Karol Wojtyla

Obituary of Karol Wojtyla

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Pope John Paul IIMay 18, 1920 - April 2, 2005

Karol Jozef Wojtyla was born May 18, 1920 in Wadowice, Poland, the son of a former officer in the Austrian Habsburg army. He lost his mother, father, and older brother by 1941. His youth was marked by intensive interaction with both the thriving Jewish community of Krakow, and experience within the Nazi occupation, during which he worked in a quarry and a chemical factory.

His father often expressed a wish for his son to commit himself to God; and on November 1, 1946 Karol Wojtyla was ordained a priest. He taught ethics at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow and eventually at the Catholic University of Lublin. He was named auxiliary Bishop of Krakow in 1958. On December 30, 1963, he was appointed Archbishop of Krakow by Pope Paul VI, who also named him a cardinal in 1967. Karol was elected Pope in 1978 after the sudden death of Pope John Paul I, who passed away after only 33 days in office.

On May 13, 1981, John Paul II was the victim of an assassination attempt as he entered St. Peter's Square to address an assembled crowd. While the ultimate motives of the gunman have never been revealed, John Paul II held an audience with Mehmet Ali Agca in December 1983 from Agca's prison cell and stated afterwards, "What we talked about will have to remain a secret between him and me. I spoke to him as a brother whom I have pardoned and who has my complete trust." A second assassination attempt took place on May 12, 1982 in Fatima, Portugal when an ultraconservative Spanish priest with a bayonet was stopped by security guards.

While John Paul II entered the papacy as a healthy man who enjoyed swimming, hiking and skiing, he also suffered from cancer scares, arthritis, and numerous surgeries. A surgeon in 2001 confirmed that he was suffering from Parkinson's disease, which was publicly acknowledged in 2003 by the Vatican. In the last months of his life, Pope John Paul II was said to be reflective upon the suffering of Christ as he himself was suffering through infections and a heart attack, as well as the effects of Parkinson's. The official cause of death as released by the Vatican is septic shock and cardiocirculatory collapse.

The Life and Works of Pope John Paul II

The writings of Pope John Paul II are seen to have a long-term impact on Catholicism and the world. One of his great literary achievements was the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which became an international bestseller, praised for its clarity of doctrine. Other papal encyclicals and letters reflected on morality, on the Christian life in the new millenium, on the Holy Eucharist, and reflections on what were considered to be more conservative viewpoints after Vatican II.

During his tenure, Pope John Paul II made more foreign trips than all previous popes put together, at times assembling crowds of the faithful that count among the largest ever assembled in history. many attribute his visits to his native Poland and other communist countries as instrumental to the fall of communism in the late 1980's. His visits to Mexico, Puerto Rico and Cuba helped solidify and strengthen the faith of Latino Catholics, who account for 1/3 of the Catholic population around the world. He was also the first ever Pope to visit a Mosque (in Damascus) and also the first to visit Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland. His visit to the Synagogue of Rome was the first by a Pope in the history of the Catholic Church. A strong supporter and friend of the Jewish people from childhood, he stated that Jews are "our older brothers" during a historic visit to the holiest shrine of the Jewish people, the Western Wall in Jerusalem.

Pope John Paul II's funeral is expected to take place on April 8, 2005. His body will lie in state in St. Peter's and recieve mourners until that time, and he will be interred below the Basilica underneath St. Peter's as is papal tradition.