Karol Wojtyla was born in Poland in 1920. By the age of 20 he had lost his mother, his older brother, and his father. He lived in occupied Poland during the Second World War, each day a question mark whether he would be picked up and shuffled off to a labor camp.
In 1942 Wojtyla met with the bishop of Krakow to petition him to study for the priesthood. Since this was outlawed, he studied in secret. Wojtyla was ordained in 1946. He was sent to Rome to study, earning a doctorate in theology in 1948.
In 1958 Wojtyla was appointed auxiliary bishop of Krakow, the youngest bishop in Poland at the age of 38. As a bishop, Wojtyla participated in the Second Vatican Council.
Here we see the direct influence of Pope John XXIII on the life of Wojtyla. The Second Vatican Council brought together over 2,800 bishops from around the world and introduced Wojtyla to the international scene. Were it not for the Council, Wojtyla, for all of his abilities, might have remained in Poland. He made special contributions to the Decree on Religious Freedom and The Constitution on the Church in the Modern World. Wojtyla was also the spokesman for the Polish hierarchy. Pope Paul VI was so impressed with his abilities that he appointed him archbishop of Krakow in 1964 and elevated him to cardinal in 1967.
Archbishop Wojtyla was elected pope in 1978 at the age of 58. He would minister to the world as Pope John Paul II until April, 2005. John Paul II was a unique, heroic, world-renowned presence. His letters, encyclicals, and promotion of a New Evangelization and Theology of the Body formed the thinking of the Church not only in his own day, but they continue to direct Catholic life today.
In his homily for the beatification of John XXIII, Pope John Paul II shared his affectionate memories.
[John XXIII’s] pontificate, which lasted less than five years, presented him to the entire world as an authentic image of the Good Shepherd. Meek and gentle, enterprising and courageous, simple and active, he carried out the Christian duties of the corporal and spiritual works of mercy: visiting the imprisoned and the sick, welcoming those of every nation and faith, bestowing on all his exquisite fatherly care. (L’Osservatore Romano, Weekly Edition in English, September 6, 2000)
Pope John Paul II was beatified in 2011 by Pope Benedict XVI.
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Pope John Paul II and Young People