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Pope John Paul II

Pope John Paul II
at his Inaguration in 1978

John Paul II (born 18 May 1920) was born as Karol Jozef Wojtyla (pronounced Voy-tee-wah) in Wadowice[?], Poland. He became the first Slavic pope in history in October 1978 and the first non-Italian pope in over 450 years (after Adrian VI in 1522). He has frequently traveled abroad (over 100 trips), more than any other pope before him.

An athlete, actor and playwright in his youth, Karol Wojtyla was ordained a priest on November 1, 1946. He taught ethics at Kraków and Lublin universities. In 1958 he was named auxiliary bishop of Krakow and four years later he assumed leadership of the diocese with the title of vicar capitular.

On December 30, 1963, He was named Archbishop of Kraków by Pope Paul VI. Both as bishop and archbishop, Wojtyla participated in the Second Vatican Council, making contributions to the documents that would become the Decree on Religious Freedom (Dignitatis Humanae) and the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes), two of the most historic and influential products of the council.

In 1967 Pope Paul VI elevated him to cardinal. In August 1978 following Pope Paul's death he participated in the Papal Conclave that elected Albino Luciani, the Cardinal Patriarch of Venice, as Pope John Paul I. At 65, Luciani was a young man by papal standards. While Wojtyla at 58 could have expected to participate in another papal conclave before reaching the age of eighty, at which he would be excluded, he could hardly have expected that his second conclave would come so soon. For on 28 September 1978, after only 33 days in the papacy, Pope John Paul I died, in circumstances that still remain mysterious. In October 1978 Wojtyla returned to the Vatican to participate in the second conclave in less than two months.

Table of contents

The Second Conclave of 1978

John Paul II's Coat of Arms
The Letter M is for Mary, the Mother of God, to whom he holds strong devotion

The conclave itself was divided between two particularly strong candidates, Giuseppe Siri, the reactionary Archbishop of Genoa, and Giovanni Benelli[?], the liberal Archbishop of Florence and close associate of Pope John Paul I. In early ballots Benelli came within nine votes of victory. Wojtyla however secured election as the compromise candidate, in part through the support of liberal cardinals like Franz König[?] and conservatives who had previously supported Siri. On election, the first non-Italian pope for nearly half a millennium was referred to by many simply as the man for a far country. In terms of his age, his nationality, his rugged health, the former athlete and playwright broke all the papal rules. He was to become the dominant twentieth-century pope of the Catholic Church, eclipsing Pope Paul VI in travels, Pope Pius XII in intellectual vigour, Pope John XXIII in charisma.

The First Polish playwright-Pope

When on October 16, 1978, at age 58, he succeeded Pope John Paul I he fulfilled a prophesy made to him decades earlier by Padre Pio[?] that he would one day be pope. There was also another part to the prediction. The monk with the stigmata also predicted that Wotjtyla's reign would be short and end in blood, a prophesy that almost became true when on May 13, 1981 he was shot and nearly killed by Mehmet Ali Agca, a Turkish gunman, as he entered St. Peter's Square[?] to address a general audience.

There have been unproven speculations that the assassination was ordered by the Soviet Union. Two days after Christmas in 1983, Pope John Paul went to the prison and met with his would-be assassin.


Pope John Paul II visiting a synagogue in Rome in April 1983
Pope John Paul II in his reign made more foreign trips that all previous popes put together. While some of his trips, to the United States and the Holy Land, were to places previously visited by "The Pilgrim Pope", Pope Paul VI, many others were to places that no pope ever visited before. He became the first reigning pope to travel to the United Kingdom, where he met Queen Elizabeth II, the Supreme Governor[?] of the Church of England. In a dramatic symbolic gesture, he knelt in prayer in Canterbury Cathedral, founded by Augustine of Canterbury and the See of the Church of England Archbishop of Canterbury, alongside the current Archbishop, Robert Runcie[?]. Throughout his trips, he stressed his devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary through visits to various Marian shrines[?], notably Knock[?] in the Republic of Ireland, Fatima in Portugal and Lourdes in France. His public visits were centered around large Papal Masses[?]; one million people, one quarter of the population of the island of Ireland, attended his Mass in the Phoenix Park in 1979.

His 1998 encyclical[?], Fides et Ratio[?] (Faith and Reason), condemned both atheism and faith unsupported by reason and affirmed the place of reason and philosophy in religion.

Criticising a 'culture of death'

He is considered a conservative on doctrine and issues relating to the ordination of women, and has been critical of Liberation Theology and those who regard themselves Catholics while questioning the church's teachings on faith and morals. In the 1995 encyclical Evangelium Vitae[?] (The Gospel of Life) he reasserted the church's condemnation of abortion, euthanasia, and capital punishment, calling them all part of the "Culture of Death" that pervades the modern world. His stands on capital punishment, world debt forgiveness, and poverty issues are considered liberal, showing that 'conservative' and 'liberal' labels do not ride easily on religious leaders.

Serious ill-health

Pope John Paul II kisses the Koran in May 1999
The youngest pope since Pope Pius IX was elected in 1846, John Paul entered the papacy as an exceptionally healthy relatively young man who unlike previous popes swam and skied. However after twenty-five years on the papal throne, a serious assassination attempt and a number of cancer scares, John Paul's physical health is poor. In May 2003, the Vatican confirmed that, as international observers had suspected, Pope John Paul is suffering from Parkinson's disease. He has difficulty speaking and hearing. He also has severe arthritis[?] in his right knee, developed following a hip replacement. Nevertheless, he has continued to tour the world. Despite speculation that he may resign, he appears determined to remain in office until his death or until he becomes irrevocably mentally incapable. Those who have met him say that, though physically in poor shape, he remains mentally in full health.

Pope John Paul II becomes the first pope ever to preach in a Lutheran Church in Rome, in December 1983
In 2000, he publicly endorsed the Jubilee 2000 campaign on African debt relief fronted by Irish rock stars Sir Bob Geldof and Bono. Indeed the nature of the relationship between the 79-year-old pope and Bono was revealed when someone working at U2's recording studio revealed that a recording session for Bono's band, U2 was interrupted on at least one occasion by a phone call to the recording studio in Dublin by the pope, who wanted to talk to Bono about the campaign.


For antipopes during his papacy, see

  • Gregory XVII alias Clemente Dominguez y Gomez (Spain)
  • Pius XIII alias Reverend Father Lucian Pulvermacher, OFM Cap. (United States)

Encyclicals of Pope John Paul II

Pope John Paul II on the
Vatican's €1 coin

Travel (1979-present)

Pope John Paul II in old age

(incomplete list)

Outside Links

  • CNN - Biography - Pope John Paul II (http://www.cnn.com/SPECIALS/1999/pope/)
  • Writings (http://dmoz.org/Society/Religion_and_Spirituality/Christianity/Denominations/Catholicism/Popes/John_Paul_II/Works/)
  • [[1] (http://popejohnpaul.com)]

Preceded by:
Pope John Paul I
List of popesSucceeded by:

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