Karol Wojtyla was born in Wadowice, Poland, on May 18, 1920 to Karol and Emilia. He had an older brother 13 years his senior, and an older sister who died before he was born. Karol's mother would die in childbirth when he was only 8 years old.
When he was 18, Karol and his father moved to Krakow , where he enrolled in a University and studied philosophy. As a young adult, he acted in plays, wrote poetry and learned 12 different languages. During Nazi occupation of Poland, Karol worked in a limestone quarry and continued to study privately, as the University had been closed. It was at this time that his father, the last remaining member of his family, died.
After his father’s death, Karol began to seriously consider the priesthood, but because of the Nazi occupation, he would have to begin his seminary studies secretly. After the Germans left Poland, Karol was able to continue his studies and was ordained a priest November 1, 1946. Following his ordination, Fr. Wojtyla was sent to Rome to earn his doctorate.
From 1948 to 1958 Fr. Wojtyla served as a parish priest, taught, wrote and earned a second doctorate. He was well loved by students and young people and led them on outdoor retreats and skiing and hiking trips.
In 1958 he was appointed the Auxiliary Bishop of Krakow by Pope Pius XII and was ordained a bishop on September 28 at the age of 38 (he was the youngest bishop in Poland). Shortly after, in 1964, Pope Paul VI appointed Bishop Wojtyla Archbishop or Krakow, and then in 1967, made him a Cardinal. During this time, he assisted Pope Paul VI in his encyclical Humanae Vitae, an area he had already written extensively about, including his book, “Love and Responsibility”.
After Pope Paul VI’s death, his predecessor, Pope John Paul I died after only 33 days as pope. Another conclave was called and this time, after only eight ballots, Cardinal Wojtyla was elected pope on October 16, 1978, the first non-Italian pope in nearly 500 years.
As Pope, John Paul II left the Church and world quite a legacy. He wrote extensively, gave us the Theology of the Body, worked to bring about the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe and to end dictatorships around the world, opened dialogue with other Christian denominations and world religions and sought reconciliation where wounds separated us, engaged the youth of the world, and called all Catholics to a New Evangelization.
He traveled to 129 countries during his papacy, going out to visit millions of Catholics around the world and attracting some of the largest crowds in human history.
He instituted World Youth Day, gathering young Catholics in the millions for prayer, catechesis and the celebration of the Mass.
On May 13, 1981, a Turkish member of a militant fascist group at St. Peter’s Square shot him in the abdomen. The shooter was sentenced to life in prison. In 1983, Pope John Paul II visited him in prison and forgave him.
In 2001, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. In spite of difficulties with walking, talking and writing, the Pope continued an active public ministry. In early 2005, his health began to rapidly decline. On April 2, after speaking his last words, “Allow me to depart to the house of the Father,” he fell into a coma and died later that night. He was only 2 months shy of his 85th birthday.
His funeral on April 8 set world records for attendance (more than 4 million) and it was the single largest gathering of heads of state in world history. He is buried in St. Peter’s basilica where his tomb may be venerated. He was beatified by his dear friend and successor, Pope Benedict XVI, on May 1, 2011 and will be canonized a saint on April 27, 2014, Divine Mercy Sunday.
Blessed John Paul II, Pray for us!
Editor’s Note: During the month of November, as we celebrate the final days of the Year of Faith, we’d like to feature stories from YOU about the blessings and fruits you’ve experienced during this year. How did you celebrate? What did you do to grow in faith? How did your relationship with Christ and His Church deepen?
Send us your stories and reflections to email@example.com along with your contact information, and your reflection could be featured here on the blog in November!
Submissions should be under 500 words; deadline for submissions is October 31st.