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Pope John Paul II

Satisfactory Essays
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, called 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 long-overdue diplomatic recognition to Israel.

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Pictorial Biography

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, went 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

FACTOID

John Paul II is possibly the most athletic Pope in history. In his youth, he played soccer as a goal-keeper, took daring swims in the flooded Skawa River, and enjoyed skiing, hiking, mountain climbing and kayaking

As a schoolboy, Wojtyla was both an excellent student and an athlete who skied, hiked, kayaked and swam in the Skawa 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.
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