John Paul II’s Martyr-Predecessors

Bishop Karol Wojtyla entering cathedral in Krakow
Bishop Karol Wojtyla entering cathedral in Krakow

One of Bl. Pope John Paul II’s greatest sources of pride and joy was the fact that he had the unusual privilege of serving as the successor of not one, but two bishop-martyr-saints.

Of course, he served as the successor of St. Peter as the Bishop of Rome. Peter, the leader of the Apostles, suffered martyrdom under Emperor Nero, and thereby consecrated the Church of Rome with his blood. Since ancient times, the Pope has celebrated the Sacred Liturgy at the tomb of St. Peter, on the Vatican hill.

Before being chosen to succeed St. Peter, John Paul had already served for a decade and a half as the successor of St. Stanislaus. Cardinal Wojtyla had celebrated the Sacred Liturgy at Stanislaus’ tomb, which is in the cathedral church of Krakow, Poland.

Like St. Peter, St. Stanislaus suffered death at the hands of a wicked monarch. It happened 934 years ago today. The Bishop had excommunicated the king for kidnapping another man’s wife. The king accused Stanislaus of treason and killed him.

Time Magazine John Paul II Poland 1979John Paul II returned to Poland during his first year as Pope in order to visit St. Stanislaus’ relics for the ninth centenary of the saint’s martyrdom. This was the famous visit credited with beginning the demise of communism in Europe.

Preaching at the cathedral in Krakow, the Pope referred to St. Stanislaus as the “patron of moral order” for the Polish people. The Pope recalled how Stanislaus had faced a great test of faith and character, and, by God’s grace, passed it. Stanislaus emerged victorious as a faithful Christian, even in the face of death. Bl. John Paul went on to say:

In the final analysis the moral order is built up by means of human beings. This order consists of a large number of tests, each one a test of faith and of character. From every victorious test the moral order is built up. From every failed test, moral disorder grows.

We know very well from our entire history that we must not permit, absolutely and at whatever cost, this disorder. For this we have already paid a bitter price many times.

This is therefore our meditation on…St. Stanislaus’ pastoral ministry in the See of Krakow, on the new examination of his relics, that is to say his skull, which still shows the marks of his mortal wounds—all of this leads us today to a great and ardent prayer for the victory of the moral order in this difficult epoch of our history.

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