The following commentary is from the EWTN series, The Papacy: A Living History, The Papal Artifacts Collection of Father Richard Kunst. It is from the first episode of Season 2: The Canonization of Pope John Paul the Great. A DVD of Season 2 will be available from EWTN in 2015.
The commentary provided here is a compilation of the conversation between Father Richard Kunst, the Papal Artifacts’ Expert, and his co-host, Father Ryan Moravitz.
When John Paul was elected in 1978, there wasn’t a 24 hour news service, or the internet like we have today that made hundreds of photographs of him available. There weren’t hardly any pictures available to even show people around the world what he looked like.
This is the photograph of Bishop Wojtyla that was used by the press in Austria to announce his election as Pope. It was the only one made available to them.
I got this from a guy who used to collect bishop memorabilia in Austria. He was a government worker, and when Karol Wojtyla was elected Pope, they gave this picture to all the media in Austria at the time. So they actually used this picture of him. There are a whole bunch of little notes on the back of the picture, but the significant thing about this is that it’s signed by Bishop Wojtyla. So when the government worker originally had it, there was just the signature, but all the notes on the back were from the different media outlets using this picture. It was the only thing Austria had to show what the new pope looked like. And so it’s significant because it is connected to the announcement of this new Pope from Poland.
So then you think about how many people saw him in the next 26 years. He reached out to so many individuals, both on a personal level and on a grander scale, at world-wide events. For me (Father Moravitz) it’s one of the reasons why I think he’ll go down in history with the title “the Great”.
You hear many people talking today about John Paul the Great. He was a shepherd that went everywhere and reached out to all types of people, and I think that is one of the defining characteristics of a saint.
(Father Kunst) Speaking more about the title, “the Great.” We have two other popes who regularly get that title: Leo and Gregory, and sometimes Nicholas, but mostly the first two, and there’s no formal ceremony that grants the title. It’s just popular usage, and so I, like you, Father Ryan, use that title often when I’m referring to him to kind of move that along a little bit.