The Pope is Gone
by Don Singleton
Pope John Paul II, also known as the Bishop of Rome, Vicar of Christ,
Successor of St. Peter, Prince of Apostles, Supreme Pontiff of the Universal
Church, Patriarch of the West, Primate of Italy, and Sovereign of Vatican
City has now gone Home to be with Christ.
A boy from small-town Poland grew up to become pope and, in the opinion of
some, "the man of the century, and together with Ronald Reagan was
responsible for the fall of the Soviet Union without firing a shot.
The Pope died at 9:37 p.m. Rome Time (1:37 p.m. Central Time).
Karol Josef Wojtyla (pronounced Voy-tee-wah) was born in Wadowice (a small
city 50 kilometres from Cracow), Poland, on May 18, 1920, the second of two
sons born to Karol Wojtyla (a retired non-commissioned army officer) and
Emilia Kaczorowska (a school teacher). His eldest brother Edmund, a doctor,
died in 1932 and his father died in 1941.
He 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
Cracow's Jagiellonian University in 1938 and in a school for drama. He
studied literature and philosophy and later was a playwright and poet. 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 Cracow, run by Cardinal Adam Stefan Sapieha,
archbishop of Cracow. At the same time, Karol Wojtyla 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 Cracow, once it
had re-opened, and in the faculty of theology of the Jagiellonian
University, until his priestly ordination in Krakow on November 1, 1946.
He spent much of the next few years studying -- he earned two masters
degrees and a doctorate -- before taking up priestly duties as an assistant
pastor in Krakow in 1949. In 1956, Wojtyla was appointed to the Chair of
Ethics at Catholic University and his ascent through the church hierarchy
got a boost in 1958 when he was named the auxiliary bishop of Krakow.
On July 4, 1958, he was appointed Auxiliary Bishop of Cracow by Pope Pius
XII, and was consecrated September 28, 1958, in Wawel Cathedral, Cracow, by
Archbishop Baziak. When the Vatican Council II began the deliberations in
1962 that would revolutionize the church, Wojtyla was one of its
intellectual leaders and took special interest in religious freedom. The
same year, he was named the acting archbishop of Krakow when the incumbent
died. On January 13, 1964, he was nominated Archbishop of Krakow by Pope
Paul VI, who made him a cardinal June 26, 1967.
Wojtyla was shrewd enough not to let his distaste for communism show, so his
appointment as cardinal in 1967 was welcomed by the government, considered
"tough but flexible" and a moderate reformer, but an improvement on
old-school hard-liners who were unalterably opposed to communism and
Although he had established himself as a formidable intellectual presence --
as well as an able administrator and fund-raiser -- few suspected that the
Sacred College of Cardinals would choose Wojtyla as the next pope after the
death of John Paul I in September of 1978. But when the cardinals were
unable to agree on a candidate after seven rounds of balloting, Wojtyla was
chosen on the eighth round late in the afternoon of October 16. He
reportedly formally accepted his election before the cardinals with tears in
his eyes. (Associates say the pope is an emotional man, and is often moved
to tears by children.)
Wojtyla chose the same name as his predecessor -- whose reign lasted just 34
days before he died of a heart attack -- and added another Roman numeral in
becoming the first Slavic pope. He was also the first non-Italian pope in
455 years (the last was Adrian VI in 1523) and, at 58, the youngest pope in
When Wojtyla's election was announced, Yuri Andropov, leader of the Soviet
Union's KGB intelligence agency, warned the Politburo that there could be
trouble ahead. He was right. Less than eight months after his 1978
inauguration, Karol Wojtyla returned to Poland as Pope John Paul II for nine
There was a crowd of one million people, and he told them 'You are men. You
have dignity. Don't crawl on your bellies.' It was the beginning of the end
of the Soviet Union. His support for the Solidarity movement in Poland --
priests concealed messages from John Paul to imprisoned union leaders in
their robes -- was a key to the downfall of communism in Poland.
When a Turk named Mehmet Ali Agca shot the pope twice in an assassination
attempt in 1981, Agca first told the authorities that he was acting for the
Bulgarian intelligence service. The Bulgarians were known to do the bidding
of the KGB, but Agca later recanted that part of his confession. It didn't
matter to the pope who was responsible, and later he visited Agca in his
cell and forgave him. The astonished Agca said, "How is it that I could not
By the 1980s, Pope John Paul II had reaffirmed the church's position on
controversial issues such as abortion, birth control and the ordination of
women. He could communicate his message in eight languages, and traveled
widely throughout his papacy.
The pope wished a Happy Easter to the world in 58 languages as part of his "urbi
et orbi" (to the city and the world) during Easter Mass at the Vatican in
April 1998. Deteriorating health and age forced the most traveled pope ever
to cut back on his visits.
His principal documents include 14 encyclicals , 15 apostolic exhortations ,
11 apostolic constitutions and 45 apostolic letters. The Pope has also
published five books : "Crossing the Threshold of Hope" (October 1994);
"Gift and Mystery: On the 50th Anniversary of My Priestly Ordination"
(November 1996); "Roman Triptych - Meditations", a book of poems (March
2003); "Rise, Let Us Be On Our Way" (May 2004) and "Memory and Identity" (pubblication
Since the start of his Pontificate on October 16, 1978, Pope John Paul II
completed 104 pastoral visits outside of Italy, and 146 within Italy. As
Bishop of Rome he visited 317 of the 333 parishes. John Paul II presided at
147 beatification ceremonies (1,338 Blesseds proclaimed ) and 51
canonization ceremonies (482 Saints) during his pontificate. He held 9
consistories in which he created 231 (+ 1 in pectore) cardinals. He also
convened six plenary meetings of the College of Cardinals.
From 1978 to today the Holy Father has presided at 15 Synods of Bishops :
six ordinary (1980, 1983, 1987, 1990, 1994, 2001), one extraordinary (1985)
and eight special (1980, 1991, 1994, 1995, 1997, 1998 and 1999).
No other Pope has encountered so many individuals like John Paul II: to
date, more than 17,600,000 pilgrims have participated in the General
Audiences held on Wednesdays (more than 1,160). Such figure is without
counting all other special audiences and religious ceremonies held [more
than 8 million pilgrims during the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000 alone] and
the millions of faithful met during pastoral visits made in Italy and
throughout the world. It must also be remembered the numerous government
personalities encountered during 38 official visits and in the 738 audiences
and meetings held with Heads of State , and even the 246 audiences and
meetings with Prime Ministers.