John Paul II reaches milestone

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HE IS already the most-travelled pope and has made more saints than all his predecessors over the past 500 years combined. Yesterday, Pope John Paul II added another milestone to his career, becoming the third-longest serving pontiff in the history of the Roman Catholic Church.

Pope John Paul, 83, who celebrated his 25th anniversary as pope on 16 October, surpassed the 9,280 days served by Pope Leo XIII to move into third place on the papal longevity list after Saint Peter and Pope Pius IX.

Unlike other milestones officially celebrated by the Vatican, yesterday’s record went largely unheralded, although the Vatican website did update its papal statistics chart to reflect John Paul’s new standing and Vatican Radio listed his accomplishment as one of its top stories of the day.

"John Paul II has passed such arduous and unique tests that fill us with marvel and thanks," said Giorgio Rumi, a Catholic historian.

John Paul did not refer to his 9,281st day on the job during his Sunday remarks in St Peter’s Square, devoting them instead to the bombings in Spain that killed 200 people.

John Paul began his papacy on 16 October, 1978, as the first Polish pope and the first non-Italian one for 455 years. At 58, he was also the youngest pope to be elected in a century.

Over the years, he added more firsts. On 24 May 1998, he became the longest-reigning pope elected in the 20th century, beating Pope Pius XII who served 19 years, seven months and seven days between 1939 and 1958.

Of all his predecessors, he is believed to be the most prolific in terms of literary output. Over his pontificate, he has issued 14 encyclicals - the Church’s most authoritative document - 15 apostolic exhortations, 11 apostolic constitutions and 43 apostolic letters.

John Paul has also travelled more than any previous pope, making 102 trips abroad and visiting 129 countries, many of them several times.

John Paul has also been the most prolific pope in terms of giving Roman Catholics saintly role models. He has canonised 476 people and beatified 1,320 - the last step before possible sainthood. Only 302 saints were made during all the papacies of the previous 500 years combined.

The Pope is still a long way from extending his standing in the longevity stakes, however. Pius IX served 31 years, seven months and 22 days as pope, while Saint Peter, the first pope, is thought to have served from AD30 to either 64 or 67 - a total of 34 or 37 years.