On May 18, 1920, Karol Jozef Wojtyla was born in the Polish city of Wadowice, 56 kilometers south-west of Krakow. Wojtyla became Pope John Paul II, the most traveled pope in history and the first non-Italian to hold this position since the 16th century. After high school, the future pope enrolled at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, where he studied philosophy and literature and played in a theater troupe. During the Second World War, the Nazis occupied Krakow and closed the university, forcing Wojtyla to seek work in a quarry and, later, in a chemical factory. In 1941, his mother, father and only brother were all dead, leaving him the only surviving member of his family.

Although Wojtyla was involved in the church all his life, it was not until 1942 that he began his seminary training. At the end of the war, he returned to school at Jagiellonian to study theology, becoming an ordained priest in 1946. He completed two doctorates and became a professor of moral theology and social ethics. On July 4, 1958, at the age of 38, he was appointed auxiliary bishop of Krakow by Pope Pius XII. He later became the city’s archbishop, where he defended religious freedom while the church began Vatican Council II, which would revolutionize Catholicism. He became cardinal in 1967, taking up the challenges of the life and work of a Catholic priest in Communist Eastern Europe. When asked if he feared reprisals from the Communist leaders, he replied, “I am not afraid of them. They are afraid of me. “

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