May 18th, 1920 – Born as Karol Józef Wojtyla in the Polish town of Wadowice, which is 35 miles Southwest of Krakow.
For those who don’t know, Krakow is the cultural city of Poland.
Karol went on to become Pope John Paul II, who is one of the most revered and well-travelled pope, not to forget also the first Non-Italian to hold the position of pope since 16th century.
But, how did he gain that influential position at papacy? Let us look inside a bit into the journey of this great soul.
The Earlier Life of Karol Józef Wojtyla
After completing high school, the soon-to-be pope enrolled at the Krakow’s prestigious Jagiellonian University.
It was here he studied philosophy and literature and performed in a theatre group.
During the 2nd World War, the Nazi took control of Krakow and closed the university, which forced Karol to seek employment in a quarry and then a chemical factory.
The Tragic Loss
By 1941, Karol lost his entire family including his mother, father and only brother.
He was the only one left of the family.
The Determination of Karol Józef Wojtyla
Though he actively worked with the church his entire life but began his seminary training in 1942.
After the end of war, he went back to the university to study theology and became an ordained priest in 1946.
The Journey from Priesthood to Pope
He completed two doctorates and became a professor of moral theology and social ethics.
On 4th July 1958 at the age of 38 he got the position of auxiliary bishop of Krakow by Pope Pius XII
He went on to speak about religious freedom and the church started the Second Vatican Council to spread Catholicism.
Later, he became cardinal in 1967 and took on the challenges that came with working as a Catholic Priest in the communist Eastern Europe.
When asked about fear of retribution from the communists, he said, “I am not afraid of them. They are afraid of me.”
The Things That Set This Man Apart
By nature, Pope John Paul II was a conservative, and it showed in his unwavering opposition towards war, communism, contraception, capital punishment, abortion, and homosexuality.
He also took a stand against Euthanasia, stem cell research and human cloning.
However, what really set him apart was his command over eight languages including Polish, Italian, German, French, Portuguese, English, Spanish, and Latin.
He had a certain charm, which made it easier to connect not only with the faithful Catholics but also others outside his fold.
The Assassination of John Paul II
On 13th May 1981 Pope John Paul II was shot at St. Peter’s Square by a Turkish political extremist known as Mehmet Ali Agca.
However, after his release from the hospital he went to meet his assassin in prison and forgave him for the actions.
Unfortunately, the very next year saw another attempt at his life by a fanatical priest who was against the reforms made by John Paul II in Vatican II.
The Death of Pope John Paul II
Although Vatican did not send any confirmations until 2003, but many did believe the pope was suffering from Parkinson’s disease during the early 90s.
He had slurred speech and problems in walking, but he still managed to keep up with the physically demanding schedule.
During his last few years, he had to delegate many of his official duties, but still had the strength to speak from a window in the Vatican.
In February 2005, he was hospitalized with flu complications and left this mortal realm two months later.