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Why John Paul II loved skiing in the mountains

This article is reserved for Aleteia Premium members


Philip Kosloski - published on 02/06/22

Known as the “Daredevil of the Tatras,” St. John Paul II once quipped that "It’s unbecoming for a cardinal to ski badly."

One of the most widely known hobbies of St. John Paul II was his love of skiing. He developed a love of skiing in his 30s and kept skiing as a priest, bishop, cardinal, and even pope.

John Paul II would often “escape” from the Vatican to go skiing and in his early years was known as the “Daredevil of the Tatras,” referring to his skill skiing on the Tatra mountains in Poland.

One question that isn’t always asked is why John Paul II skied so much. Was there a particular reason why he loved it?

When celebrating Mass in 1979 in Nowy Targ, near the Tatra mountains, he spoke about the power of nature to help us discover who we are and our place in the world.

Here, in this place at Nowy Targ, I wish to speak of the Polish land, because here it shows itself particularly beautiful and rich in landscapes. Man needs the beauty of nature, and so it is not surprising that people come here from various parts of Poland and from abroad. They come both in summer and in winter. They seek rest. They want to find themselves again through contact with natureThey want to rebuild their energies through the wholesome physical exercise of walking, climbing and skiing

John Paul II firmly believed that a person could encounter God in creation, as he explained in a general audience in 2000.

We can ask ourselves how it is possible in Christian experience for contemplation of the Trinity to be fostered through creation, discerning there not only the reflection of the one God in a generic sense, but also the marks of the individual divine persons … So when we contemplate with wonder the universe in its grandeur and beauty, we must praise the whole Trinity, but in a special way our thoughts turn to the Father from whom everything flows, as the source and fullness of being itself.

This same topic came to his mind when speaking to an International Conference of Ski Instructors in 1993.

Returning to nature, escaping for a while from the pressing and sometimes obsessive rhythm of the cities, allows us to listen to that ancient and ever new language which, through the path of beauty, lifts man to the threshold of the Mystery. Oh, if we could keep enough silence around us and within us to hear this language and let it speak to our hearts! … Whoever meets, on the whiteness of the snow, your mastery as a professional skier, not only will they learn the ability and thrill of intrepid darting, but even more they will draw from it the need for a life inspired by transparency and inner balance. Be a ski instructor, but also a life teacher.

Being on a mountain helped St. John Paul II encounter God and listen to his voice in the silence and solitude of creation.

It is no surprise that he went so frequently to the mountains and kept going until he was physically unable to.

For John Paul II, skiing wasn’t simply a fun activity, but it was a spiritual experience, one where he found peace in his soul.

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