The next day, Divine Mercy Sunday, known as St Thomas Sunday in the Orthodox Church since the Gospel is Our Lord’s appearance to the ‘twin’, falling that year on the 1st of May, was the day when Pope John Paul II was beatified in Rome. It would be naive and unhelpful for Catholics to overstate the importance of the life and work of Karol Wojtyla, aka Pope John Paul II. One can’t simply proclaim him “Human Being of the Millennium” or “most important figure in the entire history of Europe”. All we can really say, without much fear of contradiction, is that he was the greatest man of the 20th century. Above all, this acclamation rests on the decisive part he played in administering a non-violent, Christian remedy to the infirmity of communist totalitarianism in eastern and central Europe. As St Joan of Arc was instrumental in delivering France from subjection to the English, so Blessed John Paul II was the primary agent in liberating Poland from the clutches of soviet Russia. This undertaking began in earnest at the moment when, addressing his countrymen as Pope for the first time at a Mass in Warsaw on June 10th 1979, he opened his homily with the words:
“Do not be afraid.”
To describe him as “a poor man’s Winston Churchill” is perhaps to get an inkling of the scale of his contribution to human history. More than anyone else, we have him to thank for warding off the threat posed to human civilization by the bomb – but in confronting this threat, he recognised the need to insist without compromise on the absolute sanctity of human life from the womb to the tomb.
*a parallel here is the tendency in English to refer to ‘the Ukraine’, the definitive article being more usually associated with regions than sovereign countries, hence better to refer simply to ‘Ukraine’.
**Rurik (died c. 879), inhabiting an almost Arthurian twilight zone between history and legend, is believed to have been a Varangian (Viking), who founded the dynasty which ruled Russia until the 17th century.