World Council of Churches

A worldwide fellowship of churches seeking unity, a common witness and Christian service

You are here: Home / Resources / Documents / WCC commissions and working groups / Commission of the Churches on International Affairs / Regional concerns / Europe / The World Council of Churches pays tribute to Pope John Paul II

The World Council of Churches pays tribute to Pope John Paul II

03 April 2005

3 April, 2005



Pope John Paul II has been among the most outstanding personalities during
these last decades, with an impact far beyond the Roman Catholic Church and
the Christian community worldwide. During his pontificate, the Roman Catholic
Church affirmed its universal vocation and strengthened its internal coherence.

His commitment to social justice and reconciliation, to human rights and the
dignity of the human person, as well as to Christian unity and inter-religious
understanding, will be gratefully remembered.

We recall with warm feelings the visit John Paul II paid to the WCC headquarters,
early in his pontificate in 1984, where we shared a worship service at the
chapel of the Ecumenical Centre and prayed together for full communion among
Christians. He was not only following the steps of his predecessor Paul VI, who
had visited the WCC in 1969, but also expressing his own commitment to the
one ecumenical movement.

Karol Wojtyla, born in Wadowice, Poland, on 18 May, 1920, was elected pope
in 1978. During his pontificate, through his extensive travels, the ad limina visits,
his impressive body of writings and by purposefully using church structures
(e.g., the synods of bishops), he sought to bring cohesion and coherence to the
Roman Catholic Church.

In the first half of his pontificate, John Paul II focused on the situation of people
living under communist rule. With a combination of quiet diplomacy and strong
denunciation, he developed an ecclesial and political "Ostpolitik" and strengthened
those taking a stand against Marxist ideology, particularly in his native
Poland. During this period, an intentional focus on human rights (particularly
in Redemptor hominis) and religious liberty provided a strong basis for challenging
Marxist ideology and communist practice.

During the second half of his reign, Pope John Paul II sought to challenge the
predominant values in Western culture, to question what he saw as permissive
trends in human sexuality, and to affirm "the culture of life" over and against "the
culture of death". This was most evident in the various social encyclicals published
during his time - Laborem Exercens, Solicitudo Rei Socialis and Centessimus
Annus. In this restatement and development of Roman Catholic social thought,
he was able to initiate a dialogue on appropriate structures and foundations for
human life in society.

The systematic examination of major features of the Christian faith, and of the
issues facing the church throughout the world, also demonstrated John Paul II's
concern for affirming the central truths of the faith and the Roman Catholic Church.
This was evident in the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and
the issuing of a number of doctrinal instructions. (e.g., Ad Tuendam Fidem).

Having consciously adopted the name John Paul on his election to office, Karol
Wojtyla was not simply seeking to honour his immediate predecessor, but to continue
and complete the reforming work of Pope John XXIII and Paul VI. In his
work, therefore, he also sought to promote relations with other Christian churches
and engage in the search for Christian unity with them.

An immediate concern was rapprochement with the Orthodox churches, and he
constantly sought to strengthen and develop the bonds between the "successors"
of the brothers Andrew and Peter. In his visits throughout the world, Pope John
Paul II took every opportunity to meet with leaders of other churches and to
encourage his Roman Catholic colleagues to engage fully in local ecumenical initiatives
and councils.

Of particular interest is his attempt to offer a vision of unity; his encyclical Ut
Unum Sint draws on the insights and experiences of Roman Catholic involvement
in the ecumenical movement, and offers substantial reflections on the nature of
dialogue and unity. Indeed, this encyclical is unusual in citing reports from the
wider ecumenical movement - notably that of the WCC Faith and Order Commission.

To further the moves towards unity, John Paul II in the Encyclical invited other
churches to reflect with him on the role and structure of the Petrine ministry as
a servant of Christian unity; he also invited his church to apologize for the sins
committed during its history which contributed towards division. This was most
evident during the Millennium Celebrations in Rome on 13 March, 2000, when
he sought forgiveness from other churches for sins committed against them by
representatives of the Roman Catholic Church.

As Bishop of Rome, the Pope initiated a series of events and reflections on the
work and being of the Holy Trinity to celebrate the 2000th anniversary of the
birth of Jesus of Nazareth. This drew Christians of different churches in all parts
of the world into an intentional ecumenical process at local and international level
and provided encouragement for local ecumenism.

Efforts were also made to seek dialogue with people of other faiths. On two occasions
at Assisi, the Pope invited leaders of the major world religions to join him
to pray for world peace - in 1986, and in January 2002 (the latter in the light of
the terrorist attack of 11 September, 2001 on the United States and the subsequent
actions) - and to promote a culture of peace to counter the prevailing culture
of war.

His strong proclamations and actions for peace, particularly in the two Gulf wars
and in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict have been particularly important. By lifting
up this common concern of churches worldwide and the ecumenical movement
as a whole, he strengthened the voices of Christians everywhere working to
overcoming injustice and promoting lasting peace.

The pontificate of John Paul II has bridged in a courageous way a period of profound
changes and transformations in the church and in the world. A new era and
a new millennium have begun, which will require fresh responses in the Roman
Catholic Church and in the ecumenical movement.