Blessed John Paul II
By Amanda Pereira
On May 18, 1920, Karol Josef Wojtyla was born in Wodowice, Poland, to Karol, a Polish Army Lieutenant, and Emilia, a schoolteacher. He had a brother and a sister but unfortunately Karol never came to know his sister for she died before he was born. Young Karol underwent great grief early on. At the age of nine, he lost his mother to heart and kidney problems. At the age of twelve he lost his brother to scarlet fever. After his mother and brother’s death Karol lived with his father in a one-room apartment behind the parish.
Karol learned what it meant to be a real man from his father. His father did everything he could to make sure his son had everything he needed for his childhood. His father sewed his clothing, made sure his studies were completed, and taught Karol what it meant to work hard and be self-disciplined. Karol had always accredited his father for his deep roots in Catholicism early on.
In 1940 when Poland was under the Nazi regime, Karol took a job as a stonecutter at a quarry in Zakrozowek, near Krakow. While working here he met a man named Jan Tryanowski. Jan Tryanowski had a great influence over Karol during this dark time in Poland. Jan Tryanowski was considered to be a man of deep prayer. He studied the writings of St. John of the Cross and the spirituality of St. Theresa of Avila. He also formed a Living Rosary group. At first, Karol was unimpressed with Jan Tryanowski, but God had a bigger plan for Karol. Tryanowski became the mentor to Karol, and the future pope has always written of the major influence that Tryanowski had on his future vocation to the priesthood. Two years later, the call was answered and Karol entered the secret underground seminary of Krakow, which was ran by Cardinal Adam Stefan Sapieha, who was the Archbishop of Krakow at the time. Once World War II was over, he entered the re-opened seminary in Krakow and entered Jagiellonian University to study Theology. On November 1, 1946, Karol was ordained to the priesthood by Archbishop Sapieha.
As a priest Fr. Wojtyla spent the first years of his priesthood studying theology gaining a master’s degree in theology as well as his STL license, which allowed him to teach in the European system. In 1951, he was then sent on a sabbatical so that he could gain the necessary papers to teach at the University level. It was during this time that he began to have a deep appreciation of philosophical ethics as well as Catholic moral theology. He spent the next twenty years teaching ethics and moral theology.
In 1958, Fr. Wojtyla was called to another assignment and received his first Episcopal assignment as the auxiliary Bishop to assist the Archbishop Baziak of Krakow. It was as a bishop that he would write first major book. In 1960, “Love and Responsibility” was first published in Poland. He wrote this book because he recognized the need to describe the norms of Catholic sexual morality in a strong manner. He began to paint the picture that a human person born in the image of God was called to love. This would later be more developed in his Wednesday audiences as pope, which is now known as the “Theology of the Body.” He based this off of his experiences he had while teaching young Catholics.
Following the publication of the book, in 1962, Bishop Wojtyla joined all Bishops from around the world at the Second Vatican Council in Rome. He contributed significantly to what transpired during the council. At the same time, the Archbishop of Krakow died. Bishop Wojtyla was named the bishop of Krakow. Because of the oppression Poland was under due to atheistic communism, this would formally happen on March 8, 1964. Three years later, Pope Paul VI would name him to be the Cardinal of Krakow.
In 1978, Pope Paul VI died on the Feast of the Transfiguration, forced all the Cardinals to come to Rome to participate in a Conclave to elect the next Pope. Pope John Paul I was elected and all Cardinals returned home. Unfortunately, 33 days later, Pope John Paul I passed away. The Cardinals returned to Rome to once again elect a new Pope. After eight ballots on the second day of voting, Cardinal Wojtyla was elected the 263rd successor taking the name Pope John Paul II.
Pope John Paul II, for many of us, was the only pope we had ever known and through his life as pope, taught us so much about what it means to live the Christian life of hardship and suffering. When he became pope he announced at the top of his lungs, “Do not be afraid.” And he was not. He was not afraid to rejoice in human dignity, to allow his heart to be motivated and to show others compassion. Pope John Paul II lived a life of hardship, suffering, and persecution to show to us what Christ really meant when He told us to take up our crosses and follow Him.
And Pope John Paul II did just that. As a man, he tolerated so much but it was his faith that prevented him from turning away from God and becoming angry at the world. Rather, he saw dignity in even the lowliest of people and never hesitated to swoop down and reach out his hand to them. He taught us the most fundamental lesson that as humans we all have value and purpose. Even those whom society tends to cast aside can teach us the most about the truth of human dignity.