St. John Paul II (Karol Wojtyła) 1920-2005
He was born in 1920 in Wadowice, a small town near Krakow. At the age of nine he lost his mother, and in 1932 his elder brother also died. In 1938, after matriculating, he moved, with his father, to Krakow, where he went up to the Jagiellonian University to study Polish. His passion was literature and the theatre.
After the German invasion of Poland in September 1939 the country was under German occupation. When the university was closed down in the autumn of 1940, in order to avoid being deported as a forced labourer to Germany, he went to work in a quarry. In 1941 his father died suddenly, and a year later Karol acted on a calling and entered a clandestine underground theological seminary run by Cardinal Sapieha, the archbishop of Krakow. It was this same cardinal who on 1 November 1946 ordained him into the priesthood. Shortly afterwards, Fr Karol Wojtyła went to Rome, where he was awarded a doctorate in theology. He returned to Poland in 1948 and went into the student chaplaincy. He also lectured in ethics at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow and the Catholic University of Lublin. In 1963 he was nominated an archbishop, and four years later a cardinal. His entire life as a priest and bishop was spent under the oppression of the Communist regime. On 16 October 1978, at the age of 58, he was elected the first non-Italian pope in 455 years, and took the name John Paul II.
He brought in a new style of serving as pope. He made 104 journeys to the Catholic faithful throughout the world, and his foremost motto was: “Do not be afraid! Open wide the door to Christ”. He gave courage and restored dignity to the excluded. He drew huge crowds, and he was always direct in his contacts with other people. In the course of his pontificate he wrote 14 encyclicals and canonised 582 saints. He was a man of ecumenical dialogue, especially with Judaism. He was the first pope to visit a synagogue and to pray at the “Wailing Wall” in Jerusalem. He remains in our memory as a man of immense faith and holiness. For Poles he became “the father of the fatherland” – a great authority. Without his testimony and teachings the multi-million-strong Solidarity movement that spelled the beginning of the end for Poland’s Communist dictatorship, would not have been born. His contribution to the collapse of Communism and the re-entrenchment of freedom in Eastern Europe is inestimable. After his death on 2 April 2005, the crowds that attended his funeral hailed him John Paul the Great, chanting “Santo Subito!” – “[Make him] a saint at once! John Paul II was canonised by Pope Francis on 27 April 2014 on the Feast of Divine Mercy.