Today, October 22, is the feast of Pope St. John Paul II who was elected to the papacy 37 years ago. Pope Francis canonized John Paul II, earlier last year on April 27, 2014, along with John XXIII, two of the most influential popes of the 20th century. Nearly one million people crowded the streets in and around St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City to be there for the historic event.
In 1978, Pope Paul VI died and a conclave was held to elect a new pope. Italian cardinal Albino Luciani was elected and chose to honor the pope who named him a bishop (John XXIII) and the pope who named him a cardinal (Paul VI) by combining their names and becoming Pope John Paul I. However, he died 33 days into his papacy. Another conclave was held and the new pope was the 58-year-old Polish cardinal Karol Józef Wojtyla. Cardinal Wojtyla chose the name of his predecessor, making him Pope John Paul II.
In addition to his unconventional election, John Paul II was a different pope for several reasons. Due to his being elected at a relatively young age, he stayed in the papacy for 26 years. During this time he was able to visit 129 countries, canonize 483 saints and see the Church enter into its third millennium of existence. Additionally, he was the first non-Italian to be elected to the papacy in 455 years. This proved invaluable in his role helping to end Communist rule in Europe by speaking out against its injustice and inspiring his Polish brethren to not lose faith or use violence. He also made Jesuit Fr. Jorge Mario Bergoglio a cardinal who 12 years later would become Pope Francis.
After a long and fruitful papacy, John Paul II died on April 2, 2005.
Pope John Paul II pictured with Jesuit Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who would eventually be elected as Pope Francis.