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Pope John Paul II
 

Karol Józef Wojtyła, known as John Paul II was born in Wadowice, Poland, 50 km from Krakow, on May 18, 1920. His mother died in 1929, his eldest brother Edmund, a doctor, in 1932 and his father in 1941. A sister, Olga, had died before he was born. Upon graduation from high school in Wadowice, he enrolled in Krakow's Jagiellonian University in 1938 and in a school for drama.


The Nazi occupation forces closed the university in 1939 and young Karol had to work in a quarry (1940-1944) and then in the Solvay chemical factory to earn his living and to avoid being deported to Germany. In 1942 he began courses in the clandestine seminary of Krakow and was one of the pioneers of the "Rhapsodic Theatre". After WW2, he continued his studies in the major seminary of Krakow and in the faculty of theology of the Jagiellonian University. He was ordained to the priesthood by Archbishop Sapieha in Krakow in 1946.


Then he went to Rome, where he finished his doctorate in theology in 1948. After return to Poland he was vicar of various parishes in Krakow as well as chaplain to university students. This period lasted until 1951 when he again took up his studies in philosophy and theology at Lublin Catholic University. Later he became professor of moral theology and social ethics in the major seminary of Krakow and in the Faculty of Theology of Lublin. In 1958, he was consecrated bishop of Krakow by Pope Pius XII and in 1964 archbishop of Krakow by Pope Paul VI, who made him a cardinal in 1967.


The Cardinals elected him Pope at the Conclave of 16 October 1978, and he took the name of John Paul II. While Pope John Paul II was circling St. Peter's Square before his Wednesday general audience at the Vatican in May 1981, a Turkish gunman - Mehmet Ali Agca opened fire on the pontiff, to whom - 2 years later - the pope offered forgiveness during an arranged meeting in prison.

 

Pope John Paul II is said to be the most recognized person in the world: 

 

  • He was the first non-Italian pontiff in 455 years. He came from Poland - a country, at the time, with a Marxist and atheist government. 8 months after he was elected Pope, he went to Poland, where the Communists were still in control. His visit encouraged the rise of the labour movement - Solidarity and chipped away at the wall of communism
  • He made 104 pastoral visits outside Italy (including 8 to his home country - Poland) and 146 within Italy. As bishop of Rome he visited 317 of the city's 333 parishes. He visited 118 countries in all the continents except Antarctica. By the time he made his historic visit to Cuba in early 1998, he had logged more than 600,000 miles of travel. Only one major country remained outside the pope's reach - China (which refused to recognize the Roman Catholic church, and a papal visit to China is impossible as long as the Vatican continues to give diplomatic recognition to Taiwan)
  • The pope's ability to reach people was aided in large part by his ability to speak several languages. Born into a Polish-speaking home, the pope began learning German at age ten; Latin at age 13; and Greek at age 14. By the time he became pontiff, the pope had mastered 8 languages.
  • He had more meetings than any of his predecessors with the people and the leaders of Nations (38 official visits, 738 audiences and meetings held with Heads of State, and 246 audiences and meetings with Prime Ministers)
  • More than 17,600,000 pilgrims participated in the General Audiences held on Wednesdays (more than 1160), not counting other special audiences and religious ceremonies (more than 8 million pilgrims during the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000 alone)
  • His love for young people brought him to establish the World Youth Days. The 19 WYDs celebrated during his pontificate brought together millions of young people from all over the world.
  • He was criticized by some as being closed-minded. But John Paul II insisted "doctrine cannot be based on public opinion."
  • John Paul II successfully encouraged dialogue with the Jews and with the representatives of other religions, whom he several times invited to prayer meetings for peace. He became the first pope to visit a Jewish synagogue.
  • Under his guidance the Church prepared herself for the third millennium and celebrated the Great Jubilee of the year 2000
  • He was the first Pontiff to embrace 20th Century technology as a way to evangelize. In addition to weekly radio broadcasts, regularly televised services, a recording of his most popular masses and a 900 number, he was the first pontiff to have a website
  • His most important documents include 14 Encyclicals, 15 Apostolic Exhortations, 11 Apostolic Constitutions, 45 Apostolic Letters and 5 books of his own. Pope John Paul II is the first pope to become an international best-selling author.
  • After he died on April 2 until April 8, date of the funeral, more than 3 million pilgrims came to Rome to pay homage to the mortal remains of the Pope. Some of them queued up to 24 hours to enter St. Peter's Basilica.
  • Benedict XVI announced that the normal 5-year waiting period before beatification and canonization would be waived for John Paul II. The cause was officially opened in 2005.




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