Just after dusk on October 16, 1978, a cardinal stepped out onto the loggia of St. Peter’s Basilica proclaiming to the world, “Habemus papem”—”We have a pope.” In the 26 years that followed, Pope John Paul II changed the course of events in eastern Europe if not the whole world. How he did it offers clues on how you can be a more effective communicator.
Eight months after becoming Pope, this former manual laborer who’d grown up in a time when being a priest in a communist country meant risking your freedom and your life, returned to his native Poland on a “religious pilgrimage.” Landing near Warsaw on June 2, 1979, he descended from the plane and kissed the tarmac.
One man, one message facing down communism with an enduring message of his Papacy: he would not wait for the world to come to The Church, but instead bring The Church to the world. Millions came where thousands were expected.
Even if you’re not out to change the world, that first step will rock yours: Know your message and stand for it. Give customers a mental handle to grab. Choosing one that resonates with their closely held beliefs adds magnetism. Saying it with authenticity creates connection.
During his 27 years as Pope, John Paul II consistently delivered his message in 149 countries. Even as he later began showing signs of Parkinson’s, he did so publicly.
“He insisted on the humanity of the weak, the wounded , the unborn,” Peggy Noonan wrote in The Wall Street Journal, “As if to say, ‘We who are imperfect, who are not beautiful, who are in pain–we too are part of the human race, and worthy of God’s love.”
Maybe consistency of message cuts through because it happens so infrequently. Holding fast to one message, endows yours with super-human strength.
Mehmet Ali Agca hung deep in a throng of the faithful in St. Peters Square on May 13, 1981. He came not to see the Pope, but to assassinate him. Even though his bullet critically wounded John Paul II, the Pope survived. Rather than offer prayers from the safety of The Vatican, John Paul II, took bold action. He personally went to Rome’s Rebibbia Prison, forgiving Mehmet Ali Agca first-hand.
Likewise, instead of preaching messages of strength from Rome to those enslaved by communism, he took the bold action of going to Poland. He went fearlessly into a land where faith in God was forbidden and continued doing so in 148 more countries around the world.
Courage of conviction sets you apart. We admire those who to take bold action. It takes nerve. It also carries the promise of legendary rewards.
John Paul II’s three steps to better communicating
- One message: know your truth and stick with it
- Consistent articulation: say it again and again
- Bold action: go where others fear
Pope John Paul II wasn’t asking for revolution or an uprising. But, 23 years after his visit to Poland, Solidarity leader Lech Walessa said, “We knew…communism could not be reformed. But we knew the minute he touched the foundations of communism, it would collapse.”
That’s what happens when you consistently and boldly stand for one thing. It’s no wonder Pope John Paul II was beatified, a step on the path toward sainthood. What will you choose to stand for? It may not get you sainted, but it couldn’t hurt.