Karol Josef Wojtyla was born on May 18, 1920, in Wadowice, Poland. The youngest child of a schoolteacher and a retired army officer, he was an active young man, an athlete and an outdoorsman whose passions were poetry, philosophy and the theater.
Man of the Century
Much of his advanced education was obtained underground after the Nazi invasion of Poland in 1939. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1946, consecrated bishop in 1958 and was appointed the Archbishop of Krakow, Poland in 1964.
He was elevated to the College of Cardinals in 1967 at the age of forty-seven, the youngest cardinal in the College of Cardinals at that time. And when Cardinal Wojtyla was elected the 264th successor of St. Peter in 1978 he became the youngest pope since Pope Pius IX a hundred years before. He also was the first Polish pope and the first non-Italian pontiff since Adrian IV in the sixteenth century.
Pope John Paul II circled the globe during his 26 year pontificate, logging over a million miles while visiting over 200 countries in every continent except Antarctica. He opened dialogues with Protestant denominations, visited Auschwitz, a Jewish synagogue and a Muslim mosque. He made pilgrimages to orthodox countries where no pope had ever set foot before.
His legacy to the Church includes more than a dozen encyclicals as well as a score of apostolic letters, constitutions and exhortations. He beatified and canonized more than one thousand men and women from all walks of life and greeted hundreds of millions of the faithful through his travels and papal audiences.
He was tireless in his work for the poor and powerless, spoke out against war and economic injustice as well as political oppression and what he termed the industrialized world’s “Culture of Death.”
John Paul’s Greatest Homily
Pope John Paul II’s ultimate homily was his own life—a life characterized by a charismatic personality, heartfelt prayer, moral vision, global evangelism, tireless advocacy for human dignity and political and religions freedom, and an unshakable faith.
We wish to conclude this sketch of one of the greatest popes of all time with the Prayer for the Pope from the Order of Christian Funerals:
Oh, God, from whom the just receive and unfailing reward, grant that our servant John Paul, our Pope, whom you made vicar of Peter and shepherd of your Church, may rejoice for ever in the vision of your glory, for he was a faithful steward here on earth of the mysteries of your forgiveness and grace. We ask this through Christ Our Lord. Amen.