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Brief biography of Pope John Paul II, architect of the end of communism in Europe, 100 years after his birth

One hundred years ago today, Karol Józef Wojtyla, or Saint John Paul II, was born in Krakow (Poland), the pontiff of the youngest Catholic Church of the 20th century – he was elected pope at 58 years old – and the first non-Italian since the 16th century.

Saint John Paul II was also the pope most threatened and the one who suffered the most attacks during what was the third longest pontificate in the history of the Church after Saint Peter and Blessed Pius IX. He was also the one who visited Spain the most times: John Paul II traveled to Spain five times, 1982, 1984, 1989, 1993 and 2003.

He was born in Wadowice, a small town in southern Poland, on May 18, 1920, and died on April 2, 2005 at 9:37 p.m. in his residence at the Vatican Palace.

The son of a Polish Army worker and officer, he completed high school in 1938 and enrolled in the Faculty of Philology at the Jagellonica University in Krakow. But he had to suspend his studies when the Nazis occupied Poland, signed by the Gestapo.

Wojtila worked during the day as a laborer in stone quarries and, later, in the “Solvay” chemical industries, while studying at night.

At this time he met the famous actor Mieczyslaw Koltarszyk, creator of the Rhapsodic theater and Wojtyla joined his group, playing with him roles of clear patriotic content.

He participated in the resistance against Germany and dedicated himself to saving Jewish families.

At the age of 22 he began his ecclesiastical career and was ordained a priest in 1946; in 1958 and back in Poland, he was appointed titular bishop of Ombi, and auxiliary bishop of Krakow; intervened in the Second Vatican Council; in 1964 he acceded to the archbishopric of Krakow and in May 1967 he was appointed cardinal.

After the sudden death of John Paul I, on October 16, 1978, he was elected pope by the name of John Paul II, being the first non-Italian pontiff since Hadrian VI, four and a half centuries before (1522).

Three days after his election, he traveled to Castel Gandolfo and subsequently visited Mentorella and Assisi, the first of more than 150 trips he made to Italy, and another 104 outside of Italy beginning in 1979 in Mexico and the Dominican Republic.

That same year on March 4, he published the encyclical “Redemptor hominis”, the first of fourteen written in the 26 years of his pontificate.

Also in 1979 he called the first of the eight consistories gathered during his mandate at the head of the Apostolic See, the last on February 21, 2001, from which most of the cardinals that make up the college left.

On May 13, 1981, he was seriously injured in an attack carried out by the Turkish Alí Agca (whom he forgave), which triggered a series of ailments that led him to the operating room repeatedly.

John Paul II was hospitalized nine times, eight of them as Pope, the last on February 24, 2005 as a result of a respiratory crisis for which he had to undergo a tracheostomy.

He was the first Pontiff admitted to a hospital outside the Vatican, unlike other popes such as John XXIII and Paul VI, who were also subjected to surgical interventions but for whom operating rooms were installed in the apostolic see

The meeting that marked the end of the communist regimes

John Paul II was the first pope to visit a Lutheran church (Rome 1983), a synagogue (Rome 1986) and a mosque (Damascus 2001) and his Pontificate, also highlight the World Day of Prayer for Peace (Assisi 1986 ) and the excommunication of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre (1988).

The first meeting of a pope with a Muslim community (Casablanca 1985), the Holy Year of 1983, from which he created the World Youth Days, the last one held in St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican on April 13, 2003 and the Great Jubilee of 2000.

It also highlights the meeting with the last President of the USSR, Mikhail Gorbachev, in December 1989, which marked the end of the European communist regimes and the normalization of the Catholic Church in these countries; the January 1998 visit to Cuba, where he was received with all the honors by President Fidel Castro, and the trip in early 2000 to the Holy Land, where he made a new call for Christian unity and asked for forgiveness for the behavior of the children of the Church with the Hebrews.

Juan Pablo II met with almost all the Spanish democratic presidents, the last one, José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero in 2004, a year before he died.

In addition to the fourteen encyclicals, with John Paul II the new Codes of Latin Canon Law (1983) and Oriental, as well as the Universal Catechism of the Catholic Church (1992) were published.

John Paul II was the first to introduce in a pontifical text the term “world citizenship” granted to each member of the human family and his pontificate was distinguished for promoting ties between the Catholic and Orthodox Church.

For this, he contacted the Patriarchs of Athens, Ukraine or Constantinople, among other communities, although the desired understanding of John Paul II with the Patriarchate of Moscow was still far away.

John Paul II passed away on April 2, 2005 in his Vatican Palace apartment at 84 years of age. John Paul II was succeeded by Benedict XVI (Joseph Ratzinger).

On June 28, 2005, the same year of his death, Benedict XVI opened the cause of beatification of the Polish pope. On April 27, 2014, John Paul II was canonized with John XXIII in a massive ceremony concelebrated by two popes, Francis and Benedict XVI.

Some of his travels

The first pastoral trip as pontiff was made to Ibero-America in January 1979, a continent of reference in the more than 26 years of Pontificate. Juan Pablo II visited practically all the Latin American countries, both Argentina de Galtieri (1982); Sandinista Nicaragua (1983), General Pinochet’s Chile (1987) or Fidel Castro’s Cuba in 1998.

Also in his first year of pontificate, John Paul II traveled to the United States, a country to which he returned in 1987, 1993, 1995 and 1999.

To the African continent that he visited 13 times, he traveled for the first time in 1980.

From Europe, the first country to which Wojtyla traveled as a pontiff was Poland, and he did so in 1979, becoming the first pope to come from a communist country and visit a communist country.

On that occasion, Juan Pablo gave a great boost to the powerful Polish Church, to the opposition to the Jaruzelsky military regime and to the Catholic-based union Solidaridad.

He subsequently visited his homeland on nine other occasions: 1979, 1983, 1987, in 1991 he traveled to Poland twice; 1995, 1997, 1999 and the last one in August 2002. (May 18, 2020, EFE / PracticaEspañol)

(Automatic translation)

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