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Pope John Paul II

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Pope John Paul II

The early years: an unhappy childhood

Before he became the Bishop of Rome, Vicar of Christ, Successor of St. Peter, Prince of Apostles, Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church, Patriarch of the West, Primate of Italy, Sovereign of Vatican City and the only pope featured in a comic book — Marvel doing the honor in 1983 — Pope John Paul II was Karol Jozef Wojtyla.

Friends in Wadowice, a town of 8,000 Catholics and 2,000 Jews 35 miles southwest of Krakow, ccalled Wojtyla „Lolek.“ Lolek was born in 1920, the second son of Karol Wojtyla (voy TIH wah) Sr., a retired army officer and tailor, and Emilia Kaczorowska Wojtyla, a schoolteacher of Lithuanian descent.

The Wojtylas were strict Catholics, but did not share the anti-Semitic views of many Poles. One of Lolek’s playmates was Jerzy Kluger, a Jew who many years later would play a key role as a go-between for John Paul II and Israeli officials when the Vatican extended llong-overdue diplomatic recognition to Israel.

Kluger told The New York Times that he spent many afternoons sitting in the kitchen next to the Wojtylas’ coal stove listening to Lolek’s father tell stories about Greece, Rome and Poland.

Lolek, in turn, wwent to the Klugers’ 10-room apartment overlooking the town square and listened to music performed by a string quartet composed of two Jews and two Catholics.

„The people in the Vatican do not know Jews, and previous popes did not know Jews,“ Kluger told the Times. „But this pope is a friend of the Jewish people because he knows Jewish people.“

Indeed, Wojtyla became the first pope to visit a synagogue and the first to visit the memorial at Auschwitz to victims of the Holocaust. In ending the Catholic-Jewish estrangement, he called Jews „our elder brothers.“

Not a happy childhood

As a schoolboy, Wojtyla was both an excellent student and an athlete who skied, hiked, kayaked and swam in the SSkawa River. But death hovered over the family, making itself felt first when an infant sister died before Lolek was born.

It struck again in 1929 when his mother died of heart and kidney problems, just a month before Lolek’s 9th birthday. And when he was 12, Lolek’s 26-year-old brother Edmund, a physician in the town of Bielsko, died of scarlet fever.

Lolek, himself, had two near-misses with mortality in his youth. He was hit once by a streetcar and aagain by a truck in 1944 while a college student. The injuries left the otherwise robust pope — 5-foot-10 1/2 inches, 175 pounds in his prime — with a slight stoop to his shoulders that is particularly noticeable when he is tired.

„The pope’s youth wasn’t happy,“ Father Joseph Vandrisse, a former French missionary and now a journalist, told TIME magazine. „He has meditated a lot on the meaning of suffering.“

Even as an adult he has been beset by physical difficulties, including a dislocated shoulder, a broken thigh that led to femur-replacement surgery, the removal of a precancerous tumor from his colon and an attempt on his life by a gunman whose two bullets wounded the pope in the abdomen, right arm and left hand.

Lolek and his father lived in a Spartan, one-room apartment behind the church, and the father devoted himself to raising his son. He sewed Lolek’s clothes and had the boy study in a chilly room to toughen him and develop his concentration.

„He tried to develop the same discipline in his son that he instilled in his soldiers,“ one of Lolek’s childhood friends told People magazine.

But the father didn’t forget about play. A ffriend remembers entering the Wojtylas’ apartment and finding father and son playing soccer with a ball made of rags.

Poetry, religion and theater

Wojtyla’s passions in those early years were poetry, religion and the theater. After graduating from secondary school in 1938, he and his father moved to Krakow where he enrolled at Jagiellonian University to study literature and philosophy.

He also joined an experimental theater group and participated in poetry readings and literary discussion groups. Friends say he was an intense and gifted actor, and a fine singer.

After the Germans invaded Poland, he escaped deportation and imprisonment in late 1940 by taking a job as a stone cutter in a quarry.

A few months later, in February of 1941, Wojtyla’s 61-year-old father died, leaving his dream of seeing his son commit to the priesthood unfulfilled. The pope has said that his father once told him, „I will not live long and would like to be certain before I die that you will commit yourself to God’s service.“

It was another 18 months, however, before Wojtyla began studying at an underground seminary in Krakow and registered for theology courses at the university.

He continued his studies, acted and worked iin a chemical plant until August of 1944. But when the Germans began rounding up Polish men, Wojtyla took refuge in the archbishop of Krakow’s residence, and remained there until the end of the war.

He was ordained in 1946 in Krakow, and spent much of the next few years studying — he earned two masters degrees and a doctorate — before taking up priestly duties as an assistant pastor in Krakow in 1949.

The priesthood years: rebel with a cause

(CNN) — In the early years of his priesthood, Wojtyla served as a chaplain to university students at St. Florian’s Church in Krakow. The church was conveniently located next to Jagiellonian University, where he was working on a second doctorate in philosophy.

When the university’s theology department was abolished in 1954, presumably under pressure from the communist government, the entire faculty reconstituted itself at the Seminary of Krakow and Wojtyla continued his studies there.

He was also hired that same year by the Catholic University of Lublin — the only Catholic university in the communist world — as a non-tenured professor. The arrangement turned Wojtyla into a commuter, shuttling between Lublin and Krakow on the overnight train to teach and

counsel in one city and study in the other.

He also founded and ran a service that dealt with marital problems, from family planning and illegitimacy to alcoholism and physical abuse. Time magazine called it „perhaps the most successful marriage institute in Christianity.“

In 1956, Wojtyla was appointed to the Chair of Ethics at Catholic University and his ascent through the church hierarchy got a boost in 1958 when he was named the auxiliary bishop of Krakow.

When the Vatican CCouncil II began the deliberations in 1962 that would revolutionize the church, Wojtyla was one of its intellectual leaders and took special interest in religious freedom. The same year, he was named the acting archbishop of Krakow when the incumbent died.

A genial and charming companion

Wojtyla is, by all accounts, a genial and charming companion, a good listener and not above what Time calls „good-natured kidding.“

„He’s a very brilliant man, and very intelligent and very holy,“ says Margaret SSteinfels, editor of Commonweal magazine in New York. „I haven’t met him, yet I’m told that he is extremely amiable and affable, and wonderful to talk and dine with.“

He also was shrewd enough not to let his distaste for ccommunism show. His appointment as cardinal in 1967 by Pope Paul VI was welcomed by the government. Wojtyla was considered „tough but flexible“ and a moderate reformer, but an improvement on old-school hard-liners who were unalterably opposed to communism and communists.

Wojtyla bided his time, engaging in a strategy that honored Catholic beliefs and traditions while accommodating the communist government.

The Catholic church in Poland served as an important outlet for the expression of national feeling. In his book „John Paul II,“ George Blazynski writes that Wojtyla encouraged this expression in a form that did not „provoke a brutal reaction by forces within and perhaps without the country.“

But he also proved to be what Current Biography called „a resilient eenemy of Communism and champion of human rights, a powerful preacher and sophisticated intellectual able to defeat Marxists in their own line of dialogue.“

According to George Weigel, who has written extensively about the pope, Wojtyla demanded permits to build churches, defended youth groups and ordained priests to work underground in Czechoslovakia.

Wojtyla was once asked if he feared retribution from government officials.

„I’m not afraid of them,“ he replied. „They are afraid of me.“

Learned and scholarly

In spite oof all his activities, Wojtyla didn’t slight his scholarly duties.

He wrote a treatise in 1960 called „Love and Responsibility“ that laid out the foundation for what Weigel calls „a modern Catholic sexual ethic.“

His second doctoral thesis — „Evaluation of the possibility of Constructing a Christian Ethic based on the System of Max Scheler“ — was published that same year.

In 1969, the Polish Theological Society published Wojtyla’s „The Acting Person,“ a dense philosophical tract on phenomenology that Wojtyla discussed during a U.S. visit in 1978.

„All sorts of people turned up,“ recalls Jude Dougherty, chairman of the philosophy department at Catholic University in Washington, D.C. where the talk was held. „It was extremely well-received by people who were familiar with the subject. And those who weren’t were awed to hear a cardinal who was very learned and very scholarly.“

Weigel wrote that in 1976, when Wojtyla was invited to lead spiritual exercises before Pope Paul VI at a Lenten retreat, his first three references were to the Bible, St. Augustine and German philosopher Martin Heidegger.

In 1977, Wojtyla gave a talk at a university in Milan called „The Problem of Creating Culture through Human Praxis.“

An emotional man <

Although he had established himself as a formidable intellectual presence — as well as an able administrator and fund-raiser — few suspected that the Sacred College of Cardinals would choose Wojtyla as the next pope after the death of John Paul I in September of 1978.

But when the cardinals were unable to agree on a candidate after seven rounds of balloting, Wojtyla was chosen on the eighth round late in the afternoon of October 16.

He reportedly formally accepted his election before the cardinals with tears in his eyes. (Associates say the pope is an emotional man, and is often moved to tears by children.)

Wojtyla chose the same name as his predecessor — whose reign lasted just 34 days before he died of a heart attack — and added another Roman numeral in becoming the first Slavic pope. He was also the first non-Italian pope in 455 years (the last was Adrian VI in 1523) and, at 58, the youngest pope in 132 years.

„I was afraid to receive this nomination,“ he told the crowd from a balcony overlooking St. Peter’s Square, „but I did it in the spirit of obedience to Our Lord and in the total cconfidence in His mother, the most holy Madonna.“

Weigel says that when Wojtyla’s election was announced, Yuri Andropov, leader of the Soviet Union’s KGB intelligence agency, warned the Politburo that there could be trouble ahead. He was right.

The papal years: charisma and restoration

(CNN) — Less than eight months after his 1978 inauguration, Karol Wojtyla returned to Poland as Pope John Paul II for nine cathartic days.

Huge, adoring crowds met him wherever he went and were an acute source of embarrassment to the communist government. Officially, the country was atheistic; it was also suffering from food shortages. The pope added to the authorities’ discomfort by reminding his fellow Poles of their human rights.

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