John Paul II, Pope (1920–2005)

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John Paul II, Pope (1920–2005)

Karol Józef Wojtyla was born in Wadowice, Poland, and studied in Rome after World War II. His nationality, theater and philosophy education, and World War II and cold war experiences influenced his religious career. Ordained archbishop of Kraków in 1964 (auxiliary bishop 1958–1964), he rose in prominence by challenging Poland's communist government and by participating in the Second Vatican Council (co-drafting the 1965 Gaudium et Spes) and the Synod of Bishops. Created a cardinal by Pope Paul VI (r. 1963–1978) in 1967, he was elected pope after the death of John Paul I, who served for only month, in 1978, becoming the first non-Italian pope since 1522.

John Paul II traveled to every inhabited continent, visiting twenty-four Latin American and Caribbean nations during seventeen trips. He first attended the Third General Conference of Latin American Bishops (CELAM) in Puebla, Mexico, in January 1979, affirming the Church's "option for the poor" but questioning theology based on non-Christian ideology. He served as mediator in several Latin American conflicts, averting war between Argentina and Chile in 1979, and encouraging resolution of the 1982 Falklands/Malvinas crisis. Although he supported the human rights work by bishops' conferences in these nations, he did not specifically admonish their regimes. Nor did he censure the Salvadoran government for its abuses, as Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero had requested before his assassination in 1980. During his 1983 trip to Central America, he prayed at Romero's tomb but broadcast his rebuke of Ernesto Cardenal, priest and minister of culture in Nicaragua's Sandinista government, to the world from the Managua airport runway.

Enforcing orthodoxy and discipline was central to John Paul II's papacy. He openly criticized activists such as Peruvian Gustavo Gutiérrez and Brazilian Leonardo Boff; disciplinary actions continued throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Latin American activism led him to exercise control over the Jesuits (refusing the resignation of, and then deposing, Superior-General Pedro Arrupe) in 1981, and over the Confederation of Latin American Religious in 1991. John Paul II's selections for Latin American bishops, archbishops, and cardinals were conservatives who upheld Roman teachings. He elevated Opus Dei to the status of personal prelature, granting it more influence and autonomy from local church control. As communism weakened and fell in Europe, he continued to criticize Marxism, as during his 1998 visit to Cuba. In Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic (1992) and Mérida, Mexico (1993), he assured indigenous and mixed-race crowds that the Church had come to Latin America for them; yet concurrently the Church targeted pro-indigenous activist Bishop Samuel Ruiz García.

John Paul II also criticized capitalism's "culture of death," including in his last address specific to the region, Ecclesia in America (1999). Integrating into this concept opposition to artificial birth control and abortion, he pressed governments and their delegations to international meetings to do the same, thereby antagonizing feminists and progressives. During his papacy, the number of women in religious orders in Latin America and worldwide declined but still outnumbered vowed religious men, and laywomen in nonordained leadership increased; yet in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis (1994), John Paul II excluded women from ordination. Nevertheless, John Paul II was esteemed in the region as a spiritual leader, attracting many with his use of communications media, mass events such as World Youth Day, and his beatifications and canonizations of many Latin Americans.

See alsoBoff, Leonardo; Cardenal, Ernesto; Catholic Church: The Modern Period; Conference of Latin American Bishops (CELAM); Gutiérrez, Gustavo; Romero, Oscar Arnulfo.


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                                      Kristina A. Boylan

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John Paul II, Pope (1920–2005)

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