Official papal image of John Paul II.
His Holiness Pope John Paul II, né Karol Józef Wojtyła (born May 18, 1920 in Wadowice, Poland), is the current Pope — the Bishop of Rome and head of the Roman Catholic Church. He was elected on October 16, 1978, becoming the first non-Italian pope in 455 years and the first pope of Slavic origin in the history of the Church.
Pope John Paul II's house crusades against political oppression have been praised, but his conservative social positions and his authoritarian control of the church have been more controversial. His more than 100 trips abroad have attracted enormous crowds (some of the largest ever assembled). With these trips, John Paul has covered a distance far greater than that traveled by all other popes combined. They have been seen as an outward sign of the efforts at global bridge-building between nations and between religions that have been central to his pontificate.
Pope John Paul II has beatified and canonized far more persons than any previous pope. It is reported that as of October 2004, he has beatified 1,340 people. Whether he has canonized more saints than all his predecessors put together, as is sometimes claimed, is difficult to prove, as the records of many early canonizations are incomplete or missing.
On March 14, 2004, his pontificate overtook Leo XIII's as the third-longest pontificate in the history of the Papacy (after Pius IX and St. Peter). In February 2010, if still reigning, he will overtake Pius IX as having the longest proven papal reign ever. The length of his term is in extreme contrast with that of his predecessor John Paul I, who died suddenly after only 33 days in office (and in whose memory John Paul II named himself).
Karol Józef Wojtyła (pronounced: voy-TEE-wah) was born on May 18, 1920 in Wadowice, Southern Poland, a son of a former officer in the Habsburg army. His youth was marked by intensive contacts with the then-thriving Jewish community of Kraków, and the experience of Nazi occupation, during which he worked in a quarry and a chemical factory. An athlete, actor, and playwright in his youth, Karol Wojtyła was ordained a priest on November 1, 1946. He taught ethics at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków and subsequently at the Catholic University of Lublin. In 1958 he was named auxiliary Bishop of Kraków and four years later he assumed leadership of the diocese with the title of Vicar Capitular.
On December 30, 1963, Pope Paul VI appointed him Archbishop of Kraków. As both bishop and archbishop, Wojtyła participated in the Second Vatican Council, making contributions to the documents that would become the Decree on Religious Freedom (Dignitatis Humanae) and the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes), two of the most historic and influential products of the council.
In 1967 Pope Paul VI elevated him to cardinal. In August 1978, following Paul's death, he participated in the Papal Conclave that elected Albino Luciani, the Cardinal Patriarch of Venice, as Pope John Paul I. At 65, Luciani was a young man by Papal standards. While Wojtyła at 58 could have expected to participate in another Papal conclave before reaching the age of eighty (the upper age limit for cardinal electors), he could hardly have expected that his second conclave would come so soon, for on 28 September 1978, after only 33 days in the papacy, Pope John Paul I died, in circumstances that still remain mysterious. In October 1978 Wojtyła returned to Vatican City to participate in the second conclave in less than two months.
The second Conclave of 1978
Official papal image of John Paul II.
The conclave itself was divided between two particularly strong candidates: Giuseppe Siri, the conservative Archbishop of Genoa, and Giovanni Benelli, the liberal Archbishop of Florence and close associate of Pope John Paul I. In early ballots Benelli came within nine votes of victory. However Wojtyła secured election as the compromise candidate, in part through the support of liberal cardinals like Franz König and conservatives who had previously supported Siri. On election, the first non-Italian pope for nearly half a millennium was referred to by many simply as the man from a far country. In terms of his age, his nationality, and his rugged health, the former athlete and playwright broke all the papal rules. He was to become, arguably, the dominant twentieth-century pope of the Catholic Church, eclipsing Pope Paul VI in travels, and, to some, eclipsing Pope Pius XII in intellectual vigour, and Pope John XXIII in charisma.
John Paul II's Coat of Arms The Letter M is for Mary, the mother of Jesus, to whom he holds strong devotion
The first Polish playwright-Pope
On October 16, 1978, at age 58, he succeeded Pope John Paul I, fulfilling a prophecy made to him decades earlier by Padre Pio that he would one day be pope. There was also another part to the prediction. The monk also predicted that Wojtyła's reign would be short and end in blood, a prophecy that almost came true on May 13, 1981, when he was shot and nearly killed by Mehmet Ali Agca, a Turkish Muslim gunman, as he entered St. Peter's Square to address a general audience. But far from having a short reign, John Paul II became one of the longest-reigning popes in history.
There was, unsurprisingly, unproven speculation that the assassination was ordered by the Soviet Union. The source of this speculation is one of the case studies in Manufacturing Consent by Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky. The Mitrokhin Archive revealed that the KGB was as surprised as the rest of the world by the attempted murder; the KGB's archivist never came across a document that suggested the KGB was involved. Two days after Christmas in 1983, John Paul went to the prison and met with his would-be assassin. The two spoke privately for a time, and the conversation between the two men remains secret to this day.
Like his predecessor, John Paul II opted to simplify his office to make it a less regal institution. He chose not to use the Royal Plural, referring to himself as "I" instead of "We". John Paul also opted for a simple inauguration ceremony instead of the formal papal coronation, and he has not worn the Papal Tiara during his term in office. This was done to emphasize the servant role that is expressed in the title Servus Servorum Dei (Servant of the Servants of God).
Pope John Paul II visiting a synagogue in Rome in April 1983
During his reign, Pope John Paul II has made more foreign trips than all previous popes put together. While some of his trips (such as to the United States and the Holy Land) were to places previously visited by Pope Paul VI ("The Pilgrim Pope"), many others were to places that no pope had ever visited before. He became the first reigning pope to travel to the United Kingdom, where he met Queen Elizabeth II, the Supreme Governor of the Church of England. In a dramatic symbolic gesture, he knelt in prayer alongside the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Runcie in the See of the Church of England,Canterbury Cathedral, founded by Augustine of Canterbury. Throughout his trips, he stressed his devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary through visits to various shrines to the Virgin Mary, notably Knock in the Republic of Ireland, Fátima in Portugal, Guadalupe in Mexico, and Lourdes in France. His public visits were centered around large Papal Masses; one million people, one quarter of the population of the island of Ireland, attended his Mass in Phoenix Park in 1979.
There was a plot to assassinate the Pope during his visit to Manila in January 1995, as part of Operation Bojinka, a mass terrorist attack that was developed by Al-Qaida members Ramzi Yousef and Khalid Sheik Mohammed. A suicide bomber dressed up as a priest, and planned to use the disguise to get closer to the Pope's motorcade so that he could kill the Pope by detonating himself. Before January 15, the day on which the men were to attack the Pope during his Philippine visit, an apartment fire brought investigators led by Aida Fariscal to Yousef's laptop computer, which had terrorist plans on it, as well as clothes and items that suggested an assassination plot. Yousef was arrested in Pakistan about a month later, but Khalid Sheik Mohammed was not arrested until 2003.
In 1999, John Paul II visited Romania and met with the local heads of the Orthodox church. Thus, he became the first Pope to visit a country with a mostly Orthodox population, ever since the East-West Schism in the eleventh century (1054).
Relations with the Jewish people
John Paul II has written and delivered a number of speeches on the subject of the Church's relationship with Jews, and has often paid homage to the victims of the Holocaust in many nations. He is the first pope to have visited Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland, in 1979. One of the few popes to have grown up in a climate of flourishing Jewish culture, one of the key components of pre-war Kraków, his interest in Jewish life dates from early youth. His visit to the Synagogue of Rome was the first by a pope in the history the Catholic Church.
In March 2000, Pope John Paul II went to the Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem in Israel and touched the holiest shrine of the Jewish people, the Western Wall in Jerusalem, promoting Christian-Jewish reconciliation.
The Anti-Defamation League recently stated, "The Anti-Defamation League congratulates Pope John Paul II on the 25th anniversary of his papacy. His deep commitment to reconciliation between the Catholic Church and the Jewish people has been fundamental to his papacy. Jews throughout the world are deeply grateful to the Pope. He has defended the Jewish people at all times, as a priest in his native Poland and during his pontificate... We pray that he remains healthy for many years to come, that he achieves much success in his holy work and that Catholic-Jewish relations continue to flourish."  (http://www.adl.org/PresRele/VaticanJewish_96/4371_96.htm)
Social and political stances
Pope John Paul II becomes the first pope ever to preach in a Lutheran
church; Rome, December 1983
John Paul II is considered a conservative on doctrine and issues relating to reproduction and the ordination of women, and has been critical of Liberation Theology and those who regard themselves Catholics while questioning the Church's teachings on faith and morals. In the 1995 encyclical Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life) he reasserted the church's condemnation of abortion, euthanasia, and capital punishment, calling them all a part of the "culture of death" that is pervasive in the modern world. His stands on capital punishment, world debt forgiveness, and poverty issues are considered politically liberal, showing that 'conservative' and 'liberal' labels are not easily assigned to religious leaders.
In 2000, he publicly endorsed the Jubilee 2000 campaign on African debt relief fronted by Irish rock stars Bob Geldof and Bono. Indeed, the nature of the relationship between the pope and Bono was revealed when someone working at the Dublin recording studio for Bono's band U2 stated that a recording session was interrupted on at least one occasion by a phone call from the pope, who wanted to talk to Bono about the campaign.
In 2003, John Paul II also became a prominent critic of the 2003 US invasion of Iraq. He sent his Peace Minister, Pío Cardinal Laghi, to talk with US President George W. Bush to express opposition to the war. John Paul II says that it is up to the United Nations to solve the international conflict through diplomacy and that a unilateral aggression is a crime against peace and a violation of international law.
Pope John Paul II in old age
Serious health problems
As the youngest pope elected since Pope Pius IX in 1846, John Paul entered the papacy as an exceptionally healthy, relatively young man who, unlike previous popes, swam and skiied. However, after over twenty-five years on the papal throne, two assassination attempts, the first of which seriously injured him, and a number of cancer scares, John Paul's physical health has declined. He had a tumour removed from his colon in 1992, dislocated his shoulder in 1993, broke his femur in 1994, and had his appendix removed in 1996.
An orthopaedic surgeon confirmed in 2001 that Pope John Paul was suffering from Parkinson's disease, as international observers had suspected for some time. This was confirmed by the Vatican in 2003. He has difficulty speaking more than a few sentences at a time and has difficulty hearing as well. He also has severe arthritis in his right knee, which he developed following a hip replacement, and he no longer walks in public. Nevertheless, he has continued to tour the world. Despite speculation that he may abdicate, he appears determined to remain in office until his death or until he becomes irrevocably mentally impaired. Those who have met him say that, though physically in poor shape, he remains mentally in full health.
On Tuesday February 1, 2005, the pope was taken to the Gemelli Hospital in Rome suffering from acute inflammation of the larynx and laryngo-spasm, brought on by a bout of influenza. Laryngo-spasm is a closure of the larynx that blocks the passage of air to the lungs, a condition where one cannot catch one's breath.
The Vatican reported the following day that his condition had stabilized, but he would remain in the hospital until fully recovered.  (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/4228493.stm) There is some worry over reports that he still has a slight fever; some medical experts think this could be a sign the Pope has contracted pneumonia.
The pope appeared in public on Sunday 6 February to deliver the final lines of the Angelus blessing in a hoarse voice from the window of his hospital room.  (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/4240761.stm) It was reported on Monday 7 February that he would remain in hospital for "a few more days". A further update on his medical condition is due on Thursday 10 February.  (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/4243003.stm)
Pope John Paul II on the Vatican's €1
Archbishop Stanisław Dziwisz is the pope's Private Secretary.
According to a New York Post article of February 19, 2002, John Paul II has personally performed three exorcisms during his tenure as pope. The first exorcism was performed on a woman in 1982 who writhed on the ground. His second was in September 2000 when he performed the rite on a nineteen-year-old woman who had become enraged in St. Peter's Square. A year later, in September 2001, he performed an exorcism on a twenty-year-old woman.
For antipopes during his papacy, see
- Clemente Domínguez y Gómez alias 'Gregory XVII' (Spain)
- Reverend Father Lucian Pulvermacher, OFM Cap. alias 'Pius XIII' (United States)
- John Paul II at vatican.va (http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/index.htm)
- Internet Movie Database (http://imdb.com/name/nm0937552/)
- Writings (http://dmoz.org/Society/Religion_and_Spirituality/Christianity/Denominations/Catholicism/Popes/John_Paul_II/Works/)
- "Job Description for the Next Pope" - by R. Scott Appleby (http://www.foreignpolicy.com/story/files/story2444.php) from Foreign Policy Magazine (http://www.foreignpolicy.com)
- Relationships with Pope John Paul II (http://www.topsynergy.com/famous/Pope_John_Paul_II.asp)