Pope John Paul II

Pope John Paul II
Born: May 18, 1920 in Wadowice, Republic of Poland
Died: April 2, 2005 (at age 84) in Apostolic Palace, Vatican City
Nationality: Polish
Famous For: Helped end Communist rule in Europe

Commonly referred to as “The Man of the Century,” Pope John Paul II was the 256th pope and served for 27 years. During his papacy, he was one of the best known and honored men on earth. He was the first non-Italian pope in 455 years and one of the youngest ever to be elected to the papacy.

Birth and Early Life

Pope John Paul II was born as Karol Josef Wojtyla in Poland in 1920. His mother was a school teacher and his father a military officer (retired). As he was growing up, Poland was Nazi-occupied and later communist-dominated.

During the Nazi occupation, Karol Josef Wojtyla was secretly enrolled in an underground seminary located in Krakow where he studied theology. At the age of 26, he was ordained as a priest while continuing with his studies.

He was a very brilliant intellectual and by the age of 36, he had earned two doctorate degrees and he started working at the Catholic University in Lublin as a professor of ethics. He had solid background experiences as a poet, playwright, actor, chemical factory boiler tender and a quarry worker.

Leadership as the Pope

Pope John Paul II was adept in 13 languages and fluent in eight of them. Unlike other popes who travelled infrequently to a few locations in Europe, Pope John Paul II travelled throughout the world to over 125 foreign countries. Pope John Paul II mainly reached the world through his masses which were delivered to millions of people and also though his audience with major leaders from all over the world.

One of the greatest thrusts of Pope John Paul II was the promotion and elevation of human rights all over the world. His first trip as new Pope was to his native land of Poland in 1979 to support and encourage the Solidarity Trade Union Movement. The main purpose of this movement was to oppose the deeply rooted communism in Poland.

Communism in Poland collapsed after a peaceful revolution 10 years later. The Berlin wall fell a few years later and this ended the Cold War in Europe and throughout the entire world.

Major Actions of Leadership

Pope John Paul II was the first pope to visit Israel, the Jewish Synagogue of Rome and the Auschwitz Holocaust Memorial. His efforts to bring the two great religions of the world paid off with the Christian-Jewish reconciliation. Additionally, his first audience as Pope was with Jerzy Kluger, his Jewish boyhood friend. Later on, Jerzy kluger played a critical role in organizing Pope John Paul II’s visit in Jerusalem.

During his papacy, he brought many modern touches to the Vatican. For instance, in 1994, the Vatican recorded a rosary recitation set to music using an audio CD. The Vatican now reaches the Christian faithful via satellite transmission, and they also produce video cassettes which are mainly used for educational purposes.

Books and Other Contributions

Pope John Paul II wrote over 150 volumes of explanatory encyclicals and also contributed heavily to the Vatican Council II. In 1979, the Pope wrote a book entitled The Future of the Church. Later, his answers to the 20 questions of a journalist were used to create another book entitled Crossing the Threshold of Hope.

During his papacy, Pope John Paul II set an example for leadership. In 1983, he visited the attacker who tried to assassinate him just two years previous. During his visit in prison, he talked to his attacker privately and forgave the Turkish gunman for his actions. The gunman was moved and humbled that the Pope had forgiven his enemy.

Last Years and Legacy

Pope John Paul II survived many health problems and events that could have cut his life short. His diagnosis with Parkinson’s disease in 2001 was an affliction that affected his muscle control and his ability to speak. Additionally, he remained confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life due to arthritis. Prior to his passing he was recovering from throat surgery.