Saint John Paul II was elected 44 years ago

Karol Wojtyła is a legendary personality who not only gave hope to an entire nation, his beloved homeland but who also played a key role in the history of the world. Saint John Paul II undoubtedly contributed to making the world a better place. 

Before becoming Pope, Karol Wojtyła studied at the Jagiellonian University, acted in plays, and wrote numerous poems. Wojtyła’s scientific interests went from moral theology to marital ethics. He joined the seminary in the middle of WWII and then studied theology. He was ordained a priest on the 1st of November 1946. 

In 1958, he became Auxiliary Bishop of Kraków and then Metropolitan Archbishop of Kraków in 1964. Three years later he was made Cardinal. Already at that time, he was an important figure in the Polish episcopate. On the 16th of October 1978, he became the first non-Italian Pope since the 16th century and took the name John Paul II.

John Paul II was a charismatic and influential leader who inspired several generations to fully live their faith in Jesus Christ and above all not to be ashamed of it. He is the author of numerous encyclicals, apostolic letters, exhortations, as well as books, and poems.

His pilgrimage to Poland in early June 1979 marked a decisive turning point in the (peaceful) fight against communism in Central and Eastern Europe. It was during this apostolic journey that he encouraged the peoples of Europe to hold their heads high despite the communist yoke. 

Do not be afraid!” he launched to a crowd of more than a million Poles who came to listen to his homily despite the efforts of the communist authorities to stop transport and limit access to the capital on the 2nd of June 1979. The communist authorities were so overwhelmed by the popular support of the Holy Father.

On the 13th of May 1981, John Paul II was shot and wounded by Mehmet Ali Ağca as he entered St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican. He was beaten four times and suffered severe blood loss during this assassination attempt. Not only did he miraculously survive (thanks to the intercession of the Blessed Virgin, according to the Catholic Church) but he then went to visit his attacker in prison in order to forgive him.

The Polish pope was a cheerful and popular personality among young Christians. In 1985, he launched the first World Youth Days (an international event bringing together several million people from all over the world for two weeks to pray together and which takes place every two or three years). 

The 1995 edition of the World Youth Day closing Mass in the Philippines set a world record for the largest number of people gathered for a single religious event, with around five million attendees.

John Paul II suffered a lot in the last years of his life. He died on the 2nd of April 2005, just after Easter. His pontificate lasted 26 years. He was canonised in May 2011.


Image: Getty Images

Author: Sébastien Meuwissen

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