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Karol Wojtyla's Biography

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Karol Wojtyla was born on 18 May 1920 in Wadowice, Poland. He died on 2 April 2005.

When he was elected Pope on 16 October 1978, Karol Wojtyla, took the name Pope John Paul II and became the first Polish pontiff ever and the first non-Italian Pope since the sixteenth Century.

John Paul II took over from the short-lived Albino Luciani, Pope John Paul I, and was followed by his right-hand man, Joseph Ratzinger, who took the name Pope Benedict XVI.

He was the second of two sons born to Karol Wojtyla and Emilia Kaczorowska. The future Pope's mother and brother died when he was a young boy. His mother died in 1929 and his older brother Edmund, a doctor, died in 1932.

Karol Wojtyla became close to his father, a retired army lieutenant until he too died in 1941.

After graduating from Marcin Wadowita high school in Wadowice, in 1938 Karol Wojtyla and his father moved to Krakow and Karol studied Polish language and literature at the Jagiellonian University as well as attending a drama school.

When the Nazis occupied Poland in September 1939 they closed down the University, but Wojtyla and others continued their studies in hiding.

The future Pope John Paul II worked as a labourer in a quarry from 1940 to 1944, and in a chemical factory.

In 1942 Wojtyla started studying theology in secret. The future Pope attended courses in the underground seminary of Cracow, run by Cardinal Adam Stefan Sapieha, archbishop of Cracow. Karol Wojtyla was also involved in the clandestine "Rhapsodic Theatre" during the war.

After the Russian liberation of Poland in early 1945, Wojtyla returned to study openly at University and after graduating with distinction, he was ordained a priest on 1 November 1946.

Wojtyla rose through the ranks of Catholic clergy to become Archbishop of Krakow on 30 December 1963. He became a cardinal on 26 June 1967.

The inauguration of his ministry as Pope John Paul II took place on 21 October 1978. He was elected, reportedly, after the eighth ballot.

In stark contrast to his predecessor, Pope John Paul, who died after only 33 days in office, Pope John Paul II, in spite of various medical problems, was one of longest reigning Popes in history. Only two other popes - three including St Peter - have reigned longer than Wojtyla.

Because of Pope John Paul II's longevity, John Paul himself had appointed 115 of the 118 cardinals that voted to elect his successor, Joseph Ratzinger, who took the name Pope Benedict XVI.

In fact, Pope John Paul II actually outlived many of the cardinals he created. In total he had created 231 (+ 1 in pectore) cardinals.

More significant is the extraordinary number of saints that Pope John Paul II created. The Vatican estimate that 285 saints had been proclaimed by all of John Paul II's 263 predecessors combined, whereas he, by himself, since becoming Pope proclaimed 482 saints and set in motion another 1,338 people by beatifying them.

Pope John Paul II was the subject of a failed assassination attempt when on 13 May 1981 he was shot and seriously wounded by a Mehmet al-Agca, a Turkish fanatic, in St Peter's Square.

The Pope said of his attacker:

"In the context of Christmas and the Holy Year of Redemption, I was able to meet with the person that you all know by name, Ali Agca, who in the year 1981 on 13 May made an attempt on my life.

"But Providence took things in its own hands, in what I would call an extraordinary way, so that today I was able to meet my assailant and repeat to him the pardon I gave him immediately."

He is famous for having travelled widely, visiting over 100 countries, and trying to be close to the people. On the other hand he has pursued a 'conservative' agenda in his speeches about divorce, abortion, and homosexual unions. Many eminent theologians have had their license to teach withdrawn, after publishing 'unacceptable views' on subjects like papal infallibility and contraception.

Under Pope John Paul II's leadership the Catholic Church has taken a more active role in world affairs. In 1990 he established diplomatic relations for the first time with the Soviet Union, and in 1993 he recognized the State of Israel.

An interesting quote from Pope John Paul II is:

"Science can purify religion from error and superstition. Religion can purify science from idolatry and false absolutes." (1987)

In September 2005, the Vatican announced the last words of Pope John Paul II. According to the Vatican, the pope uttered in Polish to aides, "let me go to the house of the Father" at 15.30 on 2 April 2005.

On 1 May 2011, John Paul II was officially beatified at a ceremony at the Vatican.

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