Pope John Paul II: Papacy & Quotes

Instructor: Mary Ruth Sanders Bracy

Mary Ruth teaches college history and has a PhD.

In this lesson, you will learn about the papacy of Pope John Paul II. The focus is on four themes: travel, canonization, anti-communism, and theology. We will also look at some of his most famous quotations.

Pope John Paul II

Pope John Paul II was the longest-reigning pope in modern history, serving as the head of the Catholic Church for 27 years from 1978 to 2005. Originally from Poland, John Paul II traveled the world during his papacy, taking more than 104 trips and covering more than 700,000 miles. He is most known for his opposition to Communism, and he spent his papacy strengthening the church and presiding over the 1989 collapse of the Soviet Union.

Let's look at his papacy in more detail.

World Traveler

Pope John Paul II traveled to more countries than any pope in history. He was the first pope to visit the White House and Cuba, and the first modern pope to visit a synagogue. Making an average of four trips per year, he visited not just the Western World, but also spread the Church's message to places like Africa and Asia. Essentially, Pope John Paul II took the Catholic Church out of the Vatican and into the world, including to places previous pontiffs had not traveled. In addition to his travels, he also worked to establish the Vatican as a player in international geopolitics, re-establishing diplomatic relations with Great Britain and the United States and establishing them for the first time with the Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization.

Greeting Followers at Yankee Stadium, 1979
Pope John Paul II

Countries Visited (in yellow) by Pope John Paul II
Travels of Pope John Paul II


Pope John Paul II canonized 482 saints during his papacy, which at the time was more than any pope in history (Pope Francis has since surpassed him with more than 850 saints canonized). Canonization is important because it recognizes a person or group important to the church and gives them a special status. Pope John Paul II canonized many saints, including the Korean Martyrs, Catholics who had died for their faith in the early years of Christianity in Korea, and Marie Marguerite d'Youville, the first native-born Canadian to be canonized.


As a native of Poland and Archbishop of Krakow, Pope John Paul II had grown up and began his ministry under two different oppressive systems:

  1. Nazi Germany occupation of Poland
  2. Soviet Communist system that followed

He became known for his opposition to communism and oppression, using a message of love and human rights to oppose Communism. Calling on his followers to ''be not afraid,'' he urged respect for human rights and an end to Communist oppression. In 1989 after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the beginnings of the Collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe, Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev visited the Vatican, signaling a new relationship between Christianity and Communism.


Pope John Paul II focused most of his theological energies on articulating the Theology of the Body, an integrated idea of the human person as having a specific meaning. According to the Theology of the Body, people can find answers to complex life questions, such as:

  • What is the purpose of life, and what does ''love'' mean?
  • Why do Christians believe humanity was ''created in the image of God,'' and why is it important?
  • Do things like sex and gender matter? What does it mean to be married or celibate?

Some criticized Pope John Paul II and the Theology of the Body for being regressive and pushing back against rapidly changing cultural norms. However, the Theology of the Body became an important Catholic teaching.


Pope John Paul II spoke frequently in multiple languages. Let's look at some of his most famous quotes for the four parts of his papacy outlined earlier in the lesson.

Traveling the World

''Wherever people are suffering, wherever they are humiliated by poverty or injustice, and wherever a mockery is made of their rights, make it your task to serve them.''


In 1998, speaking on the canonization of Edith Stein:

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