In the third of a three-part series to mark the centenary of John Paul II’s birth, photographer Jerzy Ochoński presents images of the Polish pope’s pilgrimages to his homeland. In our previous articles, papal biographer George Weigel reflected on the lessons that today’s struggling democracies can learn from the idea of John Paul II, and Stanisław Obirek argued that a more nuanced perspective is needed to understand the complex papacy, and character, of the Polish pope.

Pope John Paul II was born Karol Józef Wojtyła a hundred years ago, on 18 May 1920, in the southern Polish town of Wadowice. His was the second longest papacy in history, from 1978 until his death in 2005, a time of great change. He was also the first non-Italian pope since the 16th century, and one of the most widely travelled leaders in world history.

The Polish pope made a total of nine pastoral visits to his home country during his pontificate. His first pilgrimage came in 1979, less than eight months after his election, and was his second foreign visit overall. This was perhaps his most significant visit of all, widely credited with setting in motion the events that led to the formation of the Solidarity trade union, an important factor in ending communist role in Poland and the region.

Further visits followed, amid a dramatically changing landscape in Poland, in 1983, 1987, 1991 (twice), 1995, 1997, 1999, and 2002. The pope participated in eucharistic congresses and World Youth Days, celebrated beatifications and anniversaries, dedicated shrines, and met with politicians. But the visits are best remembered for the crowds lining the streets and gathering in huge numbers for open-air Mass with a pontiff venerated by many in his homeland.

This selection of images from John Paul II’s visits to Poland has been curated by photographer Jerzy Ochoński. To see more photographs from around Poland, visit his website.

Receiving an honorary doctorate at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków during his second pastoral visit to Poland, 22 June 1983. Photo: Jerzy Ochoński

The pope visiting Poland in 1987. Photo: Wojciech Kryński

Holy Mass at the conclusion of the Eucharistic Congress on Parade Square in Warsaw during his third pastoral visit to Poland, 14 June 1987. Photo: Maciej Musiał

Praying at the grave of Jerzy Popiełuszko, a priest murdered by agents of the communist security services, in Warsaw, 14 June 1987. Photo: Jan Morek

On board the ORP Mewa minesweeper ship sailing along the coast from Gdynia to Sopot, 11 June 1987. Photo: Wojciech Kryński

In Częstochowa, the site of the Black Madonna icon at the Jasna Góra monastery, a popular centre of pilgrimage. Photo: Jan. Morek

With President Aleksander Kwaśniewski and his wife Jolanta at the Bishop’s Palace in Kraków, 2002. Photo: Wojciech Kryński

On Kraków’s Main Market Square, 2002. Photo: Grzegorz Rogiński

Mass attended by tens of thousands at Błonia Park in Kraków, 2002. Photo Grzegorz Rogiński

Visiting his parents’ grave at Rakowicki Cemetery in Kraków. Photo: Grzegorz Rogiński

The papal procession on the streets of Kraków, 2002. Photo: Grzegorz Rogiński

The popemobile and well-wishers on the Main Market Square in Kraków, 2002. Photo: Grzegorz Rogiński

Mass and consecration of the Sanctuary of Divine Mercy in Łagiewniki, Kraków, 2002. Photo: Wojciech Kryński

A mosaic portrait made up of thousands of photographs on the wall of the Bishop’s Palace in Kraków after John Paul II’s death. Photo: Jerzy Ochoński

More of Jerzy Ochoński’s work can be found on his website, which offers a wide variety of images of different aspects of life in Poland, as well as photo services. Main image credit: Maciej Musiał

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