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Anyone with doubts about the effectiveness of traditional Catholic prayer and relics need only look at Pope John Paul II -- whose life, as it turns out, was even more prayerful, self-sacrificing, and mystical that previously related.

Let's start with the self-sacrifice:

According to Monsignor Slawomir Oder, who has written an international bestseller, Why He Is A Saint (published in New York, London, and Milan), the late pontiff constantly helped the needy and as a priest literally gave shirts, jackets, and coats off his back, even in frigid weather. That generosity continued as he was promoted up through the hierarchy. On one occasion, the future saint gave a poor family in Brazil his very cardinal's ring -- which had been presented to him by Pope Paul VI! Blessed John Paul II  even gave away his shoes -- his only pair, in another case (forcing him to ask for a pair before celebrating Mass). 

That unselfishness and his mystical side drew even the most worldly to appreciate his unique presence. This is a Pope who would often upset travel schedules by halting to pray, at great length, in front of a tabernacle or at a Marian shrine. In fact, he promised the Madonna to visit a shrine for every vocation added to one particular monastery that suddenly boomed with new vocations. He walked five miles to one.

He readied for the morning services the night before, reciting the preparatory prayers in Latin. When he awoke, he remembered the intention for which he was to celebrate Mass. When he arrived in the sacristy, he would kneel and pray for fifteen to twenty minutes. The Pope once was heard to say, "They try to understand me from without. But I can only be understood from within."

Those working at the Vatican or other offices would be shocked to find him praying in a closet, or spread out -- for hours -- on a cold marble floor, his arms outstretched to form a Cross. Here is the "charisma" -- the presence -- that drew presidents and even Mikhail Gorbachev!

One aide even found him praying in a washroom, kneeling in front of a sink. Every morning, when he emerged from the refectory after breakfast, he would walk through the sacristy and kiss all the relics kept on a table next to the altar.

"So many times I saw his face, after contemplation and Adoration, visibly changed and happy," said one person close to him. "During prayer he seemed to be in continual conversation with God, like Moses who spoke with God Face to Face. During prayer, Wojtyła did not notice anything that happened around him. He seemed to lose all sense of time, to the extent that his secretary at a certain point would have to shake him out of this extraordinary state of concentration because other commitments awaited him."

Long intellectual debates upon which he was to base a decision often were left hanging as he concluded that he would pray about the answer.

At one point, when martial law was declared in Poland, John Paul II -- "with the greatest of tranquility" -- told assembled Polish monsignors, "We must pray greatly and wait for a sign from God."

It certainly affirms what many Marian, charismatic, and traditionalist Catholics likewise practice.

During Mass, he elevated the Host for very long periods, carefully showing it to each side of the altar. On Good Fridays, he was greatly relieved at three p.m. because the Lord was then off the Cross.

He had a particular reverence for the saints. He read files on them constantly. He invoked especially the Blessed Mother as "Queen of Poland, Virgin of Jasna Góra, Virgin of Kalwaria, Virgin of Myślenice, Virgin of Rychwald, Virgin of Ostra Brama, along with the Virgin of Fatima. Monsignor Slawomir -- who is postulator of John Paul's cause -- documents a particular fondness of the Pope's for the as-yet unapproved site of Medjugorje in Bosnia-Hercegovina, where the author says John Paul II sent one archbishop incognito to report back. Did John Paul II -- as many have speculated -- actually see Mary himself? Asked this by a member of his entourage, the Pope had said, "No, I've never seen the Madonna, but I sense her."

And then there was Padre Pio. The famous stigmatic winked at Father Wojtyła when he arrived in San Giovanni Rotundo as a priest and some time later described to a seminarian a Polish pope who would be "a great fisher of men" (followed by one who would "amply confirm the brothers," which some now say was a reference to the current pontiff). While it is well-known that the future Pope met St. Pio in 1947 -- and that several healings were effected by the requests of Wojtyła to the monk on behalf of the infirm (including a spectacular cure of "incurable" cancer) -- what has not been widely revealed is that John Paul II, as that younger priest, once discussed the stigmata with St. Pio (who allegedly told him his shoulder wound was the most painful -- an interesting comment in light of recent accounts that state, at least in the initial years, that Pio did not have the shoulder wound, but one on his side).

Slawomir documents other "unusual episodes" in the life of the great Wojtyła, including the recollection of a witness who had an audience with the Pope after taking part in his private chapel Mass. "At a certain point in the conversation," says Slawomir, "[the witness] had the impression that the pontiff's face wavered and vanished, replaced by the benevolent image of the face of Padre Pio. When he revealed his experience to the Pope, he heard the simple reply, 'I see him, too.'"

"His devoted love for Mary only grew and flourished when the connection between the third secret of Fatima and the assassination attempt of May 1981 became clear," writes the postulator. "In connection with the dramatic event, extrajudicial sources confirm, John Paul II also saw a link with the apparitions of the Queen of Peace in Medjugorje, in the former Yugoslavia, which began at the end of June of the same year. The Pope spoke of it in very favorable terms and said, 'To say that nothing is happening at Medjugorje means denying the living and praying testimony of thousands of people who have been there.' To Monsignor Murilo Sebastião Ramos Krieger, archbishop of Florianopolis in Brazil, who was going for the fourth time on a pilgrimage, he confirmed, 'Medjugorje is the spiritual center of the world.'"

"The intensity and the rapt concentration with which he addressed Mary conferred upon the Pope, in the eyes of those who observed him, an almost supernatural aura," adds the postulator.

"A guest at Castel Gandolfo during the summer holidays recalled that after regularly reciting the Rosary with him in the garden, 'John Paul II went over to the statue of the Madonna of Lourdes and asked me to step away. He spent at least another half hour praying there, and it was as if his person were also physically transformed."

[resources: Why He Is a Saint]

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