On October 16, 1978, Karol Cardinal Wojtyla, Archbishop of Krakow, Poland as elected the 264'h Pope of the Universal Catholic Church. Cardinal Wojtyla became the first non-Italian Pope in over 400 years and the first Pope of Polish descent.
Karol Wojtyla was born in Wadowice, Poland, on May 18, 1920. In 1938 Wojtyla entered Jagiellonian University to study literature and theater. After the Nazi invasion of Poland in September, 1939, and the subsequent closing of Jagiellonian University, Wojtyla and other students participated in an underground university. At night, Wojtyla attended secret classes and performed in theatrical plays, and during the day worked as a laborer in a limestone quarry. After his father's death, he decided to enter the seminary, a decision which placed his life in jeopardy and required protective custody at the Archbishop of Krakow's Palace. On November 1, 1946, Wojtyla was ordained a priest by Cardinal Sapieha.
Shortly thereafter, Wojtyla was sent to Rome where he earned a doctorate in theology and, upon returning to Poland in 1948, was assigned as a parish priest. Wojtyla found a very different Poland - a country under communist rule. The young priest continued his academic and theatrical pursuits by writing books, essays, articles, poems and plays and lecturing 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. In December, 1963, he was named Archbishop of Krakow. On May 29, 1967, he was appointed Cardinal. 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, the College of Cardinals elected Karol Wojtyla as his successor on October the 16'h, the Feast of St. Hedwig. As was customary, the new Pope greeted the crowd who gathered in St. Peter's Square. The people, anxious to hear a non-Italian Pope address them, were surprised when he spoke to them in Italian. His Inaugural Mass took place on October 22, 1978.
Pope John Paul II has traveled extensively, using his fluency in many languages to communicate with people around the world. His message of peace and justice, and his outspoken opposition to oppression of all types has played a major role in bringing about the fall of communism in Eastern Europe. His untiring efforts on behalf of mankind and his international spiritual leadership mark him as one of the most prominent figures of the 20th century.