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June 23-27, 2001    
The Pope

The Slavic Pope Visits the Eastern Slavs
The Papacy and Ukraine in History
Biography of John Paul II up to his Pontificate
The Pontificate of John Paul II
John Paul II on Eastern Christianity
The Vatican and the Holy See

Biography of John Paul II up to his Pontificate

Even before he became pope, John Paul II had lived quite a full life: orphaned as a young man, he was a scholar, a poet, an actor, a priest, a professor, a young bishop and eventually an archbishop and cardinal. He lived through World War II, caught between Hitler and Stalin, and then the Communist occupation of Poland. The one clear thread which runs through his life is devotion to God and service to the Church.


When Karol Josef Wojtyla was born in 1920, his father, a lieutenant in the Polish army, was already forty-one, his mother thirty-six and his brother fourteen. At school he was an outstanding pupil but at the age of eight his mother died and at twelve his brother also. He continued to show wide promise so that at fourteen he made his first appearance in amateur dramatics and became president of his school's branch of the Society of Mary. In this year he made his first pilgrimage to Czestochowa and in the following took part in his first military exercise. In 1938 he received the Sacrament of Confirmation and completed his secondary education.


Entrance into University and the Outbreak of World War II

After enrolling in the Faculty of Philosophy at the Jagellonian University in 1939, he moved with his father to Krakow. Karol also continued his dramatic experience there in the Studio 38 experimental theatre group. In the same academic year he joined the Eucharistic and Charity Section of the Student Society.

After the outbreak of World War Two in 1939, he continued with his second year course. He was also introduced to the writings of St John of the Cross and St Teresa of Avila by Jan Tyranowski, a tailor with a Carmelite spirituality. By this time the profound Marian spirituality which has characterised his life was well established.

Continuing to perform in the underground theatre, he evaded imprisonment and deportation by working in a stone quarry. His father died in 1941 and he received into his house the family of Mieozyslav Kotlarozyk, the founder of the Live Word Theatre (Rhapsody).


Studies for the Priesthood

In 1942 he was transferred to work in the Solvay chemical plant and at the same time registered in the Faculty of Theology at the Jagellonian University, where he began secret studies for the priesthood. His work at Solvay and his theological studies continued until, in early 1944, he was hit by a car and spent a month in the hospital.

By the end of the summer he and other seminarians had been transferred to the Archbishop's residence and his work at Solvay had ended. In the third year of Theology he received the tonsure and two minor orders and became Vice-President of "Bratnia Pomoc" - Fraternal Help - a post he retained until April 1946. In that same year he completed his minor orders, was ordained to the sub-diaconate and diaconate and finally to the priesthood in November.


His Early Priesthood: Student and Teacher

Almost immediately after he was ordained in 1946 he left Poland to begin theological studies at the Angelicum in Rome. In 1947 he received his Licentiate in Theology and travelled to France, Belgium and Holland. 1948 saw the reception of his doctorate, his return to Poland and the beginning of his pastoral ministry.

In 1949 he returned to Krakow to work in St Florian's parish with university students and health workers and in 1950 he began work on his publications. In 1951 he began two years leave to prepare for university teaching.

By 1953 he was actively teaching Social Ethics in the university. Not long after this the communist authorities closed the theological faculty and study had to be transferred to the Krakow seminary. He was then offered a post at the Catholic University of Lublin where, at the end of 1956, he was promoted to the Chair of Ethics.


Bishop, Archbishop and Cardinal

The big change in the life of Father Wojtyla came when he was ordained bishop in September 1958 and became Auxiliary to the Archbishop of Krakow.

In October of 1962 he attended the first session of the Second Vatican Council as one of its youngest members. The following year, at the close of the second session he was designated Metropolitan Archbishop of Krakow. The third session of the Council followed and in preparation for the fourth and final session the new archbishop worked on the Schema XIII, Gaudium et Spes on the Church in the Modern World. During this session the Polish bishops published their letter of reconciliation to the German bishops that included the words "We forgive and ask forgiveness".

From this time on Archbishop Wojtyla was busy applying the decrees of the Council and governing his diocese in the difficult conditions created by the communist government of Poland. One of his early reactions to this was to bring the icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa to his diocese where for a whole year it was venerated in a hundred and twenty parishes of the diocese, invariably with the presence of the Archbishop who some months earlier had been made a Cardinal.

From this time on the new Cardinal found himself travelling widely, visiting Polish groups in many countries, attending meetings, eucharistic congresses, local synods, giving lectures, reading papers at learned meetings and participating in the General Synods which were now held every five years in Rome and whose purpose was the development and application of the decrees of the Second Vatican Council. Few Cardinals can have had so much international experience in so short a time.

Finally, after the death of Paul VI and the brief pontificate of John Paul I, Cardinal Wojtyla was elected the 264th Pope at approximately 5.15 p m on 16th October 1978.


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