Biography of Pope John Paul II

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Catholic Pope John Paul II Biography

    • Famous as : The 264th Pope ( Bishop of Rome )
  • Born on : 18 May 1920
  • Born in : Wadowice, Poland
  • Died on : 02 April 2005
  • Nationality : Poland
  • Works & Achievements : Served as Pope and Sovereign of the State of the Vatican City for 27 Years

John Paul II presided over as the Pope and Sovereign of the State of the Vatican City for almost 27 Years. Credited with being the second – longest pontificate till date, His Holiness has too many firsts to his credit. One of the most traveled leaders of the world, Pope John Paul II is considered as one of the most influential leaders of the world. His influence was not restricted to the Catholics across the globe.

Rather, a true world statesman, Pope John Paul II brought changes in the image of the church, across the globe. During his long reign as Pope, he said ‘sorry’ to Jews, Galileo, women, victims of the Inquisition, Muslims slaughtered by the Crusaders and almost everyone who had suffered at the hands of the Catholic Church through the years.

Childhood Pope John Paul II

Pope John Paul II, baptized as Karol Jozef Wojtyla, was born on May 18, 1920, in Wadowice, Poland. His mother died when he was only eight years old and after a couple of years (1932), Karol lost his elder brother as well. During his youth days, Karol enjoyed playing soccer, as a goalie.

In the year 1938, John Paul II shifted lodgings to Krakow, along with his father. It was here that Karol broadened his horizons of knowledge. Enrolling himself in Jagiellonian University, John Paul II learned almost 12 languages and also participated in various theatrical groups, as a playwright.

In 1939, when the Nazi Germans occupied Poland, Karol was amongst the worst hit. His university had closed, leaving him with no choice other than to earn a living by doing petty jobs. His father left for the heaven abode in 1941, leaving him all alone in the world.

It was, thence, that he realized his calling for priesthood and started studying in the clandestine underground seminary run by the Archbishop of Krakow, Adam Stefan, Cardinal Sapieha. After surviving an accident with a Geman truck, Karol’s decision to become a priest became all the more firm.

John Paul II Early Life as a Priest
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Ordained as a priest on November 1, 1946, Karol Wojtyła was sent to Rome, at the Pontifical International Athenaeum Angelicum, to study theology. In 1948, after attaining a licentiate and doctorate in sacred theology, John Paul II returned to Poland. His first – ever work as a priest was in the village of Niegowic, fifteen miles from Krakow. A year later, Karol relocated to Saint Florian’s parish in Krakow.

A teacher of ethics at Jagiellonian University and the Catholic University of Lublin, Karol assembled a group of about 20 young people that eventually expanded to 200 people. These participants met for prayers, philosophical discussions and helping blind and sick people.

It was in the year 1954 that Karol gained his second doctorate, in philosophy. A holder of two doctorates, he started his literary career by writing for the newspaper ‘Tygodnik Powszechny’, also known as Universal Weekly. Herein, John Paul II wrote about the contemporary church issues. Karol dealt with issues like war, life under communism and his pastoral responsibilities, as the themes for his poems and plays.

Pope John Paul II distinguished his literary writings from his religious ones by publishing the former under pseudo names, so that they get recognition on merit and not on his name. It was in 1960 that Karol wrote an influential theological book ‘Love and Responsibility’, a defense of the traditional Church teachings on marriage, from a new philosophical standpoint.

Bishop and Cardinal

It was during his kayaking vacation, in July 1958, that Karol came to know about his nomination for the position of auxiliary bishop of Krakow. Agree ingto serve as auxiliary to Archbishop Eugeniusz Baziak, Pope John Paul II was consecrated to the Episcopate on September 28, 1958.

With this, Pope became the youngest bishop in Poland. After the death of Baziak, Bishop Karol was elected as Vicar Capitular, or temporary administrator, of the Archdiocese. Becoming a Bishop, henceforth, he participated in the Second Vatican Council.

Bishop Karol also contributed in the Decree on Religious Freedom ( in Latin, Dignitatis Humanae ) and the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World ( Gaudium et Spes ). John Paul II took part in the assemblies of Synod of Bishops. Admiring his worthy contributions and laudable role as a temporary administrator, Pope Paul VI appointed him as the Archbishop of Kraków, on December 1963.

Archbishop Karol was promoted to the Sacred College of Cardinals, on June 26, 1967. Later on, John Paul II became instrumental in formulating the encyclical Humanae Vitae, which dealt with sensitive issues of abortion and artificial birth control.

Pope John Paul II Papacy

Following the death of Pope Paul VI, Albino Luciani was appointed as the next Pope – Pope John Paul I. However, the latter left for the heaven abode after only 33 days of his papacy, thereby causing another conclave of the cardinals. Cardinal Giuseppe Siri and Cardinal Giovanni Benelli were the two main contenders for the post.

However, observing the scale of their opposition, Cardinal Franz Konig, Archbishop of Vienna, individually suggested Karol, the Polish Cardinal, as a compromise candidate.

Surprisingly, Cardinal Karol won the election on the eighth ballot on the second day. According to the Italian press, John Paul II received 99 votes, from the 111 participating electors. With this, Cardinal Karol Jozef Wojtyła succeeded Pope John Paul I and became Pope John Paul II.

John Paul II was the youngest Pope to be elected, in the history of Rome, since Pope Pius IX (1846), who was 54 years old. Becoming the 264th Pope, Pope John Paul II received his simplified Papal inauguration ceremony on October 22, 1978, dispensing with the traditional Papal coronation, just like his immediate predecessor.

Pope John Paul II Pastoral Trips

Pope John Paul II visited as many as 129 countries as the Bishop of Rome. Attracting large crowds everywhere he went, John Paul II became one of the largest traveled Popes. The number of trips he made to foreign countries was more than that of all his predecessors, put together.

Probably, this is the reason why Pope John Paul II was also given the title of the ‘Pilgrim Pope’. Though amongst the 129 countries, there were many countries that had been visited by his predecessors; John Paul II is entitled with a lot of firsts. Pope John Paul II was the first Pope ever to visit Mexico, Cuba and Ireland, a few names amongst his long list.

Pope John Paul II was also the first pope to travel to the United Kingdom (1982), Egypt and Jerusalem (2000). His Holiness also became the first Catholic Pope to visit and pray in an Islamic mosque ( Umayyad Mosque ) in Damascus, Syria (2001). There, John Paul II also visited Umayyad Mosque, where John the Baptist is believed to be interred.

Pope John Paul II’s visit to Luneta Park, Manila, ( Philippines ) attracted probably the largest single gathering in Christian history. The visit took place on 15th January 1995, during the X World Youth Day. In 2001, this Servant of God also traveled to Kazakhstan, to celebrate 1,700 years of Christianity.

John Paul II Relationship with Other Religions

Anglicanism ( Church of England )

  • Preached in Canterbury Cathedral during his visit to Britain.
  • Issued a Pastoral Provision, allowing married former Episcopal priests to become Catholic priests & accepting former Episcopal Church parishes into Catholic Church.
  • Allowed creation of the Anglican Use form of the Latin Rite, which incorporates the Anglican Book of Common Prayer.
  • Established Our Lady of the Atonement Catholic Church ( Anglican Use ), in cooperation with San Antonio Archbishop Patrick Flores.


  • Signed a Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, as a gesture of unity by the representatives of the Vatican and the Lutheran World Federation.

Judaism ( Jerusalem )

  • Improved relations between Catholicism and Judaism.
  • Became the first Pope to visit the Nazi Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland, in 1979.
  • Visited the Great Synagogue of Rome in April 1986, thus becoming the first pope ever known to have made an official papal visit to a synagogue.
  • Established formal diplomatic relations between the Holy See and the State of Israel, acknowledging its centrality in Jewish life and faith.
  • Visited Yad Vashem in Israel and made history by touching the holiest site in Judaism, the Western Wall in Jerusalem.
  • Placed a letter inside the Western Wall in Jerusalem, asking for forgiveness for the actions against Jews, in the past.
  • Became the first known Pope in history to receive a priestly blessing from a rabbi, in January 2005.

Eastern Orthodox Church

  • Became the first Pope to visit Romania, a predominantly Eastern Orthodox country, since the Great Schism in 1054.
  • Visited Ukraine and pleaded for “open, tolerant and honest dialogue”, also stated that putting an end to the Schism was one of his fondest wishes.
  • Became the first Pope to visit Greece in 1291 years.

Pope John Paul II Buddhism

  • Was visited by Tibetan spiritual leader Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama eight times, more than any other dignitary in this world.

Pope John Paul II Islam

  • Became the first Catholic Pope to visit and pray in an Islamic mosque ( Umayyad Mosque ) in Damascus, Syria (2001).

Pope John Paul II Syro – Malankara Catholic Church

  • Elevated the Archdiocese of Trivandrum to a Major Archdiocese, elevating the Archbishop to Major Archbishop, on February 10, 2005.

Assassination Attempt & Death

Pope John Paul II was shot and critically wounded on 13th May, 1981, as John Paul II was entering St. Peter’s Square to address an audience. The shooter was Mehmet Ali Agca, an expert and trained Turkish gunman of the militant group Grey Wolves.

A second assassination attempt took place on the Pope, on 12th May, 1982. In Fatima, Portugal, a man tried to stab him with a bayonet, but was stopped by security guards in time.

Pope John Paul II was diagnosed with septic shock, a widespread form of infection – characterized by a very high fever and profoundly low blood pressure, on March 31, 2005.

Despite this, John Paul II was not taken to the hospital and was given medical aid by a team of consultants at his private residence. On April 2, 2005, Pope John Paul IIleft for the heaven abode, 46 days short of his 85th birthday. Pope John Paul II was cremated at St. Peter’s Basilica.

Pope John Paul II after Death

John Paul II is one of the four Popes, who have been referred to with the title ‘the Great’. John Paul II has been called ‘John Paul the Great’ through popular and continued usage, since there is no official process for declaring a pope “Great”. In 2007, the successor of Pope John Paul II – Benedict XVI began his beatification process.

John Paul II bypassed the normal restriction of five years having been passed since a person’s death, for beatifying him / her, citing “exceptional circumstances”. The Vicariate of Rome, on March 8, 2007, declared that the diocesan phase of John Paul’s cause for beatification was at its conclusion.

John Paul II Title

John Paul II’s official title was : ‘Bishop of Rome, Vicar of Jesus Christ, Successor of Saint Peter, Head of the College of Bishops, Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church, Patriarch of the West ( this title was recently removed from the papal list of titles by the reigning pope, Benedict XVI ), Primate of Italy, Archbishop and Metropolitan of the Roman Province, Sovereign of the State of the Vatican City, Servus Servorum Dei, Pope John Paul II.’

John Paul II Teachings ( List of Encyclicals )

    • 1979 – Redemptor Hominis ( The Redeemer of Man ).
    • 1980 – Dives in Misericordia ( Rich in Mercy ).
    • 1981 – Laborem Exercens ( On Human Work ).
    • 1985 – Slavorum Apostoli ( The Apostles of the Slavs ).

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  • 1986 – Dominum et Vivificantem ( The Lord and Giver of Life ).
  • 1987 – Redemptoris Mater (Mother of the Redeemer), Sollicitudo Rei Socialis ( On Social Concerns ).
  • 1990 – Redemptoris Missio ( Mission of the Redeemer ).
  • 1991 – Centesimus Annus ( The Hundredth Year ).
  • 1993 – Veritatis Splendor ( The Splendor of Truth ).
  • 1995 – Evangelium Vitae ( The Gospel of Life ), Ut Unum Sint ( That they may be One ).
  • 1998 – Fides et Ratio ( Faith and Reason ).
  • 2003 – Ecclesia de Eucharistia ( The Church of the Eucharist ).

Pope John Paul II Timeline

  • 1920 – Karol Josef Wojtyla was born.
  • 1929 – Lost his mother.
  • 1932 – Lost his elder brother, Edmund.
  • 1938 – Moved to Krakow with his father, where John Paul II attended Jagiellonian University and nurtured his interest in drama.
  • 1939 – Germany invaded Poland.
  • 1940 – Began working as a stonecutter, to avoid imprisonment or displacement by the occupying Nazis.
  • 1941 – Lost his father.
  • 1942 – Began studying for priesthood, in Krakow’s underground seminary.
  • 1943 – Playedlead role in, what would be, his final theatrical performance.
  • 1946 – Ordained as a priest and went to Rome to continue his education.
  • 1948 – Earned a doctorate in philosophy and returned to Poland, to complete a doctorate in theology.
  • 1949 – BecameAssistant Pastor at St. Florian’s, in Krakow.
  • 1954 – Appointed as a teacher at the Catholic University of Lublin.
  • 1958 – Named Auxiliary Bishop in Krakow.
  • 1962 – Joined other Catholic bishops in Rome, for the historic Second Vatican Council.
  • 1963 – Appointed as the Archbishop of Krakow.
  • 1967 – Consecrated as a Cardinal.
  • 1978 – Elected as the 264th pope, the first Slav to hold the position.
  • 1979 – Wrote his first papal encyclical, Redemptor Hominis ( “The Redeemer of Man” ) and became the first pope ever to make a pilgrimage to Ireland.
  • 1981 – Sustained a gunshot wound in St. Peter’s Square.
  • 1993 – Wrote his 10th encyclical, Veritatis Splendor ( “The Splendor of Truth” ), emphasizing the importance of church’s role in moral instruction.
  • 1997 – Became the first pope ever to visit Cuba.
  • 1998 – Marked his 20th year as Head of the Roman Catholic Church, becoming the longest – serving pope of the 20th Century.
  • 2005 – Died after suffering heart failure, while undergoing treatment for an infection.

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