On April 2, 2005, John Paul II, the most traveled pope in history and the first non-Italian to hold this post since the 16th century, died at his home in the Vatican. Six days later, two million people filled Vatican City for his funeral, which would be the largest funeral in history.
John Paul II was born Karol Jozef Wojtyla in Wadowice, Poland, 35 miles southwest of Krakow, in 1920. After high school, the future Pope enrolled at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, where he studied philosophy and literature and performs in a theater group. During World War II, the Nazis occupied Krakow and closed the university, forcing Wojtyla to seek work in a quarry and, later, in a chemical factory. By 1941, his mother, father and only brother had all died, leaving him the only surviving member of his family.
Although Wojtyla had been involved in the church all his life, it was not until 1942 that he began his seminary training. When the war ended, he returned to school in Jagellonian to study theology, becoming an ordained priest in 1946. He then earned 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 archbishop of the city, where he spoke out for religious freedom while the church began Vatican Council II, which would revolutionize Catholicism. He was appointed cardinal in 1967, taking on the challenge of living and working as 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.
Wojtyla was quietly and slowly building a reputation as a powerful preacher and a man of both great intelligence and great charisma. Yet when Pope John Paul I died in 1978 after only a 34-day reign, few suspected Wojtyla would be chosen to replace him. But, after seven ballots, the Sacred College of Cardinals chose the 58-year-old man, and he became the first and youngest Slavic pope to be chosen in 132 years.
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A conservative pontiff, the papacy of John Paul II was marked by his firm and unwavering opposition to communism and war, as well as to abortion, contraception, capital punishment, and same-sex relationships. He later spoke out against euthanasia, human cloning and stem cell research. He traveled widely as Pope, using the eight languages he spoke (Polish, Italian, French, German, English, Spanish, Portuguese and Latin) and his well-known personal charm, to connect with the Catholic faithful, as well. that much apart from the fold.
On May 13, 1981, Pope John Paul II was shot dead in St. Peter’s Square by a Turkish political extremist, Mehmet Ali Agca. After being released from the hospital, the Pope visited his potential assassin in prison, where he had started serving a life sentence, and personally forgave him for his actions. The following year another unsuccessful attempt was made on the Pope’s life, this time by a fanatic priest who opposed the reforms of Vatican II.
Although this was not confirmed by the Vatican until 2003, many believe that Pope John Paul II started suffering from Parkinson’s disease in the early 1990s. speech and had difficulty walking, although he continued to follow a physically demanding travel schedule. In his later years, he was forced to delegate many of his official duties, but still found the strength to speak to worshipers from a window in the Vatican. In February 2005, the Pope was hospitalized with complications from the flu. He died two months later.
Pope John Paul II is remembered for his successful efforts to end communism, as well as for building bridges with people of other faiths and for offering the Catholic Church’s first apology for his actions. during WWII. He was succeeded by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, who became Pope Benedict XVI. Pope Francis, who succeeded Pope Benedict in March 2013, canonized John Paul II in April 2014.