Pier Giorgio Frassati, whom Pope John Paul II beatified in 1990 and nicknamed the “man of the beatitudes,” is another popular saint elevated by the Polish Pope who loved to recognize the holiness of simple persons living the call to holiness with extraordinary fidelity. At the time of his death, the 24 year-old Italian was simply a student with no extraordinary accomplishments. But his love for Christ in the Eucharist and in the poor was elevated by John Paul II as heroic and worthy of imitation.
It bears noting that Pope Francis would later surpass John Paul II when he proclaimed 800 Italian martyrs saints in a single day.
3. He transformed the papal travel schedule.
John Paul II visited some 129 counties during his pontificate — more countries than any other pope had visited up to that point.
He also created World Youth Days in 1985, and presided over 19 of them as pope.
Weigel says John Paul II understood that the pope must be present to the people of the Church, wherever they are.
“He chose to do it by these extensive travels, which he insisted were not travels, they were pilgrimages,” Wegel said.
“This was the successor of Peter, on pilgrimage to various parts of the world, of the Church. And that's why these pilgrimages were always built around liturgical events, prayer, adoration of the Holy Eucharist, ecumenical and interreligious gatherings — all of this was part of a pilgrimage experience.”
In the latter half of the 20th century — a time of enormous social change and upheaval— John Paul II’s extensive travels and proclamation of the Gospel to the ends of the earth were just what the world needed, Weigel said.
4. He transformed the teachings of the Church.
John Paul II was a scholar who promulgated the Catechism of the Catholic Church in 1992, reformed the Eastern and Western Codes of Canon Law during his pontificate, and authored 14 encyclicals, 15 apostolic exhortations, 11 apostolic constitutions, and 45 apostolic letters.
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This is why Weigel says the Church has really only begun to unpack what he calls the “magisterium” of John Paul II, in the form of his writings and his intellectual influence.
For example, John Paul’s Theology of the Body remains enormously influential in the United States and throughout the world, though Weigel says even this has yet to be unpacked.
5. He gave new life to the Catholic Church in Africa.
John Paul II’s legendary evangelical fervor took fire in Africa.
He had a particular friendship with Beninese Cardinal Bernadin Gantin, and visited Africa many times. His visits would inspire a generation of JPII Catholics in Africa as well other parts of the globe.
“John Paul II was fascinated by Africa; he saw African Christianity as living, a kind of New Testament experience of the freshness of the Gospel, and he was very eager to support that, and lift it up,” Cardinal Gantin said.