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pope, john paul, karol wojtyla, iiBlessed Pope John Paul II (Jan Paweł II), born Karol Józef Wojtyła  18 May 1920 – 2 April 2005), served as Pope of the Catholic Church and Sovereign of Vatican City from 16 October 1978 until his death on 2 April 2005, at 84 years and 319 days of age. At 26 years and 168 days, his was the second-longest documented pontificate; only Pope Pius IX (1846–1878) who served 31 years, reigned longer. Pope John Paul II is the only Polish or indeed Slavic Pope to date and was the first non-Italian Pope since Dutch Pope Adrian VI (1522–1523).

John Paul II was acclaimed as one of the most influential leaders of the 20th century. He was instrumental in ending communism in his native Poland and eventually all of Europe. Conversely, he denounced the excesses of capitalism. John Paul II significantly improved the Catholic Church's relations with Judaism, Islam, the Eastern Orthodox Church, and the Anglican Communion. Though criticised by progressives for upholding the Church's teachings against artificial contraception and the ordination of women and by traditionalists for his support of the Church's Second Vatican Council and its reform, he was also widely praised[1] for his firm, orthodox Catholic stances.

He was one of the most-travelled world leaders in history, visiting 129 countries during his pontificate. He spoke Italian, French, German, English, Spanish, Portuguese, Russian, Croatian, and Latin as well as his native Polish. As part of his special emphasis on the universal call to holiness, he beatified 1,340 people and canonised 483 saints, more than the combined tally of his predecessors during the preceding five centuries. On 19 December 2009, John Paul II was proclaimed venerable by his successor Pope Benedict XVI and was beatified on 1 May 2011.

Early life

Karol Józef Wojtyła (Anglicised: Charles Joseph Wojtyla) was born in the Polish town of Wadowice[1][2][3] and was the youngest of three children of Karol Wojtyła, an ethnic Pole,[4] and Emilia Kaczorowska, who is described as being of Lithuanian [4] and possibly Ukrainian ancestry.[5][6] Emilia died on 13 April 1929,[7] when Karol was eight years old.[8] His elder sister, Olga, had died before his birth, but he was close to his brother Edmund, nicknamed Mundek who was 14 years his senior. Edmund's work as a physician eventually led to his death from scarlet fever, which affected Karol.[4][8]

As a boy, Karol was athletic, often playing football in goal.[9][10] During his childhood Karol had contact with Wadowice's large Jewish community. School football games were often organised between teams of Jews and Catholics, and Wojtyła often played on the Jewish side.[4][9]

In mid-1938, Karol and his father left Wadowice and moved to Kraków, where he enrolled at Jagiellonian University. While studying such topics as philology and various languages, he worked as a volunteer librarian and was required to participate in compulsory military training in the Academic Legion, but he refused to fire a weapon. He performed with various theatrical groups and worked as a playwright.[11] During this time, his talent for language blossomed and he learned as many as 12 foreign languages, nine of which he used extensively as Pope.[2]

In 1939, Nazi German occupation forces closed the university after invading Poland.[2] Able-bodied males were required to work, so from 1940 to 1944 Karol variously worked as a messenger for a restaurant, a manual labourer in a limestone quarry and for the Solvay chemical factory, to avoid deportation to Germany.[3][11] His father, a non-commissioned officer in the Polish Army, died of a heart attack in 1941, leaving Karol as the immediate family's only surviving member.[4][7][12] "I was not at my mother's death, I was not at my brother's death, I was not at my father's death," he said, reflecting on these times of his life, nearly forty years later, "At twenty, I had already lost all the people I loved."[12]

After his father's death, he started thinking seriously about the priesthood.[13] In October 1942, while the war continued, he knocked on the door of the Archbishop's Palace in Kraków, and asked to study for the priesthood.[13] Soon after, he began courses in the clandestine underground seminary run by the Archbishop of Kraków, Adam Stefan Cardinal Sapieha.

On 29 February 1944, Karol was knocked down by a German truck. German Wehrmacht officers tended to him and sent him to a hospital. He spent two weeks there recovering from a severe concussion and a shoulder injury. It seemed to him that this accident and his survival was confirmation of his vocation. On 6 August 1944, ‘Black Sunday’,[14] the Gestapo rounded up young men in Kraków to avoid an uprising similar[14] to the recent uprising in Warsaw.[15][16] Karol escaped by hiding in the basement of his uncle's house at 10 Tyniecka Street, while the German troops searched above.[13][15][16] More than eight thousand men and boys were taken that day, while Karol escaped to the Archbishop's Palace,[13][14][15] where he remained until after the Germans had left.[4][13][17]

On the night of 17 January 1945, the Germans fled the city, and the students reclaimed the ruined seminary. Karol and another seminarian volunteered for the task of clearing away piles of frozen excrement from the toilets.[18] Karol also helped a 14-year-old Jewish refugee girl named Edith Zierer[19] who had run away from a Nazi labour camp in Częstochowa.[19] Edith had collapsed on a railway platform, so Karol carried her to a train and stayed with her throughout the journey to Kraków.[20] Edith credits Karol with saving her life that day.[21][22][23] B'nai B'rith and other authorities have said that Karol helped protect many other Polish Jews from the Nazis. After the war, while living in Krakow, Karol was involved in a high speed motorbike chase, narrowly escaping from the Polish police.[24]


On finishing his studies at the seminary in Kraków, Karol was ordained as a priest on All Saints' Day, 1 November 1946,[7] by the Archbishop of Kraków, Cardinal Sapieha.[3][25][26] He then studied theology in Rome, at the Pontifical International Athenaeum Angelicum,[25][26] where he earned a licentiate and later a doctorate in sacred theology.[2] This doctorate, the first of two, was based on the Latin dissertation The Doctrine of Faith According to Saint John of the Cross.

He returned to Poland in the summer of 1948 with his first pastoral assignment in the village of Niegowić, fifteen miles from Kraków. He arrived at Niegowić at harvest time, where his first action was to kneel and kiss the ground.[27] This gesture, which he adapted from French saint Jean Marie Baptiste Vianney,[27] would become a ‘trademark’ action during his Papacy.

In March 1949, Karol was transferred to the parish of Saint Florian in Kraków. He taught ethics at Jagiellonian University and subsequently at the Catholic University of Lublin. While teaching, he gathered a group of about 20 young people, who began to call themselves Rodzinka, the "little family". They met for prayer, philosophical discussion, and to help the blind and sick. The group eventually grew to approximately 200 participants, and their activities expanded to include annual skiing and kayaking trips.[28]

In 1954, he earned a second doctorate, in philosophy,[29] evaluating the feasibility of a Catholic ethic based on the ethical system of phenomenologist Max Scheler. However, the Communist authorities' intervened to prevent him from receiving the degree until 1957.[26]

During this period, Wojtyła wrote a series of articles in Kraków's Catholic newspaper Tygodnik Powszechny ("Universal Weekly") dealing with contemporary church issues.[30] He focused on creating original literary work during his first dozen years as a priest. War, life under Communism, and his pastoral responsibilities all fed his poetry and plays. Karol published his work under two pseudonyms – Andrzej Jawień and Stanisław Andrzej Gruda[11][30][31] – to distinguish his literary from his religious writings (under his own name) and also so that his literary works would be considered on their merits.[11][30][31] In 1960, Karol published the influential theological book Love and Responsibility, a defence of traditional Church teachings on marriage from a new philosophical standpoint.[11][32]

Bishop and cardinal

On 4 July 1958,[26] while Karol was on a kayaking holiday in the lakes region of northern Poland, Pope Pius XII appointed him as the auxiliary bishop of Kraków. He was then summoned to Warsaw to meet the Primate of Poland, Stefan Cardinal Wyszyński, who informed him of his appointment.[33][34] He agreed to serve as Auxiliary Bishop to Krakow's Archbishop Eugeniusz Baziak, and he was ordained to the Episcopate (as Titular Bishop of Ombi) on 28 September 1958. Baziak was the principal consecrator. Then-Auxiliary Bishop Boleslaw Kominek (Titular Bishop of Sophene and Vaga; of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Wroclaw and future Cardinal Archbishop of Wroclaw) and then-Auxiliary Bishop Franciszek Jop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Sandomierz (Titular Bishop of Daulia; later Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Wroclaw and then Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Opole) were the principal co-consecrators.[26] At the age of 38, Karol became the youngest bishop in Poland. Baziak died in June 1962 and on 16 July Karol Wojtyła was selected as Vicar Capitular (temporary administrator) of the Archdiocese until an Archbishop could be appointed.[2][3]

In October 1962, Karol took part in the Second Vatican Council (1962–1965),[2][26] where he made contributions to two of its most historic and influential products, the Decree on Religious Freedom (in Latin, Dignitatis Humanae) and the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes).[26]

He also participated in the assemblies of the Synod of Bishops.[2][3] On 13 January 1964, Pope Paul VI appointed him Archbishop of Kraków.[35] On 26 June 1967, Paul VI announced Archbishop Karol Wojtyła's promotion to the Sacred College of Cardinals.[1][26][35] Wojtyła was named Cardinal-Priest of the titulus of San Cesareo in Palatio.[36]

In 1967, he was instrumental in formulating the encyclical Humanae Vitae, which dealt with the same issues that forbid abortion and artificial birth control.[1][26][37][38]

Election to the Papacy

In August 1978, following the death of Pope Paul VI, Cardinal Wojtyła voted in the Papal conclave which elected Pope John Paul I, who at 65 was considered young by papal standards. John Paul I died after only 33 days as Pope, triggering another conclave.[3][26][39]

The second conclave of 1978 started on 14 October, ten days after the funeral. It was split between two strong candidates for the papacy: Giuseppe Cardinal Siri, the conservative Archbishop of Genoa, and the liberal Archbishop of Florence, Giovanni Cardinal Benelli, a close friend of John Paul I.[40]

Supporters of Benelli were confident that he would be elected, and in early ballots, Benelli came within nine votes of success.[40] However, both men faced sufficient opposition that neither was likely to prevail. Franz Cardinal König, Archbishop of Vienna suggested to his fellow electors a compromise candidate: the Polish Cardinal, Karol Józef Wojtyła.[40] Wojtyła won on the eighth ballot on the second day with, according to the Italian press, 99 votes from the 111 participating electors. He subsequently chose the name John Paul II[26][40] in honour of his immediate predecessor, and the traditional white smoke informed the crowd gathered in St. Peter's Square that a pope had been chosen.[39] He accepted his election with these words: ‘With obedience in faith to Christ, my Lord, and with trust in the Mother of Christ and the Church, in spite of great difficulties, I accept.’[41][42] When the new pontiff appeared on the balcony, he broke tradition by addressing the gathered crowd:[41]

“Dear brothers and sisters, we are saddened at the death of our beloved Pope John Paul I, and so the cardinals have called for a new bishop of Rome. They called him from a faraway land – far and yet always close because of our communion in faith and Christian traditions. I was afraid to accept that responsibility, yet I do so in a spirit of obedience to the Lord and total faithfulness to Mary, our most Holy Mother. I am speaking to you in your – no, our Italian language. If I make a mistake, please ‘kirrect’ [sic] me...[41][43]”

—John Paul II

Wojtyła became the 264th Pope according to the chronological list of popes, the first non-Italian in 455 years.[44] At only 58 years of age, he was the youngest pope since Pope Pius IX in 1846, who was 54.[26] Like his predecessor, Pope John Paul II dispensed with the traditional Papal coronation and instead received ecclesiastical investiture with the simplified Papal inauguration on 22 October 1978. During his inauguration, when the cardinals were to kneel before him to take their vows and kiss his ring, he stood up as the Polish prelate Stefan Cardinal Wyszyński knelt down, stopped him from kissing the ring, and simply hugged him.[45]

Title "the Great"

Upon the death of John Paul II, a number of clergy at the Vatican and laymen throughout the world[43][153][158] began referring to the late pontiff as "John Paul the Great"—only the fourth pope to be so acclaimed, and the first since the first millennium.[43][158][159][160] Scholars of Canon Law say that there is no official process for declaring a pope "Great"; the title simply establishes itself through popular and continued usage,[153][161][162] as was the case with celebrated secular leaders (for example, Alexander III of Macedon became popularly known as Alexander the Great). The three popes who today commonly are known as "Great" are Leo I, who reigned from 440–461 and persuaded Attila the Hun to withdraw from Rome; Gregory I, 590–604, after whom the Gregorian Chant is named; and Pope Nicholas I, 858–867.[158]

His successor, Pope Benedict XVI, referred to him as "the great Pope John Paul II" in his first address[163] from the loggia of St. Peter's Church, and Angelo Cardinal Sodano referred to Pope John Paul II as "the Great" in his published written homily for the Mass of Repose.[164]

Since giving his homily at the funeral of Pope John Paul, Pope Benedict XVI has continued to refer to John Paul II as "the Great." At the 20th World Youth Day in Germany 2005, Pope Benedict XVI, speaking in Polish, John Paul's native language, said, "As the Great Pope John Paul II would say: keep the flame of faith alive in your lives and your people." In May 2006, Pope Benedict XVI visited John Paul's native Poland. During that visit, he repeatedly made references to "the great John Paul" and "my great predecessor".[165]

In addition to the Vatican calling him "the great," numerous newspapers have done so. For example, the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera called him "the Greatest" and the South African Catholic newspaper, The Southern Cross, has called him "John Paul II The Great".[166]

Some schools in the United States, such as John Paul the Great Catholic University and John Paul the Great Catholic High School, have recently been named for John Paul II using this title.


Inspired by calls of "Santo Subito!" ("Saint Immediately!") from the crowds gathered during the funeral mass which he performed,[153][167][168][169][170][171] Benedict XVI began the beatification process for his predecessor, bypassing the normal restriction that five years must pass after a person's death before beginning the beatification process.[169][168][172][173] In an audience with Pope Benedict XVI, Camillo Ruini, Vicar General of the Diocese of Rome who was responsible for promoting the cause for canonisation of any person who died within that diocese, cited "exceptional circumstances" which suggested that the waiting period could be waived.[3][153][174][175] This decision was announced on 13 May 2005, the Feast of Our Lady of Fátima and the 24th anniversary of the assassination attempt on John Paul II at St. Peter's Square.[176]

In early 2006, it was reported that the Vatican was investigating a possible miracle associated with John Paul II. Sister Marie Simon-Pierre, a French nun and a member of the Congregation of Little Sisters of Catholic Maternity Wards, confined to her bed by Parkinson's Disease,[169][177] was reported to have experienced a "complete and lasting cure after members of her community prayed for the intercession of Pope John Paul II".[153][167][169][178][179][180] As of May 2008, Sister Marie-Simon-Pierre, then 46,[167][169] was working again at a maternity hospital run by her order.[173][177][181][182]

"I was sick and now I am cured," she told reporter Gerry Shaw. "I am cured, but it is up to the church to say whether it was a miracle or not."[177][181]

On 28 May 2006, Pope Benedict XVI said Mass before an estimated 900,000 people in John Paul II's native Poland. During his homily, he encouraged prayers for the early canonisation of John Paul II and stated that he hoped canonisation would happen "in the near future."[177][183]

In January 2007, Stanisław Cardinal Dziwisz of Kraków, his former secretary, announced that the interview phase of the beatification process, in Italy and Poland, was nearing completion.[153][177][184] In February 2007, relics of Pope John Paul II—pieces of white papal cassocks he used to wear—were freely distributed with prayer cards for the cause, a typical pious practice after a saintly Catholic's death.[185][186]

On 8 March 2007, the Vicariate of Rome announced that the diocesan phase of John Paul's cause for beatification was at an end. Following a ceremony on 2 April 2007 – the second anniversary of the Pontiff's death – the cause proceeded to the scrutiny of the committee of lay, clerical, and episcopal members of the Vatican's Congregation for the Causes of Saints, to conduct a separate investigation.[168][177][184]

On the fourth anniversary of Pope John Paul's death, 2 April 2009, Cardinal Dziwisz, told reporters of a presumed miracle that had recently occurred at the former pope's tomb in St. Peter's Basilica.[181][187][188][189][190][191][192] A nine year-old Polish boy from Gdańsk, who was suffering from kidney cancer and was completely unable to walk, had been visiting the tomb with his parents. On leaving St. Peter's Basilica, the boy told them, "I want to walk," and began walking normally.[181][187][188][189][190][191][192]

On 16 November 2009, a panel of reviewers at the Congregation for the Causes of Saints voted unanimously that Pope John Paul II had lived a life of virtue.[193][194] On 19 December 2009, Pope Benedict XVI signed the first of two decrees needed for beatification and proclaimed John Paul II "Venerable", asserting that he had lived a heroic, virtuous life.[193][194] The second vote and the second signed decree certify the authenticity of his first miracle (Sister Marie Simon-Pierre). Once the second decree is signed, the positio (the report on the cause, with documentation about his life and writings and with information on the cause) is complete.[194] He can then be beatified.[193][194] Some speculated that he would be beatified sometime during (or soon after) the month of the 32nd anniversary of his 1978 election, in October 2010. As Monsignor Oder noted, this course would have been possible if the second decree were signed in time by Benedict XVI, stating that a posthumous miracle directly attributable to his intercession had occurred, completing the positio.

The Vatican announced on 14 January 2011 that Pope Benedict XVI had confirmed the miracle involving Sister Marie Simon-Pierre and that John Paul II was to be beatified on 1 May, the Feast of Divine Mercy.[195] 1 May is commemorated in former communist countries, such as Poland, and some Western European countries as May Day, and Pope John Paul II was well-known for his contributions to communism's relatively peaceful demise.[43][52]

On 29 April 2011, Pope John Paul II's coffin was exhumed from the grotto beneath St. Peter's Basilica ahead of his beatification, as tens of thousands of people arrived in Rome for one of the biggest events since his funeral.[196] John Paul II's remains (in a closed coffin) were placed in front of the Basilica's main altar, where believers could pay their respect before and after the beatification mass in St. Peter's Square on 1 May. On 3 May 2011 Blessed Pope John Paul II was given a new resting place in the marble altar in Pier Paolo Cristofari's Chapel of St. Sebastian, which is where Pope Innocent XI was buried. This more prominent location, next to the Chapel of the Pieta, the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament and statues of Popes Pius XI and Pius XII, was intended to allow more pilgrims to view his memorial.

The Polish mint issued a gold 1,000 Polish złoty coin (equivalent to US$350), with the Pope's image to commemorate his beatification.[197]

“     It will be a great joy for us when he is officially beatified, but as far as we are concerned he is already a Saint.     ”

—Stanisław Cardinal Dziwisz, Archbishop of Kraków[182]

Last Updated on Thursday, 16 February 2012 01:45
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