Pope John Paul Ii
POPE JOHN PAUL II
Born May 18, 1920, Wadowice, Poland .
Latin Joannes Paulus , original name Karol Józef Wojtyea the bishop of Rome and head of the Roman Catholic church since 1978, the first non-Italian pope in 455 years and the first ever from a Slavic country. His trips abroad often attracted enormous crowds, including some of the largest ever assembled, and his crusades against political oppression were widely praised. His nonviolent activism spurred movements that contributed to the peaceful dissolution of the communist Soviet Union in 1989.
The first two decades of Wojtyea's life coincided with the only period of independence that Poland would know between 1772 and 1989. He thus grew up experiencing national freedom but also understanding its vulnerability. After one year at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków, Wojtyea's formal studies were interrupted when during the second world war German forces invaded Poland in September 1939. He continued his studies in the university's secrete classes, and, to avoid Nazi arrest, worked for the chemical manufacturer Solvay—making him the only pope in modern times to have been a laborer.
Wojtyea was ordained into the Catholic priesthood in November 1946. He immediately left Poland for two years of study in Rome, earning his first doctorate in philosophy (Angelicum University, 1948). Returning to Poland, Wojtyea became an assistant pastor in the village of Niegowi. in 1948. Within a year he was moved to Kraków's St. Florian's parish. Over the next decade, Wojtyea taught at the Jagiellonian University, where he also completed a master's degree in theology and a doctorate in sacred theology (both in 1948). He was appointed chair of ethics at the Catholic University of Lublin (1954).
In 1958 Pope Pius XII appointed him auxiliary bishop of Kraków. Wojtyea was a prominent participant in the Second Vatican Council (1962–65). Pope Paul VI designated him archbishop of Kraków in 1963 and added the rank of cardinal in 1967. As archbishop, Wojtyea was instrumental in winning permission from the communist government to build a new church (consecrated in 1977) in Kraków's industrial suburb Nowa Huta.
He was elected pope on Oct. 16, 1978, and installed on October 22 as John Paul II. From the moment of his inauguration, John Paul presented an activist image that was amplified by his travels. Preaching his message through many cultures and speaking in many languages, the energetic and handsome 58-year-old pope became a media icon. His potent mix of religion and politics—and its deep roots in Poland—was dramatized in his trips abroad, which, in effect, surrounded the Soviet Union with messages of religious freedom, national independence, and human rights. In the first 10 years of his papacy, John Paul supported Poland's dissident Solidarity trade union, advising Poles to advance slowly so that the communist regime would have little excuse to impose martial law and violence. This strategy was thrown into crisis when John Paul was shot and nearly killed by a Turkish gunman, Mehmet Ali AHca, on May 13, 1981. The assassination attempt was almost certainly a conspiracy, but investigators have never proved who sponsored it. Throughout the 1980s, however, it was widely believed that the Soviet communists had been behind the attempt in the hope of demoralizing the trade union called Solidarity. In 1989 the communists asked for negotiations with this trade union. This was followed within months by the dissolution of the Soviet bloc and, eventually, the collapse of the Soviet Union. Visits from John Paul also weakened several corrupt dictatorships and juntas in such countries as Brazil, the Philippines, Haiti, Paraguay, and Chile. He was awarded the U.S. Congressional Gold Medal in January 2001.
John Paul made constant efforts to reach out to people of other religions, most notably Jews and Muslims; he declared anti-Semitism a sin, and held numerous meetings with Islam's top religious authorities. In 1986 he invited leaders of all major religions to Assisi, Italy, for a universal prayer service for world peace. Traveling to Egypt in February 2000, he met with Sunni Islam's highest religious authority, the Sheikh al-Azhar. In March 2000 in Jerusalem, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak welcomed John Paul to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial with the words “Blessed are you in Israel.” John Paul later met with Muslim leaders at the Al-Aqsa Mosque and then prayed alone at the Western Wall.
Hoping to strengthen the Catholic faith in many cultures, John Paul canonized many more Catholic saints—drawn from a broader geographic and occupational spectrum—than had any of his predecessors. With the February 2001 installation of 44 cardinals representing five continents, John Paul had named more than 150 new cardinals during his long pontificate. He directed the rewriting of several major church texts and spoke out on an array of highly contentious issues, denouncing abortion, premarital sex, and homosexual practices (though not homosexual inclination). He continually rebuffed new pleas for priests to be allowed to marry and, although he blocked women from entering the priesthood, he nonetheless advocated full equality for women in other realms of life.