Menu

From the floor to Heaven

All Saints’ Day, 1st November 1946, in the private chapel in Bishop’s Palace in Kraków, on Franciszkańska St, cardinal Adam Sapieha ordains one deacon. Only one.
St. Leonard's crypt at Wawel Castle, where Father Karol Wojtyła celebrated his first Mass. Photo: NAC
Advanced Holy orders
Holy orders were put forward because the new priest, Wojtyła, soon leaves for Rome to study. The moment of prostrating on the floor, which expresses “full readiness to take up one’s duties” had left a mark on his life, later he reminisced. In 1962, having that moment in mind he wrote a poem: “It is you, Peter. You want to be the Floor, so others may walk upon you”.

By choosing an unconventional date for his Holy orders, All Saints’ Day, right from the beginning priest Wojtyła had associated his priesthood with the veneration of saints. As a Pope, John Paul II would go on to canonise 482 people and beatify 1338, more than his predecessors had done for a couple of centuries. Canonisations and beatifications of the faithful from all around the world by the Polish Pope showed the diversity and accessibility of paths to sainthood.
Kraków’s saints
The saints meant a lot to Karol Wojtyła. The example of brother Albert Chmielowski, a painter and a monk (not yet canonised then) influenced his choice of consecrated life. Wojtyła wrote about him: “For me, he had a great meaning because during my own disconnect from art, literature and theatre, in him I found spiritual sustenance and an example of choosing the path of calling” (John Paul II, Gift and Mystery). For that man Wojtyła wrote the play “Our God’s Brother”.

As a bishop in Kraków, Wojtyła engaged in beatification processes of the people associated with his diocese: brother Albert Chmielowski, queen Jadwiga and Faustina Kowalska. Also, he many times referenced St Stanislaus of Szczepanów, who was a bishop in Kraków in the 9th century. Despite of the long time dividing them, Wojtyła felt a spiritual connection with his predecessor, which he often used to point out. The medieval bishop was killed on the order of his king, whom he dared to admonish. Wojtyła saw in him “a patron of moral order”, as he referred to him later, and a paragon of morality for the current day. As Kraków’s metropolitan bishop revitalised the idea of annual processions from the place of St Stanislaus’ martyrdom (Skałka) to the Wawel Castle.
Pope Paul VI
Cardinal Wojtyła actively strived for canonisations of Polish saints at the Holy See. In 1968 during the Conference of the Polish Episcopate, cardinal Wojtyła related his visit in Vatican and his conversation with the Pope: “I was told(…) in the congregation of the rite, that father Kolbe’s case should be finished next year. When I mentioned Father Kolbe, The Holy Father asked: But what about the case of queen Jadwiga? (..) I even wrote this down for the Holy Father, those cases: father Kolbe’s, queen Jadwiga’s, brother Albert’s, because he said: We need a beatification for Poland, no matter if it is a bishop, or a priest, or a layman” (the quote is taken from audio recordings of Conferences of the Polish Episcopate, which are located in the Archives of the Archdiocese of Warsaw).

Ultimately, the quickest went the case of Father Maximilian Kolbe, whom Paul VI beatified in 1971, and John Paul II canonised as a martyr in 1982. Furthermore, the Polish Pope conferred sainthood on brother Albert, queen Jadwiga, Faustina Kowalska and many others.
Different paths to Heaven
From great many people beatified and canonised by John Paul II, the large number of martyrs deserve our special attention. Among them, victims of the 20th century regimes, 108 polish martyrs from the World War II and the most numerous group: 233 Spanish martyrs from the time of the Civil War. John Paul II beatified also large groups of Asian martyrs from China, Korea and Vietnam alongside martyrs of the French Revolution.
Additionally, the Polish Pope showed the world new examples of sainthood. It was him, who beatified first married couple – Luigi Beltrame Quattrocchi and Maria Corsini. This way, he showed that marriage is a valid way to sainthood, confirming the teaching of the Catholic Church about general vocation for holiness. That “everyone, that all the faithful of Christ of whatever rank or status, are called to the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of charity” (Lumen gentium, 40).

On October 1st, 1946, deacon Wojtyła was lying in a chapel on Franciszkańska St, his forehead touching the floor. On that day, when he received the Holy orders, the All Saints accompanied him. As the Pope John Paul II, he canonised many a saint, and later, he was recognised as a saint himself.

Barbara Stefańska