non-Italian Pope in 455 years (1978-2005)
Karol Józef Wojtyla [voy TIH
wah] was born in Wadowice, Poland, on May 18,
1920. He was the youngest of three children born
to Karol Józef Wojtyla, Sr., retired army
officer and tailor, and Emilia Kaczorowska
Wojtyla, a schooteacher of Lithuanian descent.
(An infant sister died before he was born.) The
Wojtylas were strict Catholics, but did not share
the anti-Semitic views of many Poles. In fact,
one of young Karol's playmates was Jewish, and
the two boys spent many afternoons at each
other's homes. Karol's mother died of heart and
kidney problems in 1929, and when he was 12, his
older brother, Edmund, died of scarlet fever.
Karol attended Marcin Wadowita high
school in Wadowice, where he was an excellent
student and athlete. His interests at this time
included poetry, religion and the theater. He
graduated in 1938. After secondary school, he and
his father moved to Krakow, where he enrolled at
Jagiellonian University to study literature and
philosophy. He was also involved in an
experimental theater group and participated in
poetry readings and literary discussion groups.
He was also said to have been a fine singer. The
Nazi occupation forces closed the university in
1939, and Karol had to work in a quarry to earn
his living and avoid being deported to Germany.
His father died in February 1941.
Call to the
Karol began taking courses in
the clandestine seminary of Krakow in 1942. He
studied, acted and worked in a chemical plant
until August of 1944, when he was forced to take
refuge in the Archbishop of Krakow's residence;
he remained there until the end of the war.
After the Second World War, he continued his studies in the major
seminary of Krakow, and in the faculty of
theology of the Jagiellonian University. He was
ordained into the priesthood by Archbishop
Sapieha in Krakow on November 1, 1946. He was
subsequently sent to Rome, where he worked under
the guidance of the French Dominican,
Garrigou-Lagrange. He finished his doctorate in
theology in 1948 with a thesis on the subject of
faith in the works of St. John of the Cross.
During his vacations, he exercised his pastoral
ministry among the Polish immigrants of France,
Belgium and Holland.
Father Karol took up priestly
duties as an assistant pastor in Krakow in 1949.
The church he was assigned to was conveniently
located next to Jagiellonian University, where he
subsequently earned his second doctorate. When
the university's theology department was
abolished in 1954, the entire faculty removed
itself to the Seminary of Krakow, and Wojtyla
continued his studies there. Also in 1954,
Wojtyla was hired by the Catholic University of
Lublin as a non-tenured professor. He shuttled
between Lublin and Krakow on the overnight train
to teach and counsel in one city and study in the
other. He also ran a service that dealt with
marital problems -- from family planning and
illegitimacy to alcoholism and physical abuse.
Rise Through the
Father Wojtyla was appointed to
the Chair of Ethics at Catholic University in
1956, and named the Auxiliary Bishop of Krakow on
July 4, 1958. In 1960, he published a treatise
called Love and Responsibility, which
laid out the foundation for what has come to be
called "a modern Catholic sexual
ethic." His second doctoral thesis -- Evaluation
of the Possibility of Constructing a Christian
Ethic Based on the System of Max Scheler --
was published that same year.
As one of the intellectual
leaders at the 1962 Vatican Council II, he took
special interest in religious freedom. He was
named Acting Archbishop of Krakow when the
incumbent died in 1962, appointed Archbishop of
Krakow on January 13, 1964, and Cardinal, by Pope
Paul VI, on June 26, 1967.
In 1969, the Polish Theological
Society published Wojtyla's The Acting Person,
a philosophical tract on phenomenology. He
discussed this tract during a visit to the United
States in 1978. In 1977, he gave a talk at a
university in Milan called The Problem of
Creating Culture Through Human Praxis.
On October 16, 1978, the Sacred
College of Cardinals elected Wojtyla to succeed
Pope John Paul I, who had died in September. He
became the first non-Italian Pope in 455 years
(the last being Adrian VI, elected in 1523), and,
at 58, the youngest Pope in 132 years. He took
the name John Paul II.
He was absolutely opposed to contraception,
abortion and euthanasia, allowing absolutely no
room for compromise. He also insisted that church
doctrine prohibits the ordination of women.
His criticism of such dictators as Alfred
Stroessner in Paraguay, Augusto Pinochet in Chile
and Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines encouraged
opposition movements that eventually brought down
His support for the Solidarity Movement in Poland
-- priests concealed messages from John Paul to
imprisoned union leaders in their robes -- was a
key to the downfall of Communism in Poland.
His love for young people brought John Paul II to
establish the World Youth Days, 19 of which were
celebrated during his pontificate. His care for
the family was expressed in the World Meetings of
Families, which he initiated in 1994.
Other Religions He successfully
encouraged dialogue with the Jews and with
representatives of other religions, whom he
frequently invited to prayer meetings for peace.
Attempt In 1981, John Paul was shot
twice by a Turk named Mehmet Ali Agca. Although
seriously wounded in the attack, he later visited
Agca in his prison cell and forgave him.
Pope John Paul II died in Rome
on April 2, 2005. He was interred on April 8. On
April 28, Pope Benedict XVI announced that the
normal five-year waiting period before beginning
the cause of beatification and canonization would
be waived for John Paul II.
Our God's Brother
(1944), by Karol Wojtyla, a play written in
Poland during World War II; was made into a film
The Jeweler's Shop: A Meditation on the
Sacrament of Matrimony, Passing on Occasion into
a Drama, by Karol Wojtyla, a play; was made
into a film in 1988.
Love and Responsibility, by Karol Wojtyla,
an in-depth philosophical analysis of human love
Person and Act (1979), by Karol Wojtyla, an
in-depth phenomenological work tied to Thomistic
The Way to
Christ--Spiritual Exercises (1994),
conversational presentation of two retreats given
ten years apart while Wojtyla was serving in
Krakow as Bishop and Cardinal.
The Place Within: The Poetry of Pope John
Paul II (1994).
In 1994, John Paul II wrote
answers to written questions posed to him by
Italian journalist Vittorio Messori. Messori then
edited them into Crossing the Threshold of
Hope (1995), a book that became a
best-seller in many countries.
The Theology of the Body;
Human Love in the Divine Plan (1997), a
compilation of weekly lectures from 1979 to 1984
to married couples.
Gift and Mystery, On the Fiftieth Anniversary of
My Ordination as Priest (1999).
Pope John Paul II--In My Own Words
(2002), a carefully selected compilation of his
words and prayers, was a best-seller.
Roman Triptych (2003), a book of poetic
The Poetry of Pope John Paul II (2003).
Rise, Let Us Be On Our Way (2004).
A conversational presentation
of John Paul II's views on many secular topics
was published under the title Memory and
Identity--Conversations at the Dawn of a
Millennium in 2005.
Pope John Paul II was the first
pope to visit a synagogue, and the first to visit
the memorial at Auschwitz to victims of the
The most traveled Pope in
history, John Paul II made more than 170 visits
to over 115 countries. He also made 38 official
state visits, and held 738 audiences and meetings
with heads of state, and another 246 audiences
and meetings with Prime Ministers.
He was fluent in ten languages
-- Polish, Latin, Italian, French, German,
English, Spanish, Croatian, Portuguese, and
Possibly the most athletic Pope
in history, as a youth he played soccer as a
goal-keeper, took swims in the flooded Skawa
River, and enjoyed skiing, hiking, mountain
climbing, and kayaking.
On the other hand, Pope John
Paul II may also have been one of the most
"physically challenged" popes in
history. As a youth he had two brushes with death
-- he was hit once by a streetcar and again by a
truck in 1944. The injuries left him with a
slight stoop to his shoulders. As an adult he was
beset by a dislocated shoulder, a broken thigh
that led to femur-replacement surgery, the
removal of a precancerous tumor from his colon,
and an attempt on his life that wounded him in
the abdomen, right arm and left hand.
In 1983, Marvel Comics
published a comic book biography of Pope John
The Vatican www.vatican.va/holy_father/johnpaul_ii
World War II
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