His Holiness

Saint John Paul II

Short Biography

 

 Karol Józef Wojtyła, known as John Paul II since his October 1978 election to the papacy, was born in the Polish town of Wadowice, a small city 50 kilometers from Krakow, on May 18, 1920. He was the youngest of three children born to Karol Wojtyła and Emilia Kaczorowska. His mother died in 1929. His eldest brother Edmund, a doctor, died in 1932 and his father, a non-commissioned army officer died in 1941. A sister, Olga, had died before he was born.  

He was baptized on June 20, 1920 in the parish church of Wadowice by Fr. Franciszek Zak, made his First Holy Communion at age 9 and was confirmed at 18. Upon graduation from Marcin Wadowita high school in Wadowice, he enrolled in Krakow's Jagiellonian University in 1938 and in a school for drama. The Nazi occupation forces closed the university in 1939 and young Karol had to work in a quarry (1940-1944) and then in the Solvay chemical factory to earn his living and to avoid being deported to Germany. In 1942, aware of his call to the priesthood, he began courses in the clandestine seminary of Krakow, run by Cardinal Adam Stefan Sapieha, archbishop of Krakow. At the same time, Karol Wojtyła was one of the pioneers of the "Rhapsodic Theatre," also clandestine. After the Second World War, he continued his studies in the major seminary of Krakow, once it had re-opened, and in the faculty of theology of the Jagiellonian University. He was ordained to the priesthood by Archbishop Sapieha in Krakow on November 1, 1946. Shortly afterwards, Cardinal Sapieha sent him to Rome where he worked under the guidance of the French Dominican, Garrigou-Lagrange. He finished his doctorate in theology in 1948 with a thesis on the subject of faith in the works of St. John of the Cross (Doctrina de fide apud Sanctum Ioannem a Cruce). At that time, during his vacations, he exercised his pastoral ministry among the Polish immigrants of France, Belgium and Holland.   

In 1948 he returned to Poland and was vicar of various parishes in Krakow as well as chaplain to university students. This period lasted until 1951 when he again took up his studies in philosophy and theology. In 1953 he defended a thesis on "evaluation of the possibility of founding a Catholic ethic on the ethical system of Max Scheler" at Lublin Catholic University. Later he became professor of moral theology and social ethics in the major seminary of Krakow and in the Faculty of Theology of Lublin. On July 4, 1958, he was appointed titular bishop of Ombi and auxiliary of Krakow by Pope Pius XII, and was consecrated September 28, 1958, in Wawel Cathedral, Krakow, by Archbishop Eugeniusz Baziak. On January 13, 1964, he was appointed archbishop of Krakow by Pope Paul VI, who made him a cardinal June 26, 1967 with the title of S. Cesareo in Palatio of the order of deacons, later elevated pro illa vice to the order of priests. Besides taking part in Vatican Council II (1962-1965) where he made an important contribution to drafting the Constitution Gaudium et spes, Cardinal Wojtyła participated in all the assemblies of the Synod of Bishops. The Cardinals elected him Pope at the Conclave of 16 October 1978, and he took the name of John Paul II. On 22 October, the Lord's Day, he solemnly inaugurated his Petrine ministry as the 263rd successor to the Apostle. His pontificate, one of the longest in the history of the Church, lasted nearly 27 years.

Driven by his pastoral solicitude for all Churches and by a sense of openness and charity to the entire human race, John Paul II exercised the Petrine ministry with a tireless missionary spirit, dedicating it all his energy. He made 104 pastoral visits outside Italy and 146 within Italy. As bishop of Rome he visited 317 of the city's 333 parishes.   

He had more meetings than any of his predecessors with the People of God and the leaders of Nations. More than 17,600,000 pilgrims participated in the General Audiences held on Wednesdays (more than 1160), not counting other special audiences and religious ceremonies [more than 8 million pilgrims during the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000 alone], and the millions of faithful he met during pastoral visits in Italy and throughout the world. We must also remember the numerous government personalities he encountered during 38 official visits, 738 audiences and meetings held with Heads of State, and 246 audiences and meetings with Prime Ministers.       

His love for young people brought him to establish the World Youth Days. The 19 WYDs celebrated during his pontificate brought together millions of young people from all over the world. At the same time his care for the family was expressed in the World Meetings of Families, which he initiated in 1994.       

John Paul II successfully encouraged dialogue with the Jews and with the representatives of other religions, whom he several times invited to prayer meetings for peace, especially in Assisi. Under his guidance the Church prepared herself for the third millennium and celebrated the Great Jubilee of the year 2000 in accordance with the instructions given in the Apostolic Letter Tertio Millennio adveniente. The Church then faced the new epoch, receiving his instructions in the Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio ineunte, in which he indicated to the faithful their future path.

With the Year of the Redemption, the Marian Year and the Year of the Eucharist, he promoted the spiritual renewal of the Church. He gave an extraordinary impetus to Canonizations and Beatifications, focusing on countless examples of holiness as an incentive for the people of our time. He celebrated 147 beatification ceremonies during which he proclaimed 1,338 Blesseds; and 51 canonizations for a total of 482 saints. He made Thérèse of the Child Jesus a Doctor of the Church.          

He considerably expanded the College of Cardinals, creating 231 Cardinals (plus one in pectore) in 9 consistories. He also called six full meetings of the College of Cardinals. He organized 15 Assemblies of the Synod of Bishops - six Ordinary General Assemblies (1980, 1983, 1987, 1990, 1994 and 2001), one Extraordinary General Assembly (1985) and eight Special Assemblies (1980,1991, 1994, 1995, 1997, 1998 (2) and 1999).      

His most important Documents include 14 Encyclicals, 15 Apostolic Exhortations, 11 Apostolic Constitutions, 45 Apostolic Letters. He promulgated the Catechism of the Catholic Church in the light of Tradition as authoritatively interpreted by the Second Vatican Council. He also reformed the Eastern and Western Codes of Canon Law, created new Institutions and reorganized the Roman Curia. As a private Doctor he also published five books of his own: "Crossing the Threshold of Hope" (October 1994), "Gift and Mystery, on the fiftieth anniversary of my ordination as priest" (November 1996), "Roman Triptych" poetic meditations (March 2003), "Arise, Let us Be Going" (May 2004) and "Memory and Identity" (February 2005). 

In the light of Christ risen from the dead, on 2 April A.D. 2005, at 9.37 P.M, while Saturday was drawing to a close and the Lord's Day was already beginning, the Octave of Easter and Divine Mercy Sunday, the Church's beloved Pastor, John Paul II, departed this world for the Father. From that evening until April 8, date of the funeral of the late Pontiff, more than three million pilgrims came to Rome to pay homage to the mortal remains of the Pope. Some of them queued up to 24 hours to enter St. Peter's Basilica.           

On April 28, the Holy Father Benedict XVI announced that the normal five-year waiting period before beginning the cause of beatification and canonization would be waived for John Paul II. The cause was officially opened by Cardinal Camillo Ruini, vicar general for the diocese of Rome, on June 28 2005. On 19 December 2009, John Paul II was proclaimed "Venerable" by his papal successor Pope Benedict XVI and was beatified on 1 May 2011.

 

John Paul II's Beatification
Is "Historic"

Benedict XVI Calls John Paul II  
an "Authentic Servant of God"

 
The May 1 beatification of Pope John Paul II, presided over by his immediate successor, will be "a historic event which has no precedent," says the director of the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano. In a signed editorial in this week's English edition, Giovanni Maria Vian wrote that "one has to go back to the heart of the Middle Ages to find similar examples, but in contexts that are in no way comparable to Benedict XVI'S decision."

The director explained that no Pope has beatified his immediate predecessor in the last 10 centuries: "Pietro del Morrone (who became Celestine V) was canonized in 1313 -- less than 20 years after his death -- by his third Successor. More than two centuries earlier, the holiness of Leo IX and of Gregory VII, who died in 1054 and in 1085, had been immediately recognized."

Needs to be noted that the changes to the "hagiographical sobriety of the Roman Church -- which revered as holy only the Popes of the most ancient epoch" have been made by the more recent popes, and especially by popes Pius XII and John Paul II. Since then, the holiness of several popes have been recognized, including Innocent XI, Pius IX and John XXIII. He said that "at the heart of every cause of beatification and canonization is exclusively the exemplarity of life of those who, using a scriptural expression, are described as at the service of God."          

The Vatican newspaper's director called John Paul II "an authentic servant of God," and noted that he "was a passionate witness of Christ from his youth to his last breath."

"Very many people, even non-Catholics and non-Christians, understood this during his exemplary life," he added. "It documents his spiritual testament, written on various occasions in the years of his Pontificate. It was for this reason that already on April 28, 2005, less than a month after his death, his successor dispensed with the prescribed forms for the introduction of the cause. "For this reason he has decided to preside at his beatification in order to present John Paul II to the world as a model of personal holiness."

John Paul II died April 2, 2005, on the eve of Divine Mercy Sunday.

 

Pope Benedict Declares
John Paul II 'Blessed'

 

More than a million people descended on Rome to take part in the beatification ceremony of the late Pope John Paul II. Throngs of people jammed Saint Peter’s Square, the boulevard leading up to it and nearby piazzas for the special beatification mass at the Vatican. Thousands camped out all night and took part in an all night prayer vigil at Circus Maximus. People from all corners of the world prayed, sang hymns and waved their national flags.  Many were Polish who came in to honor their native son. Attending the ceremony were 90 official delegations and 16 heads of state. Also among the crowd was French nun, Sister Marie-Simon Pierre, who says she was miraculously cured from Parkinson’s disease after praying to the late pope.

Pope Benedict pronounced the beatification formula and a large portrait of a smiling Pope John Paul II was unveiled, to the applause of the large crowd. Those who took part in the ceremony spoke of the privilege they felt to be present and of how much the Polish pope meant to them.           

In his homily, Pope Benedict called his predecessor an exemplary son of Poland who, through his witness of faith, love and apostolic courage, accompanied by great human charisma, helped believers throughout the world not to be afraid to be called Christian.  Pope Benedict said his own service was sustained by John Paul’s spiritual depth and by the richness of his insights. The pope also spoke of John Paul’s witness in suffering.  He said the Lord gradually stripped John Paul of everything, yet he remained ever a "rock," as Christ desired. His profound humility, Pope Benedict added, grounded in close union with Christ, enabled him to continue to lead the Church and to give to the world a message that became all the more eloquent as his physical strength declined.


Vatican officials have insisted that John Paul deserved to be put on the road to sainthood saying this process is not a judgment of how he administered the church but rather whether he lived a life of Christian virtue. John Paul's beatification means he has had a miracle attributed to his intercession. 

 

PAPAL MASS
ON THE OCCASION OF THE
BEATIFICATION OF THE SERVANT OF GOD JOHN PAUL II

HOMILY OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI
Saint Peter's Square
Divine Mercy Sunday,
1 May 2011


Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Six years ago we gathered in this Square to celebrate the funeral of Pope John Paul II. Our grief at his loss was deep, but even greater was our sense of an immense grace which embraced Rome and the whole world: a grace which was in some way the fruit of my beloved predecessor’s entire life, and especially of his witness in suffering. Even then we perceived the fragrance of his sanctity, and in any number of ways God’s People showed their veneration for him. For this reason, with all due respect for the Church’s canonical norms, I wanted his cause of beatification to move forward with reasonable haste. And now the longed-for day has come; it came quickly because this is what was pleasing to the Lord: John Paul II is blessed!
I would like to offer a cordial greeting to all of you who on this happy occasion have come in such great numbers to Rome from all over the world – cardinals, patriarchs of the Eastern Catholic Churches, brother bishops and priests, official delegations, ambassadors and civil authorities, consecrated men and women and lay faithful, and I extend that greeting to all those who join us by radio and television.
Today is the Second Sunday of Easter, which Blessed John Paul II entitled Divine Mercy Sunday. The date was chosen for today’s celebration because, in God’s providence, my predecessor died on the vigil of this feast. Today is also the first day of May, Mary’s month, and the liturgical memorial of Saint Joseph the Worker. All these elements serve to enrich our prayer, they help us in our pilgrimage through time and space; but in heaven a very different celebration is taking place among the angels and saints! Even so, God is but one, and one too is Christ the Lord, who like a bridge joins earth to heaven. At this moment we feel closer than ever, sharing as it were in the liturgy of heaven.

“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe” (Jn 20:29). In today’s Gospel Jesus proclaims this beatitude: the beatitude of faith. For us, it is particularly striking because we are gathered to celebrate a beatification, but even more so because today the one proclaimed blessed is a Pope, a Successor of Peter, one who was called to confirm his brethren in the faith. John Paul II is blessed because of his faith, a strong, generous and apostolic faith. We think at once of another beatitude: “Blessed are you, Simon, son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven” (Mt 16:17). What did our heavenly Father reveal to Simon? That Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. Because of this faith, Simon becomes Peter, the rock on which Jesus can build his Church. The eternal beatitude of John Paul II, which today the Church rejoices to proclaim, is wholly contained in these sayings of Jesus: “Blessed are you, Simon” and “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe!” It is the beatitude of faith, which John Paul II also received as a gift from God the Father for the building up of Christ’s Church.

Our thoughts turn to yet another beatitude, one which appears in the Gospel before all others. It is the beatitude of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of the Redeemer. Mary, who had just conceived Jesus, was told by Saint Elizabeth: “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord” (Lk 1:45). The beatitude of faith has its model in Mary, and all of us rejoice that the beatification of John Paul II takes place on this first day of the month of Mary, beneath the maternal gaze of the one who by her faith sustained the faith of the Apostles and constantly sustains the faith of their successors, especially those called to occupy the Chair of Peter. Mary does not appear in the accounts of Christ’s resurrection, yet hers is, as it were, a continual, hidden presence: she is the Mother to whom Jesus entrusted each of his disciples and the entire community. In particular we can see how Saint John and Saint Luke record the powerful, maternal presence of Mary in the passages preceding those read in today’s Gospel and first reading. In the account of Jesus’ death, Mary appears at the foot of the cross (Jn 19:25), and at the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles she is seen in the midst of the disciples gathered in prayer in the Upper Room (Acts 1:14).

Today’s second reading also speaks to us of faith. Saint Peter himself, filled with spiritual enthusiasm, points out to the newly-baptized the reason for their hope and their joy. I like to think how in this passage, at the beginning of his First Letter, Peter does not use language of exhortation; instead, he states a fact. He writes: “you rejoice”, and he adds: “you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (1 Pet 1:6, 8-9). All these verbs are in the indicative, because a new reality has come about in Christ’s resurrection, a reality to which faith opens the door. “This is the Lord’s doing”, says the Psalm (118:23), and “it is marvelous in our eyes”, the eyes of faith.

Dear brothers and sisters, today our eyes behold, in the full spiritual light of the risen Christ, the beloved and revered figure of John Paul II. Today his name is added to the host of those whom he proclaimed saints and blessed during the almost twenty-seven years of his pontificate, thereby forcefully emphasizing the universal vocation to the heights of the Christian life, to holiness, taught by the Conciliar Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium. All of us, as members of the people of God – bishops, priests, deacons, laity, men and women religious – are making our pilgrim way to the heavenly homeland where the Virgin Mary has preceded us, associated as she was in a unique and perfect way to the mystery of Christ and the Church. Karol Wojtyła took part in the Second Vatican Council, first as an auxiliary Bishop and then as Archbishop of Kraków. He was fully aware that the Council’s decision to devote the last chapter of its Constitution on the Church to Mary meant that the Mother of the Redeemer is held up as an image and model of holiness for every Christian and for the entire Church. This was the theological vision which Blessed John Paul II discovered as a young man and subsequently maintained and deepened throughout his life. A vision which is expressed in the scriptural image of the crucified Christ with Mary, his Mother, at his side. This icon from the Gospel of John (19:25-27) was taken up in the Episcopal and later the papal coat-of-arms of Karol Wojtyła: a golden cross with the letter “M” on the lower right and the motto “Totus tuus”, drawn from the well-known words of Saint Louis Marie Grignion de Montfort in which Karol Wojtyła found a guiding light for his life: “Totus tuus ego sum et omnia mea tua sunt. Accipio te in mea omnia. Praebe mihi cor tuum, Maria – I belong entirely to you, and all that I have is yours. I take you for my all. O Mary, give me your heart” (Treatise on True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin, 266).

In his Testament, the new Blessed wrote: “When, on 16 October 1978, the Conclave of Cardinals chose John Paul II, the Primate of Poland, Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński, said to me: ‘The task of the new Pope will be to lead the Church into the Third Millennium’”. And the Pope added: “I would like once again to express my gratitude to the Holy Spirit for the great gift of the Second Vatican Council, to which, together with the whole Church – and especially with the whole episcopate – I feel indebted. I am convinced that it will long be granted to the new generations to draw from the treasures that this Council of the twentieth century has lavished upon us.
 As a Bishop who took part in the Council from the first to the last day, I desire to entrust this great patrimony to all who are and will be called in the future to put it into practice. For my part, I thank the Eternal Shepherd, who has enabled me to serve this very great cause in the course of all the years of my Pontificate”. And what is this “cause”? It is the same one that John Paul II presented during his first solemn Mass in Saint Peter’s Square in the unforgettable words: “Do not be afraid! Open, open wide the doors to Christ!” What the newly-elected Pope asked of everyone, he was himself the first to do: society, culture, political and economic systems he opened up to Christ, turning back with the strength of a titan – a strength which came to him from God – a tide which appeared irreversible. By his witness of faith, love and apostolic courage, accompanied by great human charisma, this exemplary son of Poland helped believers throughout the world not to be afraid to be called Christian, to belong to the Church, to speak of the Gospel. In a word: he helped us not to fear the truth, because truth is the guarantee of liberty. To put it even more succinctly: he gave us the strength to believe in Christ, because Christ is Redemptor hominis, the Redeemer of man. This was the theme of his first encyclical, and the thread which runs though all the others.

When Karol Wojtyła ascended to the throne of Peter, he brought with him a deep understanding of the difference between Marxism and Christianity, based on their respective visions of man. This was his message: man is the way of the Church, and Christ is the way of man. With this message, which is the great legacy of the Second Vatican Council and of its “helmsman”, the Servant of God Pope Paul VI, John Paul II led the People of God across the threshold of the Third Millennium, which thanks to Christ he was able to call “the threshold of hope”. Throughout the long journey of preparation for the great Jubilee he directed Christianity once again to the future, the future of God, which transcends history while nonetheless directly affecting it. He rightly reclaimed for Christianity that impulse of hope which had in some sense faltered before Marxism and the ideology of progress. He restored to Christianity its true face as a religion of hope, to be lived in history in an “Advent” spirit, in a personal and communitarian existence directed to Christ, the fullness of humanity and the fulfillment of all our longings for justice and peace.

Finally, on a more personal note, I would like to thank God for the gift of having worked for many years with Blessed Pope John Paul II. I had known him earlier and had esteemed him, but for twenty-three years, beginning in 1982 after he called me to Rome to be Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, I was at his side and came to revere him all the more. My own service was sustained by his spiritual depth and by the richness of his insights. His example of prayer continually impressed and edified me: he remained deeply united to God even amid the many demands of his ministry. Then too, there was his witness in suffering: the Lord gradually stripped him of everything, yet he remained ever a “rock”, as Christ desired. His profound humility, grounded in close union with Christ, enabled him to continue to lead the Church and to give to the world a message which became all the more eloquent as his physical strength declined. In this way he lived out in an extraordinary way the vocation of every priest and bishop to become completely one with Jesus, whom he daily receives and offers in the Church.
Blessed are you, beloved Pope John Paul II, because you believed! Continue, we implore you, to sustain from heaven the faith of God’s people. You often blessed us in this Square from the Apostolic Palace: Bless us, Holy Father! Amen.


"Totus Tuus. This phrase is not only an expression of piety, or simply an expression of devotion. It is more. During the Second World War, while I was employed as a factory worker, I came to be attracted to Marian devotion. At first, it had seemed to me that I should distance myself a bit from the Marian devotion of my childhood, in order to focus more on Christ. Thanks to Saint Louis of Montfort, I came to understand that true devotion to the Mother of God is actually Christocentric, indeed, it is very profoundly rooted in the Mystery of the Blessed Trinity, and the mysteries of the Incarnation and Redemption".

[John Paul II in Crossing the Threshold of Hope, Arnoldo Mondadori Editori, 1994]