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.
Church interior with a view of the main altar
The baptistry where he was baptized
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.
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 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.
Main altar - a mass in English was said for us.
A portrait of the beloved pope hangs on the corridor's wall.
Walking through the corridor...
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 tablet shows that
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...
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.