Karol Wojtyla was born in Wadowice, Poland, on May 18, 1920, to a poor family. His mother and brother died when he was a young boy. He was an outstanding student and was very interested in literature and the theater. In 1938 Wojtyla entered Jagiellonian University to study literature. During this time he also appeared in the theater.
In September, 1939, the Nazi armies invaded Poland and turned the lives of the people into confusion. Karol Wojtyla's life was no exception. Jagiellonian University was closed. But Wojtyla and other students established an underground university. Professors and students would secretly meet in private homes. Wojtyla went to secret classes and performed in plays at night, and during the day worked as a laborer in a limestone quarry. During this time his father died, which some friends feel stimulated him to seriously study theology.
Wojtyla began serious study for the seminary during the war. This placed his life in jeopardy and he was placed under protective custody at the Archbishop of Krakow's Palace. On November 1, 1946, Wojtyla was ordained a priest by Cardinal Sapieha.
After the war, Wojtyla was sent by Cardinal Sapieha to Rome and other European locations to continue his studies. He received his doctorate in theology. Upon his return to Poland in 1948, he was assigned as a parish priest. Wojtyla found a very different country - a country under communist rule.
Through his years as a priest in Poland, Wojtyla continued his education and his writings. Wojtyla wrote books, essays, articles, poems and plays during his years in Poland. He also was a professor and lecturer at the Catholic University in Lublin.
In July, 1958, Wojtyla was appointed auxiliary bishop of Krakow. His consecration took place at Wawel Cathedral in September of that year. Shortly afterwards, in December 1963, he was chosen as Archbishop of Krakow. Wojtyla continued his rise in the Church when he was made Cardinal on May 29, 1967. In his role as a priest, teacher, bishop and cardinal, Wojtyla was an outspoken advocate of religious freedom in communist ruled countries.
Upon the death of Pope John Paul I in 1978, Wojtyla and the College of Cardinals, were summoned to elect a successor to St. Peter. After the eighth ballot Cardinal Karol Wojtyla was chosen to be the leader of the Catholic Church.
As was customary, the new Pope greeted the crowd who gathered in St. Peter's Square. The people were anxious to hear a non-Italian Pope address them. They were overwhelmed when he spoke to them in Italian. The Inaugural Mass took place on October 22, 1978, with cardinals, dignitaries and guests in attendance.
Pope John Paul II was a very active leader of the Catholic Church. Unlike other Popes he traveled around the world to visit and meet with the people. His knowledge and fluency of many languages aided him in communicating with people from different countries.
Pope John Paul II died at his Vatican home in Rome, Italy, on Saturday, April 2, 2005.
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