The year 2020 marks the centenary (100th anniversary) of the birth of St. John Paul II. He was born Karol Józef Wojtyła on May 18, 1920, in Wadowice, Poland, and as a youth growing up in Nazi-occupied Poland, studied for the priesthood in secret, and was ordained a priest in 1946. He was no stranger to suffering and persecution. After World War II, Poland was annexed to the Soviet Union, the ally to Hitler’s Germany and this left Poland occupied by Communist forces until 1989 when Round-table talks between the Solidarity Party, the Communists and the Catholic Church paved the way for the cessation of Communism in Poland. Tadeusz Mazowiecki then became the first non-Communist Polish prime minister since 1946. In this time of tumult and political upheaval, Karol Józef Wojtyła was elected as Pope in 1978 and took on the name of John Paul II (Wolek, 2018; BBC, 2018).

When Pope John Paul II visited Singapore on 20 November, 1986, it caused quite a stir as Singapore filled the National Stadium. It so happened that in 1986, and as a child of 3, my mother had brought me to the National Stadium to see the Pope. While I don’t quite remember the events of the day, I do remember as revealed by the Holy Spirit that somehow, I had in that little, but cognizant mind of mine that I wanted to see the Pope. Someone (I think it was my mother, but could have been my guardian angel) took me by the hand and led me down the Grandstand stairs so that I could see the Pope better. In the chaos of the moment – it was around the end of the Eucharistic Celebration/Audience, I found myself at one time standing by myself, alone at the front portion of the Grandstand where the viewing parapet was. By Grace, I did not leave the spot, but continued to stand where I was. I do believe that by this time, my mother at arrived at the top of the Grandstand where the exits were and by now, had frantically deployed the help of the wardens to find her missing child. One must remember that the year 1986 was an anxious year for many – the Mcdonald’s Boys had gone missing on 14 May 1986. Somehow, again by Grace, someone called out, “There, he is! That’s your son right?” (Could be again my guardian angel in the guise of a human being), and so as a funny memory and story, when the Pope visited Singapore, I was lost, and I was found – sounds like the story of my life.

St. John Paul II was a Pope who was salient for his time, and whose teachings still resonate in today’s context. St. John Paul II has some wisdom to share about how to go about being community (2004):

  1. Offer the gift of Peace – there is a Christian calling to become the Good Samaritan to each and every person we meet. That is the gift of love that transcends cultural differences and barriers, and is the call that every Christian must live. We need to become friends to those who are friendless, family to those who have no family, and community to those who have no community (p.17).
  2. Offer the gift of Suffering – our suffering will only make sense when we unite it to the suffering of the Lord in his passion and crucifixion. His humiliation is our humiliation; His wounds are our wounds He bore. When we offer up our suffering, it becomes a prayer offered for those who are likewise suffering, and we become a community of solidarity as our life experiences become powerful tools of intercession for someone out there in the world who may be undergoing the same or similar suffering to our own. In this, our suffering bears redemptive fruit, beyond our wildest dreams and imaginings, even rippling through the generations before and after ours (p. 51; p. 97).
  3. Be the True Face of Jesus to Others – We are sent as ambassadors of Christ to be the authentic and true face of Christ to each and every person who crosses our paths in our lives. We have been commissioned to go out into our families, homes, workplaces, ministries, communities, parishes, ancient cultures, schools so as to proclaim and to live the dignity of the person as revealed by Jesus. When we intentionally defend the dignity of the person, we become the True Face of Jesus to humanity (p.60).
  4. Our Life has meaning and purpose, and each life is a talent – No one is an iceberg drifting alone and lonely in an ocean of vast magnitude. Life is a talent that has been entrusted to our care and stewardship, and for us to transform so as to reach out and to make a difference in the lives of others. Each of us belongs to a family, where we each have a meaningful role to play, and each has been entrusted a unique mission by God that which only we can accomplish or carry out (p.7)
  5. Christ in every area of our Life –  We must allow the Lord God to reclaim His sovereignty and authority over every aspect and every stage of our lives – A Christian cannot live parallel lives – one that is poles apart in the Church and outside of the Church. Christ needs to be present as much as at the dinner table, as with our work desk, in our conversations, and interactions, in our waking, and resting, in our enterprises and relationships. In each area, the love of Christ is revealed to us if only we seek His Will to be revealed to us, and in these areas, we discover our call as ordained by God our Father, and the needs that need to be met in service of others. Communities then become authentic places where each member is deliberately seeking to let Christ into every area of his or her life, and also where the light of Christ is brightly radiated out to our neighbours (p.82).

We pray for the intercession of St. John Paul II to help us seek out those who are lost, and to be authentic witnesses of Christ within our communities and beyond borders.

By the Grace of God,

Brian Bartholomew Tan



BBC. (2018). Poland Profile – Timeline. BBC News. Retrieved October 23, 2020 from

John Paul II. (2004). John Paul II: Lessons for Living. (J. Dorepos, Ed.). Loyola Press.

Wolek, K. (2018). A post-war war. The years of 1944–1963 in Poland. The Warsaw Institute Review. Warsaw
Institute. Retrieved October 23, 2020, from