Pope John Paul II


Karol Wojtyla, otherwise known as Pope John Paul II, was born in Wadowice, Poland on the 18th of May 1920. His father was a soldier and his mother a teacher. His mother died when he was only 9 and four years later when he was 13 his older brother died. 'Lolek' as he was known was good at his studies skiing and football.

By the time his father died in 1941, Poland had been occupied by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union and many of the Polish people were forced to working for Nazis. Karol worked in a stone quarry and wrote poems about it. His first ambition was to be an actor but later he attended an underground seminary and was an ordained into the priesthood in 1946.

Significant events in his life:

There were three main events in his life as a young man that made him choose to go the way he did. They were firstly a friendship he had with a Krakow tailor twice Wojtyla's age, Jan Tyranowski. This introduced him to the writings of St John (a 17 century Spanish mystic) and "the process of purgation, illumination and union through which the soul passes on its progress towards God".

Secondly, when he crossing the street in Cramco one day and was knocked down by a tram and fractured his skull. The doctors thought it would be unlikely for him to live. In between delirium and coma he felt a powerful call to the priesthood but with the determination to be an actor he fought it off. Soon he recovered and returned to work.

He had been back at work at the chemical factory where he worked for a short while when a third significant event occurred: he was nearly crushed to death by a lorry. (Because of the injuries he sustained he now has a slight stoop.) After he had studied in Rome and at the university of Krakow in 1956 he was appointed professor of ethics at the University of Lublin where the first of many articles and books on philosophical and theological themes. He was consecrated bishop in 1958 where he served as the first bishop of Krakow then in 1964 he was made an Archbishop and then a Cardinal in 1967.

Elected on the 16th of October 1978. He became the first Polish Pope and the first non-Italian Pope since the 16th century.

Main Work

During his pontificate he has travelled more than any of his predecessors, preaching to millions of people on the six continents and in more than 50 nations.

John has two particular goals: they are to bring justice and peace to the world. (He has criticised the injustices of both Communism and Capitalism.) His second goal is to affirm the identity of Roman Catholicism by bringing the directives of the Second Vatican Council to life (1962-65). John Paul has followed the practice introduced by John XXIII and Paul VI of meeting with leaders of other Christian churches.

Attempted assassination

On the 13th May 1981, while John Paul II was being driven round St Peter's square during his regular Wednesday General Audience he was shot three times by Mehmet Ali Agca, a young Turkish fanatic. The hand holding the gun was even caught in a picture from someone?s camera. Staying very calm he said again and again "Thank you, thank you. Don't worry". After recovering in the Gemelli Clinic he even prayed that his shooter might be forgiven.

The timing of the shooting was particularly cruel, as he had planned a flying visit to Poland to administer the Last Rites to Cardinal Wyszynski who was three weeks away from dying from cancer.

Even as a very old man and suffering from his shooting John Paul II is still pope (March 2000) and travelling the world. He went to the Holy Land during lent in the year 200 so that he could be were Jesus walked but many take it as being related to politics.

Popes have been expected to look grave or serene as the occasion required, but never simply happy. "I don't forget the difficult years of the world in which I myself had direct experience of physical work such as yours, of daily toil and its dependence, its heaviness and monotony shared the necessities of the workers, their rightful demands and their legitimate aspirations. I know very well the need that work should not alienate and frustrate, but should correspond to man?s higher dignity.

The Church offers her aid. She does not fear forceful denunciation or attacks on human dignity. But she keeps her essential energies to help men and human groups, contractors and workers, in order that they may become aware of the immense reserves of goodness they have within them, which they have already caused to yield fruit in their history, and which must give new fruit today."

by Lewis Reford, Year 8, Presentation College, Reading