Karol Josef Wojtyla, born on the 18th May 1920 in Wadowice close to Krakow, Poland, was the man who became known worldwide as Pope John Paul ll.
He has been a Pope, a Saint, of our generation. We might have experienced his voice via social media, even experienced his presence, being among the millions of pilgrims at the Vatican or on his visits to our country.
He was only 9 years old when his mother died. His elder sister had died in infancy and when he was 12 years old, his brother, a dedicated doctor died at the age of 26. Then when Karol was 21 years old his father died. Without any family support, Karol struggled on, to face the challenges of life that Poland was facing at the time.
By 1938, Europe was on the brink of the Second World War. Karol had enrolled in Krakow University and also in a school for drama! Then the Nazis occupied Poland and closed the University. For 4 years, Karol worked in a quarry and in a chemical factory to earn a living. It was at this time that he experienced the call for the priesthood. He began his studies for the priesthood in Krakow Seminary that was operating secretly, without giving up his activities in the “Rhapsodic Theatre”! The Major Krakov Seminary reopened in 1946 and after completing his studies, he was ordained priest in 1946.
His pastoral work included serving as vicar in various parishes as well as attending to Polish immigrants of France, Belgium and Holland, besides being chaplain for University students.
After continuing with his studies, he was appointed Professor of Moral Theology in the seminary of Krakow and Lublin. In 1958 he was appointed Auxiliary Bishop of Krakow, later an Archbishop, and a Cardinal in 1967, taking an active part in the Second Vatican Council.
He was elected Pope on the 16th October 1978. During his pontificate he carried out 200 pastoral visits, meeting Prime Ministers and Heads of State, of various cultures and beliefs opening up possibilities of dialogue with other religions. He wrote 13 Encyclicals, 13 Apostolic Exhortations, 11 Apostolic Constitutions, 14 Apostolic Letters and published 2 books.
Pope John Paul ll continues to be remembered as the Pope who remained human in his attitudes while his charismatic presence inspired hope and courage. He remained so connected with young people, transmitting love, compassion and cheerfulness, inviting them enthusiastically to participate in Evangelisation, paving the way to the concept of the organization of World Youth Days.
His courage continued to shine not only physically but also morally, during his long recovery after the assassination attempt that occurred on the 13th May 1981. The image of the Pope ‘sitting in total love with the enemy’ in deep conversation, shaking hands with his aggressor, handing him a gift box with a Rosary, still stands out as ‘ a heroic act of forgiveness’.
His courage and love for the faithful continued to shine in his suffering especially towards the end of his life as he struggled with his illness.
Pope John Paul ll passed on to the ‘Father’s House’ on 2nd April 2005. He was proclaimed Saint on the 27th April 2014.