside of Rome.

Along the way, he has encountered young Catholic communities in Africa, walked through slum neighborhoods in Latin America, addressed world powers at the United Nations and preached the Gospel on six continents. Because his trips attract massive media coverage, much of the world has come to know the global dimensions of the Catholic Church through these travels. And the pope’s presence has often brought international attention to the struggles of Third World nations. Yet Pope John Paul is not simply a roving goodwill ambassador or a media superstar. His trips have an evangelizing purpose that can give him the appearance of a modern-day apostle. Papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls sees the pope’s globe-trotting as an essential part of his overall mission: presenting Christ to a multifaceted world. “This is a pope who travels with a serious sense of purpose; he’s not on some tourist package,” Navarro-Valls said. “His aim is to reach all people — whether they are Catholics, non-Christians or even nonbelievers.”

While the pope began his pontificate by visiting heavily Catholic countries like Mexico and Poland, his trips in recent years have taken him to places like Azerbaijan, Kazakstan and India, where Christians are a small minority. Typically, the pope preps for his foreign visits by learning some of the local language, reading native literature and studying key chapters of the host country’s history. As Navarro-Valls put it, the pope wants to make a deep cultural connection, not simply be a religious icon on display. “When he arrives somewhere, he’s not only there to see the local residents, but also to understand their history. In a sense, he is visiting the past as well as the present,” the papal spokesman said. Often, the pope is visibly moved by the moral significance of a place. For example, he spent a long time meditating at the port of Goree, Senegal, because it was a point of departure for African slaves on their way to the New World.

When it comes to papal travel, Pope John Paul has set records in virtually every category: he’s made 101 trips outside Italy — 102 after a mid-September trip to Slovakia — visiting more than 600 cities and giving more than 2,400 speeches during his foreign sojourns. His longest trip, in 1986, lasted almost two weeks and took him 30,000 miles across six countries in Asia, Oceania and the Indian Ocean. His seven trips to Africa have brought encouragement and attention to local churches at a time when Catholicism was experiencing explosive growth on the continent. The pope has visited the United States seven times — more often than any country except his native Poland. Highlights of the U.S. trips have included an exultant welcome by teen-agers in New York’s Madison Square Garden, a challenge on women’s ordination from a U.S. nun, addresses to the United Nations and a rousing celebration with nearly 400,000 young people at World Youth Day in Denver 10 years ago.

From his first foreign trip in 1979, the pope has taken a traveling press corps aboard his chartered jet. Until his health declined in the mid-1990s, he treated them to airborne press conferences that sometimes lasted 30 minutes or longer. He also travels with a 25-person staff of Vatican officials and technical experts, who handle everything from security to last-minute changes in papal texts. All of them have their favorite memories from 25 years of papal travel: his electrifying speeches to Solidarity activists in communist Poland, his moving prayer at Jerusalem’s Western Wall, an impromptu chat with African villagers or his meditative moments on the Sea of Galilee. Some Vatican aides occasionally have grumbled about the amount of time the pope spends outside the “office.” But early on, he defended his globe-trotting by saying: “I must visit my people.” Last June, the pope compared his trips to those of the Apostles, who visited and encouraged local churches. He added that such travels now constitute “an integral part of the ministry of the successor of Peter” — signaling to his eventual successor that he’d better keep his passport handy.

Numbers tell part of the story of how church has changed under pope

CNS — Since Pope John Paul II was elected in 1978, the face of the church has changed — in some aspects dramatically. Numbers tell part of the story. At the broadest level, the number of Catholics in the world has jumped more than 40 percent, from 757 million to 1.06 billion at the end of 2001, the last year for which official church statistics have been published. More significant under this pontificate are the geographical areas of growth, which indicate a Third World shift. Catholics in Africa have increased nearly 150 percent and in Asia more than 80 percent. In Europe the increase has been only 5 percent, and the number of Catholics has actually gone down in recent years.

In the United States, the number of Catholics rose from 48 million to 64 million over the same period. That’s an increase of about 33 percent, 4 percentage points higher than the general U.S. population growth. When it comes to those who work in a ministerial or teaching capacity for the church, there’s been an increase in most categories under Pope John Paul, but a decrease among members of religious orders. Overall, the “workforce for the church’s apostolate” has jumped from 1.6 million to 2.8 million. The number of bishops in the world increased from 3,600 to more than 4,600 — and more than 70 percent of them have been appointed by Pope John Paul.

After declining for several years, the number of diocesan priests was up to 266,500 at the end of 2001, about 8,000 more than when the pope took office. The number of religious priests has declined steadily, from about 158,000 to 139,000, and religious brothers are down from about 75,000 to 55,000. The sharpest drop has been in the number of women religious, which has gone from 985,000 to 792,000. While the number of foreign missionary priests has declined in many parts of the world, the number of indigenous catechists has exploded. When Pope John Paul assumed the papacy, the church had 173,000 catechists; today there are more than 2.8 million.

The number of “lay missionaries” — not even a category when the pope was elected — has now reached 139,000, most of them in South America. Permanent deacons have emerged as a pastoral force during this pope’s term: They numbered 5,500 in 1978 and are more than 28,000 today. Nearly half of them are in the United States. Despite what the Vatican considers as hopeful trends in priestly vocations, there are far fewer priests per Catholic today than when the pope came to office. In 1978 the worldwide ratio was 1,800 Catholics for every priest; today it is more than 2,600 Catholics per priest. The church has bolstered its social and educational roles under Pope John Paul II. For example, there are more than 106,000 church-run health and welfare institutions today, compared to 64,000 in 1978. The figure includes clinics, homes for the elderly and disabled, orphanages and marriage counseling centers. The number of church-run schools has gone way up, and enrollment has increased by 40 percent or more under Pope John Paul. At the university level, the increase is more dramatic: Enrollment at Catholic higher institutes of learning has risen from about 2 million in 1978 to 4.6 million today.

At the Vatican, the pope has continued the internationalization of the Roman Curia. When he came to office, Italians controlled about half the Vatican’s top 20 departments. Today, Italians hold only four of those top spots. The pope also has made a direct and strong impact on the makeup of the College of Cardinals, the institution that will elect his successor. He expanded the total number of cardinals to a record 184 in 2001. Of the 109 cardinals under the age of 80 at the end of August and eligible to vote in a conclave, the pope has appointed all but five.

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