How to Evangelize Like Pope St. John Paul II

Pope St. John Paul II, whose feast we celebrated this week, is the Pope of the New Evangelization. He encouraged people in the Church to break out of their mold by going out into the world to spread the Good News, just as Jesus did, in imitation of their Lord and Savior. 

He knew that all of us are called to be missionaries and are qualified to evangelize by virtue of our Baptism and Confirmation. Thus, he tore down the walls of the Church to embolden the Body of Christ to go out into the streets and the marketplaces to bring His missing children home. 

But exactly how did Pope St. John Paul II (also known as Karol Woytyla) evangelize others in his own life? How did he attract others to the faith and encourage those who had strayed to return home? What characteristics did he possess that we can emulate to evangelize like he did?


Prayer was a priority in his life. John Paul II spent up to seven hours a day in prayer, adoring, thanking, and praising God and interceding for others. He celebrated the most perfect prayer – the sacrifice of the Holy Mass – daily, even on days when he was sick or hospitalized. He ardently imitated Christ in the way he lived his life.

He knew that before he could evangelize others, he himself needed to live a holy life. Pope St. John Paul declared: “It is not possible to bear witness to Christ without reflecting his image, which is made alive in us by grace and the power of the Spirit” (Redmeptoris Missio, 87). 

A crucial characteristic “of this missionary spirituality”, he tells us, “is intimate communion with Christ” (Ibid.). Pope John Paul II stressed that holiness was not just for religious, but for the laity, too, and he encouraged lay people to strive to attain sanctity in their lives.

While most of us don’t have seven hours per day to spend in prayer, we certainly do have some time to pray daily in the morning and at night.  If we don’t, then we may need to cut down on other, less important activities – such as watching TV, surfing the Internet or texting friends – and carve out some time to commune with our Creator. When we develop a more intimate union with God, we may find ourselves speaking with him often throughout the day – while driving, walking, or performing our daily tasks.

We may also want to increase our attendance at Mass to include one extra day a week, if possible. We might also add a decade of the rosary or a chaplet of Divine Mercy to our daily prayer schedule.

Before we even begin to share the faith with others, we need to pray. We should ask the Holy Spirit to speak through us, to inspire us to choose our words wisely, and to help us select the right time to speak with the person – when he/she will be most inclined to listen. We also need to pray that the person will be receptive to the message and desire to enter into a closer union with God.


John Paul II had a heart filled with love and compassion for others.  He told us: “Loving others is a spiritual force drawing us to union with God” (Evangeli Gaudium, 272). He possessed a true and genuine love for his neighbor, grounded in his love for Jesus Christ. 

There are many examples of this in his life, but I will mention just a few here. When he worked at a stone quarry as a young man, performing hard, physical labor, Karol Wojtyla voluntarily worked a double-shift for a period of time in order to allow a co-worker to care for his newborn and his wife until the wife regained her health. He also voluntarily gave some of his own clothes to the poor and needy, even during his papacy. 

In 1980, when speaking before a group of thousands of youth in France, a young man who had identified himself as an atheist asked Pope John Paul II a question which he was unable to answer due to the event schedule. This unanswered question weighed heavily on his heart and spurred him on to create World Youth Day, where he met regularly to focus on addressing the concerns and needs of youth. 

How can we show caring and compassion toward others like Pope St. John Paul II?

We need to offer individuals and families in our community, particularly single moms or dads, our loving support. Many of these parents are overwhelmed by their responsibilities. We may want to offer them assistance by: inviting the family over for a meal or delivering a homemade meal to their home, baking bread for them, offering to help pay their utility bills or rent (if able), volunteering to babysit for them, sharing clothing or furniture with them, referring them to the St. Vincent de Paul Society (which assists both Catholic and non-Catholic families), or offering a listening ear. Developing relationships with others, authentically loving them and caring for them with compassion is at the heart of our faith.

When others question us about our faith, we can listen intently to their concerns and answer them to the best of our ability. If we are unable to answer their question, we need to be honest with them and tell them that we don’t know the answer, but will find out and get back with them later. Then we need to find out the answer through our own study of the faith or via information obtained from a priest or a catechist and get back with them.


Pope John Paul II consistently shared himself with people. He made himself available to the world by traveling to over 124 countries during the twenty-six years of his pontificate to spread the Gospel message. 

While God does not expect us to travel all over the world to evangelize, he does expect us to share the faith right where we’re at. This can be done in simple and non-threatening ways, such as recommending a good, faith-filled movie, book, or CD to a friend or co-worker, wearing a Miraculous medal or a crucifix around our neck, or praying grace in a public setting. We can also carry a Rosary and pray it while waiting for an appointment.

There have been times in my life when I have simply mentioned to a store clerk or a dental hygienist or a hairdresser that I will be going to Mass or Confession or Eucharistic Adoration and a conversation about religion ensues. Sometimes, people just begin sharing situations that they need prayer for without realizing it and I tell them I will pray for them. They are usually very thankful, regardless of their beliefs or lack of faith. I have promised prayers to agnostics, atheists, non-practicing Catholics, Christians and non-Christians and I follow through with my promise. The next time I see them, I inquire about the situation.


Be bold! Be daring! Pope John Paul II was ever courageous in his actions and in his testimonials about the faith. “Do not be afraid!” was a statement he seemed to be continually reiterating throughout his papacy.

Dare to invite another person to Mass, to pray with you before the Blessed Sacrament, or to attend Eucharistic Adoration.  Sometimes they are just waiting for that invitation. Prior to that, you may want to invite the person to a “non-threatening” event, such as a parish festival, a bazaar, Bingo, or other social event, depending on how comfortable you sense they feel. 

Prayer to Pope St. John Paul II

Thank you, Pope St. John Paul II, for inspiring me and for encouraging me to be holy and to be bold, in sharing the Gospel message – God’s message of love, hope, and peace – to His people. Help me to open to be the promptings of the Holy Spirit to live out my mission as a Catholic. You serve as a model of holiness, charity, fortitude, and as a true missionary who strove to imitate Him in every way. Pray that I, too, may attain these virtues and become the person God has called me to be. I pray this in union with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Hail Mary….Amen.

Copyright 2014, Jean Heimann

image source – Flickr

Jean Heimann

Jean Heimann

Jean M. Heimann has been involved with adult faith formation for 23 years. She has an M.A. in Theology and is a new evangelizer, freelance writer, and oblate with the Community of St. John. Jean blogs at Catholic Fire.

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