KAROL JÓZEF WOJTYŁA, elected Pope on 16 October 1978, was
born in Wadowice, Poland, on 18 May 1920.
He was the third of three children born to Karol Wojtyła and Emilia
Kaczorowska, who died in 1929. His elder brother Edmund, a
physician, died in 1932, and his father, Karol, a non-commissioned
officer in the army, died in 1941.
He was nine years old when he received his First Communion and
eighteen when he received the Sacrament of Confirmation. After
completing high school in Wadowice, he enrolled in the Jagellonian
University of Krakow in 1938.
When the occupying Nazi forces closed the University in 1939,
Karol worked (1940-1944) in a quarry and then in the Solvay
chemical factory to earn a living and to avoid deportation to Germany.
Feeling called to the priesthood, he began his studies in 1942 in
the clandestine major seminary of Krakow, directed by the Archbishop
Adam Stefan Sapieha. During that time, he was one of the organizers
of the “Rhapsodic Theatre”, which was also clandestine.
After the war, Karol continued his studies in the major seminary,
newly reopened, and in the school of theology at the Jagellonian
University, until his priestly ordination in Krakow on 1 November
1946. Father Wojtyła was then sent by Cardinal Sapieha to Rome,
where he attained a doctorate in theology (1948). He wrote his
dissertation on faith as understood in the works of Saint John of
the Cross. While a student in Rome, he spent his vacations
exercising pastoral ministry among Polish emigrants in France,
Belgium and Holland.
In 1948, Father Wojtyła returned to Poland and was appointed a
curate in the parish church of Niegowić, near Krakow, and later at
Saint Florian in the city. He was a university chaplain until 1951,
when he again undertook studies in philosophy and theology. In
1953, Father Wojtyła presented a dissertation at the Jagellonian
University of Krakow on the possibility of grounding a Christian
ethic on the ethical system developed by Max Scheler. Later he
became professor of moral theology and ethics in the major
seminary of Krakow and in the theology faculty of Lublin.
On 4 July 1958, Pope Pius XII appointed Father Wojtyła auxiliary
bishop of Krakow, with the titular see of Ombi. Archbishop
Eugeniusz Baziak ordained him in Wawel Cathedral (Krakow)
on 28 September 1958.
On 13 January 1964, Pope Paul VI appointed Bishop Wojtyła as
Archbishop of Krakow and subsequently, on 26 June 1967, created
him a Cardinal.
Bishop Wojtyła took part in the Second Vatican Council (1962-
1965) and made a significant contribution to the drafting of the
Constitution Gaudium et Spes. He also took part in the five assemblies
of the Synod of Bishops prior to the start of his Pontificate.
On 16 October 1978, Cardinal Wojtyła was elected Pope and on 22
October he began his ministry as universal Pastor of the Church.
Pope John Paul II made 146 pastoral visits in Italy and, as the Bishop
of Rome, he visited 317 of the current 322 Roman parishes. His
international apostolic journeys numbered 104 and were expressions
of the constant pastoral solicitude of the Successor of Peter for
all the Churches.
His principal documents include 14 Encyclicals, 15 Apostolic
Exhortations, 11 Apostolic Constitutions and 45 Apostolic Letters.
He also wrote five books: Crossing the Threshold of Hope (October
1994); Gift and Mystery: On the Fiftieth Anniversary of My Priestly
Ordination (November 1996); Roman Triptych, meditations in
poetry (March 2003); Rise, Let Us Be on Our Way (May 2004)
and Memory and Identity (February 2005).
Pope John Paul II celebrated 147 beatifications, during which he
proclaimed 1,338 blesseds, and 51 canonizations, for a total of 482
saints. He called 9 consistories, in which he created 231 Cardinals
(plus one in pectore). He also presided at 6 plenary meetings of the
College of Cardinals.
From 1978, Pope John Paul II convoked 15 assemblies of the Synod
of Bishops: 6 ordinary general sessions (1980, 1983, 1987, 1990,
1994 and 2001), 1 extraordinary general session (1985) and 8
special sessions (1980, 1991,1994,1995,1997,1998 (2) and 1999).
On 3 May 1981, an attempt was made on Pope John Paul II’s life
in Saint Peter’s Square. Saved by the maternal hand of the Mother
of God, following a lengthy stay in the hospital, he forgave the
attempted assassin and, aware of having received a great gift,
intensified his pastoral commitments with heroic generosity.
Pope John Paul II also demonstrated his pastoral concern by
erecting numerous dioceses and ecclesiastical circumscriptions,
and by promulgating Codes of Canon Law for the Latin and the
Oriental Churches, as well as the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
He proclaimed the Year of Redemption, the Marian Year and the
Year of the Eucharist as well as the Great Jubilee Year of 2000,
in order to provide the People of God with particularly intense spiritual
experiences. He also attracted young people by beginning the
celebration of World Youth Day.
No other Pope met as many people as Pope John Paul II. More
than 17.6 million pilgrims attended his Wednesday General Audiences
(which numbered over 1,160). This does not include any of
the other special audiences and religious ceremonies (more than 8
million pilgrims in the Great Jubilee Year of 2000 alone). He met
millions of the faithful in the course of his pastoral visits in Italy
and throughout the world. He also received numerous government
officials in audience, including 38 official visits and 738 audiences
and meetings with Heads of State, as well as 246 audiences and
meetings with Prime Ministers.
Pope John Paul II died in the Apostolic Palace at 9:37 p.m. on
Saturday, 2 April 2005, the vigil of Sunday in albis or Divine Mercy
Sunday, which he had instituted. On 8 April, his solemn funeral
was celebrated in Saint Peter’s Square and he was buried in the
crypt of Saint Peter’s Basilica.
John Paul II was beatified in Saint Peter’s Square on 1 May 2011 by
Pope Benedict XVI, his immediate successor and for many years
his valued collaborator as Prefect for the Congregation for the
Doctrine of the Faith.
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