Fifteen years after he passed away, John Paul II remains one of the faithful’s most beloved and unforgettable popes.
Among the many reasons why we love him is the fact that he initiated the highly successful World Youth Day, making believers out of millions of young adults. (Read: Dear Young People: Pope’s Message to the Youth) He also did the unthinkable—two years after Turkish assassin Mehmet Ali Agca nearly took his life, the pope personally met and forgave him in 1983.
Canonized a saint on April 24, 2014, John Paul II marks his feast day every October 22nd. To honor his memory, we dig up five fun facts about this extraordinary saint-pope.
Fact #1: John Paul II Traveled the Most in Papal History
Much has been written about John Paul II being the most-traveled pope. In 26 years, he has been to 129 countries, logging over 700,000 miles, or three times the distance between the earth and the moon, says globalsecurity.org.
With evangelization as the goal of his travels, the Pilgrim Pope has gone to places his predecessors have not, says romereports.com. In 1979, he became the first pope to visit the White House. In 1982, he visited the United Kingdom, the first reigning pontiff to do so since the Church of England’s breakaway from the Catholic Church. In 2001, he flew to Syria, making him the first pope to set foot in a mosque. (Read: These saints’ words in poetry will fuel your faith in God)
“He went to places where the people were,” said Cardinal Gaudencio Rosales, Archbishop Emeritus of Manila. “He brought Jesus to those corners of the world where the Lord has never physically gone.”
Fact #2: John Paul II Had an Amazing Memory
And we’re not just talking about the 12 languages he spoke fluently. According to lifeteen.com, the theater-loving teenager Karol Wojtyła once memorized all the lines in a play, he willingly stepped in for an actor who dropped out at the last minute of a live show.
As pope, he marked every diocese in a world map that he kept, and knew every bishop’s name by heart. And he remembered the names of Swiss Guards, seminarians, and even acquaintances.
Fact #3: John Paul II Skied Until His 70s
In his younger years, he played soccer, hiked, biked, and joined an international kayaking competition. (Read: You Won’t Be Able To Guess How These Popes Spent Their Free Times)
But this pope’s passion was skiing, and he skied until 1987—nine years into his papacy, reports aleteia.org. The Holy Pontiff was known to “on at least 100 occasions slip away for some incognito schussing or mountaineering—sometimes even fooling the Swiss Guards who were sworn to protect him,” said religionnews.com.
Earning the nickname “Daredevil of the Tatras,” in reference to the Tatra Mountains of Poland where he spent two weeks every winter, John Paul II considers a pair of 195 cm Head skis his “one luxury in life.” True to his hiker background, he preferred climbing mountains instead of riding on ski lifts. One of the first things he said to a well-wisher after he was proclaimed pope? “I will ski again when they let me.”
Fact #4: John Paul II Was Featured in a Marvel Comic Book
Like Captain America and the Mighty Thor, Pope John Paul II has a comic book on his life, written and illustrated by Marvel Comics. Spanning his growing up years in Poland to his near assassination, The Life of John Paul II (Volume 1, Number 1) came out on January 1, 1982, and was put together by writer Steven Grant, penciler John Tartaglione, inker Joe Sinnott, colorist Marie Severin, and letterer Jim Novak.
Voyagecomics.com says it was Japan-based Marvel Comics representative Gene Pelc who was instrumental in making this cool collectible happen. Gene, who is Catholic and Polish like the Pope, was inspired after the Holy Father visited Japan in February 1981. (Read: How Pope John Paul II Became A ‘Secret Activist’)
But the saint pope is not the only religious figure with his own Marvel comic book. In 1980, Marvel released Francis: Brother of the Universe in time for the 800th anniversary of the birth of St. Francis of Assisi. And in 1984, Mother Teresa of Calcutta had her own comic book years before her canonization in September 2016.
Fact #5: John Paul II and Padre Pio Heard Each Other’s Confessions
In 1947, when the saint pope was still known as Fr. Karol Wojtyla, he happened to be in Rome for his studies when he decided to spend a week with Padre Pio at San Giovanni Rotondo. (Read: St. Padre Pio’s Prayers for Healing and Miracles)
Besides hearing young Karol’s confession, the Capuchin priest told him something many believe he had not divulged to anyone. When Fr. Karol asked him which of the wounds from his stigmata hurt the most, Padre Pio revealed it was the one on his shoulder, “which no one knows about and has never been cured or treated,” he said, in an account.
Fittingly, Padre Pio was both beatified and canonized by Pope John Paul II in 1999 and 2002, respectively.