Saint John Paul II, the Great — if he weren’t the so humble — could boast more major accomplishments than any world leader of 20th Century, and arguably, more than any person over the past 20 centuries.
Having visited 125 countries during his pontificate, he traveled to more places than all of his predecessors and successors combined. Fluent in 13 languages, he could address the crowds with cheerful candor in their mother tongue. While the media speculated the waning effects of his mass appeal, due to his age and declining health, the white-robed man elegantly strode out with cane in hand to greet hordes reaching over 5-million at World Youth Day in Manila, 1995. (Move over Woodstock).
Pope John Paul II is the greatest champion of human rights of our times. During his first papal visit to Poland in 1979, he spoke out unopposed in support of the Solidarity trade union. That moment marked the tipping point for the Communist Block’s downfall of the Eastern Europe.
Among his innumerable contributions to the Catholic Church are his 14 encyclical letters, which include the Monumental 4: Centessimus Annus, Veritatis Splendor, Evangelium Vitae, and Et Unum Sint. Another great encyclical he wrote, which strongly influenced my devotion to the Blessed Virgin, is Redemptoris Mater — A short, simple, must-read for anyone who wants to grow in their love for Mary.
Totus Tuus Ego Sum. JP II’s motto told us all we needed to know about his deep devotion to the Virgin Mother, to whom he entrusted his entire papacy form beginning to end. After a bullet almost took his life on May 13, 1981, the Feast of our Lady of Fatima, he presented Mary with the bullet and placed it in her crown. In October 2002, he crowned his pontificate by presenting us with a gift from Mary, the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary.
I’ve found no example speaks more eloquently about the Luminous Mysteries, instituted by Saint John Paul II, than Our Lady of Light, depicted in the painting above by Russian artist, Natalia Tsarkova.
As the video explains, Natalia painted 5 portraits of the Pope, one of which became his official portrait. She has since made a portrait of Pope Benedict XVI. Both portraits and more of Natalia’s work can be viewed on this sight.
John Paul II portrait also appears in Our Lady of Light, but you have to look closely to find him.
Natalia included Pope John Paul II in this piece (in the trumpet bell of one of the angels), since he is the one who introduced the Luminous Mysteries.
The angels in the portrait represent the different mysteries of the rosary. The first angel (top right) hearkens to the Annunciation, presenting Mary with a passage from Isaiah foretelling the coming of the Messiah.
The next two angels represent the sorrowful and glorious mysteries. The woeful angel with the crown of thorns is reading Isaiah’s account of the Suffering Servant, while the more optimistic angel draws his attention to the mystery of the resurrection, by pointing upward to the light.
The angels with the trumpets are announcing the ushering in of the Luminous Mysteries. That is why Natalia thought it fitting to include the Pope in the bell of the trumpet.
Similar John Paul II’s outreach to reconcile ecclesial differences between Eastern and Western Christian Churches, the Russian artist Tsarkova draws on both Eastern and Western religious tradition in art to depict the Blessed Virgin. For example, in the Western tradition, Mary usually appears robed in blue, whereas in the Eastern tradition, she is more often presented in red. Tsarkova, an Orthodox Christian, fuses both traditions by presenting Mary with a red outer garment and a blue inner garment — typical of Orthodox icons — while the painting’s composition resembles the Western Baroque style, hearkening to Murillo, the great Spanish Master, known for his countless Marian masterpieces (literally countless, because the number of his Marian portraits is still unknown).
Pope John Paul II gave the world countless masterpieces, in writing, in speaking, in unspeakable accomplishments. Today, while we are still in the week of his canonization, let’s honor him duly, by praying the Luminous Mysteries of the rosary for the intentions he held close to his heart as the Great Pope of our generation.