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John Paul II was know by many names: The Pope, 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, he was know to his parents as Karol Jozef Wojtyla. He was the second of two sons born to Karol Wojtyla and Emilia Kaczorowska. He was born on May 18, 1920 in Wadowice, a town small town of 8,000 other Catholics families. There was also a fairly high Jewish population in Wadowice which would later lead to John Pauls improving relations between Catholics and Jews
His father was a retired army officer and his mother was a teacher. A week before his 9th birthday his mother passed away just before giving birth to a third child due to heart and kidney problems. Three years later his older passed away at the age of 26 because of scarlet fever, a skin infection like strep throat that causes rashes that's rarely fatal.
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In 1938 a young John Paul II enrolled at Jafiellonian University to study literature and philosophy. He was an excellent student and seemed to gravitate towards poetry and theater in college. He was also very athletic, he hiked and regularly skied and played soccer regularly. Two years into his college career the Nazis invaded Poland, so in order to avoid being forced into going to war for the Third Reich he took a job at a stone quarry. While working as a stone cutter he still attended college. Things didn't get better for him though because a year later his father died at the age of 62. In the last conversation John Paul had with is father before he died his father 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." (People Magazine).
After his father passed away he started taking theology courses in college and began to study to become ordained. However it wasn't that easy, in 1944 the Nazis began to round of polish men to fight for them. It was then that took up refuge in the archbishop of Krakow's residence, and hid out there until the end of the war. While he was there he continued his studies of theology and philosophy. He became ordained in 1946 but still remained in college and earned two masters degrees and a doctorate. Luckily for him his first foray into priesthood put him as a priest at St. Florians church in Krakow, which was right next to Jagiellonian University, where he was working on a second doctorate.
As if going to school and working as a clergy member at St. Florians he also taught at the Catholic University of Lublin. Which was the only Catholic university in the communist world, and taught there as a professor of ethics for free. He also founded and ran a service that dealt with marital problems, the first of its kind in Poland. Due to all of his work he was appointed to the Chair of Ethics at Catholic University of Lublin band was named the auxiliary bishop of Krakow by 1958, and four years later became the archbishop of Krakow when the former archbishop passed away.
During his time as archbishop he had three articles published all denouncing communism. He was opposed to communism but he opposed it quietly. He tried to do his best to honor Catholic beliefs and traditions while accommodating the communist government. Even when he was appointment as cardinal in 1967 by the Pope Paul he was welcomed by the government. He had established himself as a highly influential and intellectual presence, not to mention one of the strongest advocate of human rights. He also already began to travel around Europe giving speeches at colleges and churches ranging from topics about marriage to philosophical discussions of the bible. He was surprised when he got notice that he was nominated by the Sacred College of Cardinals to become the next Pope after the death of John Paul I in 1978. "He reportedly formally accepted his election before the cardinals with tears in his eyes."(CNN).
When he became Pope he was 58 years old and that made him the youngest Pope in more then a century. He was also the first Pope to come from outside of Italy in more than 450 years and was the first Pope to come from Poland. After receiving two master degrees and and two doctorates he was also one of the most well educated Pope in Catholic history. He was young, brilliant and fully committed to his ministry. He earned the nick name the "traveling Pope" because he traveled to over 130 countries around the globe. John Paul the 2nd also made history by being the first Pope to step foot in a synagogue, and the first Pope ever to travel to Israel. As a sign of respect he took the names of his two predecessors: John, Paul, and John Paul and he became John Paul II.
One of John Paul II biggest accomplishments is the role he played in helping to erase communism from Europe during the Cold War. During the Cold War he gave many speeches to people in communist countries especially Poland and urges them to hold on to there faith and not surrender there beliefs easily. His messages had a huge effect in Poland and gave Catholics living behind the iron Curtin the courage they needed to survive communism. His criticism of such dictators in Paraguay, and Chile a encouraged opposition movements that eventually brought them down. But not ever the Pope could denounce communism in Europe and get away with it forever.
A Turkish assassin named Mehmet Ali Agca shot the pope twice in an assassination attempt in 1981. Agca was later linked to the Russian KGB organization called the Gray Wolfs', but Agca denied it. The pop was struck with two bullets, seriously injuring him. Three weeks after is happened the Pope visited Agca in his cell and forgave him.
John Paul II was also one of the most apologetic Popes in history. He apologized for things that he believed and many others believed the church has done wrong for example he apologized to Jewish leaders about the role the church played in Europe during World War II. He did this to try to reach out to others faiths and other people. He brought out a cretin type humility that hasn't been seen from the church or from any Pope in history. Even with all the changes he made during his papacy he was still a rather conservative Pope. John Paul II maintained many of the strict catholic beliefs on sexual activity, priestly celibacy and he would sill not consider women for the priesthood. He remained in opposition to contraception and condoms,even with countries with a high percentage of people infected with AIDS.
John Paul II was one of the world's largest promoters of peace and human rights. He spoke out against the Iraq war in front of the United Nations and called it "defeat for humanity which could not be morally or legally justified."(John Paul II). John Paul II sent his personal representative to the United States to speak with President Bush before the war began to try and persuade the president to reconsider. He rejected the war because he objected anything that was part of what he referred to as a culture of death'. He stood true to his Catholic beliefs even against over whelming pressure from the United States government and Catholics throughout the US that where pro-war. Out of all the Popes speeches denouncing the war in Iraq only none where broadcasted on any of the worlds major news networks.
John Paul II was plagued by health problems until he passed away April 2nd of this year. He was hit by a bus once when he was a young boy living with is father and again by a car when he was in college. In his late 60's he was diagnosed with cancer and hip and knee ailments, but he still managed to life a very normal life until he was diagnosed with Parkinson disease. Because of his health problems there were occasional discussions about the possibility of him resigning which would have been another first to add to his tenure as Pope. He refused to step down as Pope and continued his schedule of international appearances, giving speeches from his bed when he was to sick to stand. In late March 2005, he began to suffer from heart and kidney failure and was in a near death state for a few days. When the final news of his death came it plunged some 1.6 billion Catholics into mourning.
Pope John Paul II, lead the Roman Catholic Church 1978-2005. Before his death he had assumed a greater political role in world affairs than any other Pope's in recent history. Pope John Paul II has extended his influence in farthest reaches of the world. He became the most influential promoter for peace and human rights for the last two decades. It's doubtful there has ever been a Pope who has so successfully translated his strength, moral values and faithfulness to traditional Catholic beliefs into such widespread respect. In an ever changing world, of war and politics John Paul II stuck to his own agenda and his own beliefs, and with over two million people already showing up to pay there last respects the rest of the world respected him for it.
Zwick, Mark. "Pope John Paul II calls War a Defeat for Humanity: Neoconservative Iraq Just War Theories Rejected." New York Catholic Workers magazine. Vol. XXIII, No. 4, July-August 2003, p 32.
"The Legacy of John Paul II." America Press Inc. 2004. Vol. 192 No. 13. April 8, 2005
Christensen, John. Pope John Paul the 2nd', CNN, 2000.
Fileds-Meyer, Tomas. Simions Perry. Carlisle, Kate."Blessed Journey." People Magizne. 2005. Special April 18th,2005. p55-64.
"His Holiness John Paul II Short Biography." Vatican Press. 2005
http://www.vatican.va/news_services/press/documentazione/documents/santopadre_biografie/giovanni_paolo_ii_biografia_breve_en.html. Feb 25th 2005.