Was John Paul II the Most Influential Saint?

After I suggested that St. Bernard of Clairvaux was the most influential saint of his time, I received quite a lot of reader mail and comments suggesting that his influence in his time will be surpassed by Blessed Pope John Paul II in this past century—quite an extraordinary claim, given that he passed just a few years ago and has yet to be even formally declared a saint.

Here’s why readers think John Paul the II merits such a distinction:

■ Downfall of communism: One reader writes: “He brought down the Soviet Union; he brought many people including me … back to the faith. I know what Bernard did but I think JP surpassed him buy a mile. Bernard persuaded people to go on Crusade but he didn’t cause the collapse of Islam whereas JP not only encouraged Solidarity but brought about the collapse of the system that was oppressing people.” To any skeptics out there—this is no exaggeration. For any questions about how influential John Paul II was in bringing an end to communism, perhaps even exceeding the role of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, I recommend the documentary, Nine Days that Changed the World.

■ Extraordinary public witness to faith: Another reader summed it up pretty well in the comments section: “His influence goes well beyond his absolutely compelling personal odyssey from actor/athlete to intellectual, to resistance against fascists, to underground seminarian, to priest, to academic and mystic, to bishop, to Council father, to Pope, and his personal example of forgiving his would-be assassin, and his public decline and suffering in faith.”

■ Post-Vatican II confusion:
As compelling as that all is, the (same) reader added, we also have to consider John Paul II’s role in bringing the Church back from the brink of the chaos of the so-called post-Vatican II “spirit”—a “monumental feat in of itself.”

■ Theology of the Body: “And if all that weren’t enough, he articulated a counter ideology to the enlightenment dualism which has led to the moral chaos which is otherwise destroying our culture,” the reader continued. “His Theology of the Body is the light which will guide the church in her mission to counter the cultural darkness of our day.”

■ A universally recognized force for good: John Paul II would have been a “world power” no matter what he ended up doing for a living, wrote another reader. As a priest, bishop, and then a pope, John Paul perhaps went further than he ever could in a secular calling, becoming a “force for good that pretty much everyone recognized,” the reader said—no small feat indeed in our highly secularized world.

I am compelled to agree: John Paul II is an excellent candidate to be considered the most influential saint of his time.

And I’ll mention two more reasons of my own:

■ Transformed the papacy: John Paul II absolutely transformed the papacy, demonstrating that, like the faith it exists to defend and preserve, it’s an institution that is at once both ancient and ever new. John Paul II showed that the papacy is an institution that is not only relevant in the era of globalization and information technology—if not more so than in recent past centuries—but also directly meaningful to the everyday spiritual lives of the faithful. He redefined what a Pope is expected to do and how’s he’s supposed to carry himself in the public eye. And he achieved near-universal popularity and respect on the world stage, while vigorously standing by some of the Church’s most controversial and unpopular teachings (contraception, abortion, chastity).

■ Steps towards communion with Eastern Orthodox: The Vatican and the Russian Patriarch are taking small steps towards improving their relationship, but those could become giant leaps forward toward renewing communion between Catholicism and the Eastern Orthodox. This may be many decades down the road, but if it happens, the first steps were taken during the papacy of John Paul II and so he should be credited having the vision to set that process in motion.

But I’m inclined to give history a chance to render its verdict. My guess is the verdict will be in the affirmative, but only time will tell.

Coming next week…. other saints readers nominated as the most influential of their time.

Stephen Beale


Stephen Beale is a freelance writer based in Providence, Rhode Island. Raised as an evangelical Protestant, he is a convert to Catholicism. He is a former news editor at GoLocalProv.com and was a correspondent for the New Hampshire Union Leader, where he covered the 2008 presidential primary. He has appeared on Fox News, C-SPAN and the Today Show and his writing has been published in the Washington Times, Providence Journal, the National Catholic Register and on MSNBC.com and ABCNews.com. A native of Topsfield, Massachusetts, he graduated from Brown University in 2004 with a degree in classics and history. His areas of interest include Eastern Christianity, Marian and Eucharistic theology, medieval history, and the saints. He welcomes tips, suggestions, and any other feedback at bealenews at gmail dot com. Follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/StephenBeale1

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  • Pargontwin

    All of this is very true.  Pope Benedict XVI has taken great strides in the same direction, but only because Pope John Paul II laid the groundwork.  I credit all this to the latter’s great, and very public, devotion to the Blessed Virgin. 

    Consider Fatima.  Pope Benedict has publicly refuted the 2000 message that Fatima belongs to the past.  His own words:  “He deceives himself, who says Fatima belongs to the past.”  (Or at least, as close as I can recall.)  The most controversial part of the Fatima message is the demand for the consecration of Russia.  It was supposed to have been done half a century ago, but never was.  Yes, JPII’s consecration of the world was accepted by God – take note of the fact that it happened right at the time when the Soviet Union actually fired a missile at us.  The missile was destroyed (also, I think, by the Soviets, but I don’t remembe for sure) before it ever reached us, but for a day or two there was “act of war” rhetoric being tossed about.  Then, miraculously, diplomacy actually won the day (for what I think was the first and ONLY time in history!), and war was averted.  The message was clear:  If this lesser consecration bore such fruit, imagine what the specific consecration of Russia would do.  But political considerations made men afraid to carry it out, to the point that one “Fatimist” writer said that it would probably take a specific request by the Russians themselves for that consecration ever to be performed.

    Fast-forward to what is happening right now in Russia.  A punk-rock group is on trial (I won’t speak their vulgar name), essentially for opposing Putin.  Their crime?  They walked into a Russian cathedral and very publicly entreated the Blessed Virgin to “throw Putin out.”  If a group that pretty much symbolizes everything that’s wrong with human society today turns to our Blessed Mother, can that aforementioned request be far behind?  Once again, as five or six years ago, I see events lining up to go either way:  Either Russia will be consecrated soon, World War III will be averted, and sanity will return to the world, or it will be delayed yet again, and we will move ever closer to disaster.  It all depends on us.  Pray the Rosary daily, specifically for the intensions of Our Lady of Fatima.  Make the five First Saturdays.  And, more than ever before, pray for the Pope. 

  • Bruno Bonazzi

    …The Saint ( with regard to him to be blessed is the same as to be saint, Of COURSE!)….) God Made, The Most Influential Saint….TERRIBLE! . Yes, The Most Influential ‘pope’ in destroying the Catholic Faith and the True Church, The Saint Devil Made for HIS church, where there is no place for God and His Christ!!

  • Bruno Bonazzi


    The Worshipper of the Wailing Wall,
    the Kisser of Koran, the Blesser of Voodoo Priests …..The Saint (
    with regard to him to be blessed is the same as to be saint, Of
    COURSE!)….) God Made, The Most Influential Saint….TERRIBLE! .
    Yes, The Most Influential ‘pope’ in destroying the Catholic Faith
    and the True Church, The Saint Devil Made for HIS church, where there
    is no place for God and His Christ!!