It was 30 years ago this week that Pope John Paul II became the first pope to visit Canada, and the Royal Canadian Mint is honouring this pope and his canonization this year with the release of pure gold and pure silver collector coins.
Pope John Paul II arrived on Sept. 9, 1984, and he over travelled more than 15,000 kilometres over the 12 days that followed, visiting more than 17 cities, celebrating Mass, delivering homilies and giving speeches in a number of different venues.
In 1987, he returned to Canada to speak in Fort Simpson, Northwest Territories, because his visit there had been shortened due to poor weather three years earlier.
In July 2002, he made his third and last visit to Canada on the occasion of World Youth Day in Toronto, Ont. His papal mass on the event’s closing day was attended by 800,000 people!
The RCM coin design is based on a photograph of Pope John Paul II offering Mass during his first visit to Canada in 1984. Through the expert application of varied finishes and skilled engraving, Mint engravers faithfully capture the power of the moment as the pope raises the Consecrated Host at the elevation.
Pope John Paul II was born Karol Jozef Wojtyla in Wadowice, Poland on May 18, 1920. He lost his mother at 8, his brother at 11, and his father at 21.
In Nazi-occupied Poland in the early 1940s, he studied for the priesthood in a secret “underground” seminary in the residence of Cardinal Adam Stefan Sapieha, the archbishop of Krakow. During that period, he is credited with having saved and protected a number of Polish Jews, in addition to having been protected himself by friends and family.
He was ordained as a priest on Nov. 1, 1946, consecrated a bishop on Sept. 28, 1958 (the youngest bishop in Polish history, at age 38), appointed Archbishop of Krakow on Jan. 13, 1964, and created a Cardinal by Pope Paul VI on June 26, 1967, at the age of 47. He was elected pope on Oct. 16, 1978.
Only weeks after Pope John Paul II’s death on April 2, 2005, Pope Benedict XVI began the canonization process for the late pope. Pope John Paul II was beatified – a key step in the canonization process – on May 1, 2011. On Sept. 30, 2013, Pope Francis announced that he would canonize Pope John Paul II as also Pope John XXIII in a single ceremony, on April 27, 2014.
Unlike any leader of the Roman Catholic Church before him, the 264th pope, Pope John Paul II took proactive control of this global influence in order to criticize and combat political oppression.
- John Paul II became Pope in 1978 at age 58, making him the youngest pope of the 20th century. His pontificate was the third-longest in Roman Catholic history.
- Pope John Paul II was often referred to as the “Pilgrim Pope.” He travelled to 129 countries, covering a distance of 1.16 million kilometres over the course of his pontificate.
- Lech Walesa, the founder of the Polish Solidarity movement that brought down Polish communism in the late 1970s, attributed his movement’s success to his countryman, Pope John Paul II.
- Pope John Paul II was an accomplished linguist who was fluent in 12 languages. He spoke both French and English on his three trips to Canada.
- In 1981, Pope John Paul II was shot in St. Peter’s Square in an attempted assassination, but survived and went on to meet and forgive his would-be assassin.