ARCHDIOCESE OF SYDNEY RELEASE: Eight years ago today tens of thousands of people gathered in St Peter's Square as the bells of the Basilica rang over and over again and those in the Square and millions around the world mourned the death of pope John Paul II.
It was 9.37pm on Saturday 2 April and Pope4 John Paul II had been the leader of the Roman Catholic Church and sovereign of Vatican City for almost 27 years.
As the leader of the Catholic Church, he travelled the world, visiting more than 100 countries to spread his message of faith and peace.
A vocal advocate for human rights, John Paul often spoke out about suffering in the world. He held strong positions on many topics, including his opposition to capital punishment. A charismatic figure, John Paul used his influence to bring about political change and is credited with the fall of communism in his native Poland.
Born Karol Jozef Wojtyla on 18 May 1920, in Wadowice, Poland, he was ordained in 1946, became a bishop in 1958, archbishop in 1964 and was made a cardinal by Pope Paul V1 in 1967. The young man who loved both sport and the theatre and who studied at a secret seminary due to the Nazi 0ccupation of Poland, went on to become the first non-Italian pope in more than 400 years when he was elected at the 1978 conclave.
Pope John Paul travelled widely and was loved by millions but especially young people which brought him to establish the World Youth Days. The 19 World Youth Days celebrated during his pontificate brought young people together from all over the world.
He also successfully encouraged dialogue with Jews and the representatives of other religions, whom he several times invited to prayer meetings for peace, especially in Assisi.
Under his guidance the Church prepared for the Great Jubilee of 2000; he gave an extraordinary impetus to canonisations and beatifications; he expanded the College of Cardinals considerably and he produced numerous documents including 14 Encyclicals, 15 Apostolic Exhortations, 11 Apostolic Constitutions and 45 Apostolic Letters.
He promulgated the Catechism of the Catholic Church in light of Tradition as authoritatively interpreted by the Second Vatican Council and also published five books.
Again in 1981 the world was watching when an assassin shot John Paul twice in St Peter's Square. He recovered from his injuries and later even visited his would-be assassin in jail and forgave him.
Years later JP11 health was sp obviously failing although he pressed on with his role. People saw his suffering as his health continue to fail and at public appearances he moved increasingly slower, was unsteady on his feet, was stopped over and could hardly speak.
When news broke that he was near death thousands of people began arriving in St Peter's Square, lighting candles and praying.
From the time it was announced that John Paul II had died until 8 April, the day of the funeral, more than three million pilgrims came to Rome to pay homage to the mortal remains of a pope people began calling John Paul the Great. Some of them queued for up to 24 hours.
On 28 April, the new Holy father Benedict XV1 announced that the normal five-year waiting period before beginning the cause of beatification and canonisation would be waived and the cause was officially opened by Cardinal Camillo Ruini on 28 June, 2005.
Six years later on 1 May 2011, the beatification ceremony for Pope John Paul II was presided over by Pope Benedict . A vigil in preparation for the celebration was held the night before in the Circus Maximus. The casket in which he was interred was exhumed and placed before Saint Peter's tomb on 20 April, in front of the main altar for veneration during the ceremony. It was then reinterred in the Chapel of St Sebastian. I vial containing the Pope's blood, taken during the final days of his life, was displayed as a relic for veneration.
A total of 87 international delegations attended the beatification ceremony, including 22 world leaders. One million Catholics had gathered for the mass in St Peter's Square.
On 2 May, 2011, following a two-day viewing by hundreds of thousands of pilgrims, Blessed John Paul's coffin was sealed within St Peter's Basilica under the Altar of St Sebastian.
Many hundreds of thousands of pilgrims visit the site every year.
SHARED FROM ARCHDIOCESE OF SYDNEY