John Paul, Pope, II 1920–2005

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John Paul, Pope, II 1920–2005

(Andrzej Jawien, Karol (Josef) Wojtyła, Karol (Jozef) Wojtyła)

OBITUARY NOTICE—See index for CA sketch: Born May 18, 1920, in Wadowice, Poland; died of heart and kidney failure April 2, 2005, in Vatican City. Religious leader and author. One of the longest-serving popes in history, Pope John Paul II was the leader of the Roman Catholic Church from 1978 to 2005. Born Karol Wojtyła, the future pope's early aspirations actually involved the theater and writing. He began acting for the stage at age sixteen, and also wrote and produced plays. But his early years were difficult ones, marked by the early death of his mother and brother, as well as the hardships of World War II. These events would help lead the young Wojtyła in unexpected directions. He enrolled at Jagiellonian University in Krakow to study literature and language, but after only a year of study the city was overrun by the Nazis in 1939. Wojtyła was sent to work in a quarry, and two years later was struck by tragedy again when his father died. These experiences, and a friendship with a religious tailor named Jan Tyranoswki, convinced Wojtyła to study for the priesthood. Since the Germans had forbidden such activities, he had to find an underground seminary to pursue his goal. Here he studied religion and philosophy until the Soviets liberated Krakow in 1945. But this would mark only a shift from one oppressive regime to another, as Poland became a Communist state under the control of the USSR. Ordained in 1946, Wojtyła traveled to Italy to study for his doctorate at Rome's Angelicum University, but though he completed his courses and exams, he failed to receive his doctorate because he lacked the money to print his thesis. Back in Krakow in 1948, he became a parish priest and defied the authorities' ban on Catholic Church activities by organizing retreats and lecturing in secret; he also took the risk of circulating an anti-communist catechism, and wrote religiousthemed plays, including Our God's Brother and The Jeweler's Shop. Wojtyła earned a doctorate from Jagiellonian University in 1954, and was subsequently a professor of moral philosophy at the Catholic University in Lublin, Poland, from 1954 to 1958. He was promoted to auxiliary bishop of Krakow in 1958 and in this capacity lobbied Rome to increase its human rights advocacy. Two years' service as vicar capitular of the archdiocese of Krakow led to his appointment as archbishop of Krakow in 1964, the youngest person to hold such a high office in Poland at the time. As archbishop, Wojtyła continued his activist stand against the communist government in Poland, opening many new parishes and maintaining an independent church press. The next step for Wojtyła came in 1967, when he was elected a cardinal. This gave him more freedom to travel abroad, and he visited countries from North America to Australia. A conservative theologian who possessed considerable energy, he gained the confidence of Pope Paul VI. When Paul VI died in 1978, and, startlingly, his successor Pope John Paul I died only a month after his selection to the office, Cardinal Wojtyła was elected pope. Naming himself Pope John Paul II, he became the first non-Italian pope in 455 years. At fifty-eight, John Paul II was considered young for the office, and he proved himself a highly active and energetic religious leader. He traveled widely throughout his papacy, helping to build bridges between countries and different political and religious factions. His stalwart decision to keep the Catholic Church from being controlled by the Soviet Union is credited by some with helping to bring an end to the Communist Bloc and the cold war in the 1980s; furthermore, his willingness to speak with other religious leaders marked him as a bridge builder between Christians, Jews, and Muslims. Indeed, the pope became the first person of his office to visit a mosque and a synagogue. Despite this willingness to reach out to others with an open mind, the pope upheld Catholic dogma, including a non-negotiable opposition to abortion, birth control, and homosexuality. He would also not allow women to become priests, nor would he permit priests to marry. By the end of his life, John Paul II had firmly consolidated the Church's stand on traditional values, while simultaneously embracing a forward-thinking, politically active relationship with the rest of the world. The pope's final months were plagued by cardio-pulmonary and kidney ailments, as well as the effects of Parkinson's disease. After his death, his successor, Pope Benedict XVI, moved to eliminate the waiting period required to declare John Paul II a saint. The pope left behind a legacy in writing, as well, publishing dozens of books, including such recent works as Draw Near to God (1987) and Get Up. Let Us Go! (2004).



Los Angeles Times, April 3, 2005, p. A35.

New York Times, April 3, 2005, p. A1.

Times (London, England), April 4, 2005, p. 50.