Saturday, 30 April 2011

Karol Józef Wojtyla - The Man Who Became Pope John Paul II

I, for one, have great respect and love for Pope John Paul II. In 2009, I went on a pilgrimage to Poland: Following in the Footsteps of John Paul II.  He was a special man, chosen by God for a special mission. 
Karol Józef Wojtyła was born in the small Polish town of Wadowice, about 50 kilometers from Krakow, on May 18, 1920. He lived with his parents in this apartment building, which is now a museum about his early childhood and family life, and a display of some of his memorabilia.
He was the youngest of three children - shown here in his baptismal garb - born to Karol Wojtyła and Emilia Kaczorowska.
His mother died in 1929. His eldest brother Edmund, who had become a doctor, died in 1932, and a sister, Olga, had died before he was even born. He lived with his father who was a non-commissioned army officer, who died in 1941. 
They lived in a three-bedroom apartment.
This was his crib.
On June 20, 1920, he was baptized in the parish church of Wadowice by Fr. Franciszek Zak. He made his First Holy Communion at age 9 and received the sacrament of confirmation when he was 18.
Notice the pope's picture above the entry doors? He is honored just about any where you go in Poland.
 Church interior with a view of the main altar
 The baptistry where he was baptized
 A side altar in honor of Our Mother of Perpetual Help - Karol had a deep devotion to the Blessed Mother. He, when he was Pope, had stated that it was Our Lady of Fatima who had protected him from his ordeal after his attacker, Ahmed Agca, shot him several times as he entered St. Peter's Square to address an audience on May 13, 1981.
Rosaries are left on the wall by people whose prayers have been answered.
A sculpture of Pope John Paul II just outside the church

He attended Marcin Wadowita high school in Wadowice, and thereafter,...
Entrance to the university 

...he studied at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, in 1938, and majored in drama. Unfortunately, the Nazi occupation forces closed the university in 1939 and Karol found work in a quarry (1940-1944) and then in the Solvay chemical factory - this was to avoid being deported to Germany.
This is 10 Tyniecki Street where Karol lived from 1938 until the end of WW II

In 1942, he heard his calling to the priesthood. He began courses in the seminary of Krakow which had gone underground, run by Cardinal Adam Stefan Sapieha - archbishop of Krakow. At the same time, he - along with some friends, started "Rhapsodic Theatre," also with  clandestine operations.
Courtyard of Jagiellonian University

After World War II ended, he continued his seminary courses at the the reopened  seminary of Krakow,  and joined the faculty of theology at Jagiellonian University. He was ordained to the priesthood by Archbishop Sapieha in Krakow on November 1, 1946.

In the aftermath of the second world war, Poland remained under occupation. The Russians successfully pushed out the Nazis and they took and occupied Poland. Poland remained under the communist regime from 1945-1989. Heavy on the hearts of the Polish was to be dominated once again. There were some improvements in the country, but the economic downturn and social unrest continued from time to time. In the meantime, Karol continued to rise in his career as a priest. He was also active in the underground movement.

Soon after, Cardinal Sapieha sent him to Rome to study and work under the guidance of the French Dominican, Garrigou-Lagrange. He finished his doctorate in theology in 1948 with a thesis about "faith in the works of St. John of the Cross" (Doctrina de fide apud Sanctum Ioannem a Cruce). At that time, during his vacations, he ministered to the Polish immigrants of France, Belgium and Holland.

This was his official residence from 1951 to 1963, which has now been turned into a museum of the archdiocese of Krakow.

He returned to Poland and was made vicar of various parishes in Krakow, as well as chaplain to university students from 1948-1951. He loved teaching and being with the youth. Then, he again took up his studies in philosophy and theology. In 1953, he defended his thesis on "evaluation of the possibility of founding a Catholic ethic on the ethical system of Max Scheler" at Lublin Catholic University. After, he became professor of moral theology and social ethics in the major seminary of Krakow and in the Faculty of Theology at Lublin.

The Church of Poland was under tight scrutiny by the communist Polish government. There was a bizarre coexistence between Stefan Cardinal Wyszynski- the Primate of Poland who, successfully, managed to extract some form of religious freedom for his Catholic faithfuls - and Wladyslaw Gomulka's government. He led the Polish on hewn terms, defying the Vatican's guidelines , in dealing with the communist regime in Poland, and in the process prevented more bloodshed. He was much loved and revered by his people.

In the nomination for a Polish bishop, Gomulka turned in the name of Karol Wojtyla. The cardinal had not even included his name. The government did not see Karol as a threat for he was seen as a dreamer, a philosopher - a man who preached about prayer and love, lacking in organizational skills - for, after all, he majored in drama.And so it was,

On July 4, 1958, Karol Wojtyla was appointed titular bishop of Ombi and auxiliary of Krakow by Pope Pius XII, and was consecrated September 28, 1958, in Wawel Cathedral, Krakow, by Archbishop Eugeniusz Baziak.

Once he became a bishop, he actively participated at the Vatican Council II (1962-1965) where he made an important contribution to drafting the Constitution Gaudium et spes (the joy and the hope), and in all the assemblies of the Synod of Bishops.

On January 13, 1964, he was appointed Archbishop of Krakow by Pope Paul VI, then made a cardinal in June 26, 1967. 

He moved to 3 Franciszkanska Street after he was appointed Archbishop of Krakow, 1964 - 1978.
Across from the Archbishop's Palace is the Franciscan Basilica, where Cardinal Wajtyla heard mass everyday. We met the parish priest and he was kind enough to give us a tour.
In one of the pews towards the back of the church, this inscription indicates that this was the spot the Cardinal regularly knelt down and stayed in during his prayer time.
 Wyspianski, a famous Polish artist, designed these stained glass windows between 1897 and1902. They were made in Innsbruck of the Tyrol region between 1899 to 1907
 On this stain-glass window is St. Stanislaus - patron saint of Poland, who was put to death by  the king in 1079.
On the left, the stain glass has the image St. Faustyna - a Polish nun chosen by our Lord to spread the message of his Divine Mercy - canonized by Pope John Paul II. In 1885 Wyspianski also designed and partly created the polychrome surfaces in the Gothic part of the church, of natural images of Poland, particularly its flowers. There is also a charming image of Our Lady with Child, in the folk attire of Krakow.
 Here is a sampling of the wood-carved panels and the polychrome painting of flowers.
 Main altar - a mass in English was said for us.
 After mass, Fr. Peter gave us a private tour into some parts of the church complex which were usually off limits to the publicA portrait of the beloved pope hangs on the corridor's wall.
 Original frescoes - some examples of medieval art.
 This room was formerly the kitchen, which was used as the “kitchen” in Spielberg's film: "Schindler's List".
 Walking through the corridor...
into the courtyard garden where the Archbishop spent time, sitting or walking, and meditating. 
 A side altar of the “Suffering Mother of God” -  the Archbishop was a frequent visitor here.
Remnants of a fresco of the crucifixion with the good and bad thieves
  Archbishop Wojtyla would come to dine here, often.

Even when his priestly office called him away from Poland, he always remained their Bishop in his heart. He supported the workers in Gdanks shipyard in Nowa Huta, in their efforts to have religious freedom, in the seventies. Nowa Huta was designed to be a Godless city. He personally came intending to say the first mass, to bless the extra-large metal cross fashioned by the workers, but a confrontation ensued. A spy had informed the government of the movements of Wojtyla and the local people. The Polish communist troops showed up and came head to head with the mob,  with the Bishop caught in the middle. He intervened and talked the Polish communist troops to withdraw from attacking the people, saying that they were only gathered together to pray - to erect the cross and celebrate mass. 

Daring in the presence of the communist troops and officials, this was the first - and many more instances followed - where he spoke to the population.  He began with  "...the cross as the symbol of the sacrifice that redeemed men that gives a new sense to life - that teaches us to love and respect life...We are the citizens of our country but we are also the people of God. We will continue to demand our rights. Religious freedom is the highest expression of human dignity..." These became occasions when the Polish, who cooperated and worked for the communist regime, began to see the light. He visibly showered full support on Lech Walesa, from Rome.
Santuarium Matki Boze - this church now stands on the spot where that cross was erected in the Gdanks shipyard in Nowa Huta as a testament to the people's faith and trust in God to persevere in their fight for their beliefs and freedom.  The several crosses they put up to symbolize this were repeatedly torn down. 

After the death of Pope Paul VI, Karol Cardinal Wojtyla  was elected Pope by the College of Cardinals,  on October 16, 1978. He chose to take the name of John Paul II. On October 22,  he was solemnly inaugurated as the 263rd successor of Peter, the apostle.  His pontificate lasted for nearly 27 years, one of the longest in the history of the church.

As Pope, he returned to Poland on several occasions without an invitation from the communist government nor approval for his visits. He came back as a citizen from time to time.
This leads to a very big field/park where the masses celebrated by Pope John Paul II were held. There was no church nor cathedral big enough to hold the crowd capacity that usually came to attend his masses, and to hear him speak.
This big stone - symbolizing the field masses held here with the Pope as celebrant. The inscription means "you are the scale." The Polish people were sustained by the love they received from their Bishop of Poland. 

This tablet shows that the Pope had come here six times to show his support for his struggling country and to support her people and nourish their spiritual needs. The Pope was considered as the enemy by the communists. In the eyes of many, it was his 1979 trip to Poland that began the peaceful movement in Poland, Solidarity,  that led to the demise of communism. Gorbachev was quoted as saying " It would have been impossible without the Pope."

As the pastoral leader, John Paul II was tireless, with a missionary spirit, dedicating all his energy to the papacy in serving the church. Of all the popes, he made the most  visits - "104 pastoral visits outside of Italy, and 146 within Italy." As bishop of Rome he "visited 317 of the city's 333 parishes." He not only met with the People of God, but with   the leaders of Nations, too. Added all together, he met millions of pilgrims - in the General Audiences held on Wednesdays, in special audiences and religious ceremonies, during the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, and those he met during pastoral visits in Italy and all over the world. In his international trips - official visits, "he met with heads of states - 738 audiences and meetings with heads of states and 246 with prime ministers."

Under his leadership, the Church pursued new directions. He established the World Youth Days, bringing together millions of young people from all over the world, now annually held in different parts of the world, to dialogue with the youth. His love and care for family led him to initiate World Meetings of Families in 1994, to convene every three years.

John Paul II, with a forte in communication, successfully re-opened dialogue with the Jews and  the representatives of other religions, whom he invited to join him in prayer meetings for peace, especially in Assisi.

With the much anticipated welcoming of the new millennium, under his watch, the Church prepared for the celebration of the Great Jubilee of the year 2000, "in accordance with the instructions given in the Apostolic Letter Tertio Millennio Adveniente and gave the guidance to the future path of the faithful, based on the teachings of  the Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte."

He promoted "spiritual renewal in the Church during the Year of the Redemption, the Marian Year and the Year of the Eucharist."

He gave an extraordinary attention to Canonizations and Beatifications, to focus on the exemplary lives of many - countless examples of holiness - as role models for the followers and other people of our time, with "147 beatification ceremonies - when he proclaimed 1,338 Blesseds; canonized 51 saints for a total of 482 saints." He lifted  Thérèse of the Child Jesus to the status of Doctor of the Church.

He was actively in search to improve and update many areas of the Church and her hierarchy - by "expanding the College of Cardinals, creating 231 Cardinals (plus one in pectore) in 9 consistories;" and  he also called the College of Cardinals to six full meetings. He convened "15 Assemblies of the Synod of Bishops - six Ordinary General Assemblies (1980, 1983, 1987, 1990, 1994 and 2001), one Extraordinary General Assembly (1985) and eight Special Assemblies (1980,1991, 1994, 1995, 1997, 1998 (2) and 1999). His most important Documents include 14 Encyclicals, 15 Apostolic Exhortations, 11 Apostolic Constitutions, 45 Apostolic Letters."

He worked towards the "promulgation of  the Catechism of the Catholic Church in the light of Tradition, as authoritatively interpreted by the Second Vatican Council. He also reformed the Eastern and Western Codes of Canon Law, created new Institutions and reorganized the Roman Curia."

He published "five books of his own: Crossing the Threshold of Hope (October 1994), Gift and Mystery, on the Fiftieth Anniversary of my Ordination as Priest (November 1996), Roman Triptych, poetic meditations (March 2003), Arise, Let us Be Going (May 2004) and Memory and Identity (February 2005)."

The Pope took vacations, too, especially in wintertime. He used to go back to Poland with his whole staff...
to the Carpathian mountains - an alpine village - a favorite resort of Pope John Paul II, in the town of Zakopane, the capital of Tatras.
This retreat house served as his temporary residence, along with his Vatican staff.

It was during Holy Week when news spread that the Pope was on his death bed. Our beloved pastoral leader left on his final journey, on  April 2,  2005, at 9.37 p.m. 

Several movies have been made about the moving and inspiring story of his life, and here's one to watch - Karol: A Man Who Became Pope.

On the eve of his beatification, I look forward to celebrating with the multitude on the occasion of his "Blessed" step to sainthood.


  1. What a good compilation of actual events and history. Thank you for giving us a more intresting chronicle about our Beloved & Blessed Pope John Paul II. Learned a few more personal aspects of his life through the palate of your eyes & pen. JMVDD

  2. There is so much more to know about him. His final step to sainthood wil probably come very soon. There are many miracles attributed tho his intercession, not just one or two.

  3. Thanks Yogi! This is great! It's wonderful to know more about our beloved Pope John Paul. He's my favorite Pope of all!


  4. He is the Pope I could relate to. I feel so connected to the Church because of him.



Related Posts with Thumbnails