In a few days it will be 40 years since Pope John Paul II was chosen as the first Polish Pope on 16 October 1978. It was for Poles I suspect, the greatest surprise of our whole lives. I barely remember the day, though my mother said it was a total shock when they announced his name in Latin and with no social media to share the news, we all rushed to meet at the Polish church. I met him once, when he was very old and wished it had been earlier. He was first and foremost a very down to earth man. Here’s a few facts you may not know.
He loved to jog
When he moved into the Vatican, he jogged in the gardens for many years, something I only learnt this year visiting the gardens in Rome. This was not his only form of exercise, he loved skiing, climbing and canoeing. He skied until he was 73. A swimming pool was built for him in Castel Galdonfo the Pope’s summer residence, which he then regularly used, and the tennis court was renovated for his use.
His favourite day was Tuesday
He loved Tuesdays, because it was the only day he had free from Papal audiences or official masses. He would use this to write homilies and his many encyclicals, walk in the gardens and relax. He would also often leave the Vatican for a few hours for walking trips and in the evenings he would attend campfires organised by the policemen guarding him and loved listening to their singing.
He beat many records
He was the first non Italian to be chosen since 1522. The first Pope to reply to media questions at media audiences and he introduced the internet to the Vatican. He beat the record by far on trips abroad (103) visiting 132 countries and 900 places. He was the first to visit a synagogue and a mosque. The first to wear a watch and read without glasses and the first to attend a rock concert in Bologna and spectate at a football match. More than anything he declared over 1300 people blessed (the precursor to beatification) and beatified 478 new saints.
He loved a joke
He was not only an actor but always liked to have a joke with friends. Here’s one of them: The Pope is praying and asking God: “Lord, will Poland ever be free again?”, “Yes, answers God – but not during your lifetime”. So the Pope asks, will there ever be another Polish Pope? God answers “not in my lifetime”.
And when he was canonised in April 2014, Kraków finally said goodbye to him. A taxi driver said to me at the time “this is our final farewell, he kept coming back to us but now it’s like he has left the inhabitants of Kraków for the world, forever“.
Blog main image by Rogelio A. Galaviz C. CC BY-NC 2.0