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7 Surprising facts about the skiing pope, John Paul II

Bettman | Getty Images

He told a journalist, “I wish I could be out there somewhere in the mountains, racing down into a valley. It’s an extraordinary sensation.”

Polish priests, some wearing black cassocks, took to the slopes last Saturday as part of the 21st annual John Paul II Cup skiing competition.

An avid skier, the late pope blessed the initiative, which was first organized as a clergy-only event but is now is open to the laity of the parishes involved.

Father Damian Kopek, one of the organizers of the competiton, told the Religious News Service of Ukraine in 2013 that the event allows priests to show the people how to enjoy leisure time and compete honestly.

“The priest is with the people and for the people. I can give an example of how to have a good time – without alcohol, with honest competition, and also with the communal spirit of the mountain,” he explained.

Pope John Paul II set that sort of example throughout his life. A life-long outdoorsman and athlete, as a parish priest Karol Wojtyla was known for taking young people on hiking retreats, and for his love of kayaking and skiing. He continued to ski until his health no longer permitted it, in 1987, nine years into his papacy.

An article from Skiing History Magazine passed on these fun and surprising facts about the Polish pope’s love of the slopes:

1. Seconds after he became pope he told a well-wisher, “I will ski again when they let me.”

2. He confessed that his “one luxury in life” had been a pair of 195 cm Head skis.

3. He was known as the “Daredevil of the Tatras,” a name he earned for his skills in taking on the slopes of Poland’s Tatra Mountains where he spent two weeks each winter.

4. He told a journalist, “I wish I could be out there somewhere in the mountains, racing down into a valley. It’s an extraordinary sensation.”

5. As a young man, he scorned ski-lifts, preferring to climb up the mountain.

6. He reportedly once said, “It’s unbecoming for a cardinal to ski badly.”

7. He skied for the last time at the Italian resort of Terminillo, 20 miles north of Rome.


Here’s a look at this years’s John Paul II Cup, courtesy of the BBC:


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