John Paul II was the first Polish prelate elected to the papacy, and he was the first non-Italian pope in morethat 450 years. He was born Karol Worjtyla on may 18, 1920, to working-class parentsin Wadowice. His mother died when he was 9; his father was killed in World War II.
Karol entered Jagiellonian University in Krakow in 1938 to study literature and philology. He wrote poetry and acted in theater group. When the Nazis closed the university, he worked as a laborer and began studying for the priesthood in an illegal seminary. Karol also belonged to an underground theatrical group that performed anti-Nazi plays, and he helped Poslish Jews escape persecution. After World War II Karol studied at a seminary in Krakow, and in 1946 he was ordained. In 1958 he became the youngest Polish bishop when he was appointed auxiliary bishop of Krakow. In 1964 he was named archbishop. After becoming a cardinal in 1967, he studied philosophy in Belgium and France.
Throughout his years as a leader in the church, Wojtyla continued his interest in athletics and in writing. Fluent in six languages, he wrote poetry; and his books included ‘Love and Responsibility’, a work on sexual morality. As a spokesman for the large Roman Catholic population of Poland, he defended the church and the right to freedom or worship.
Upon his election as pope on October 16, 1978, he was only 58. John Paul II adopted both the name and the style of his predecessor. To avoid a conflict with a soccer match, he scheduled his coronation for noon. He became the first pope to wear trousers under his vestments. He performed a rare wedding ceremonyfor commoners. In his official statements, however, John Paul II supported traditional church doctrines. An exception was the customary Vatican policy of neutrality, which he abandoned as he became involved in international political controversy.
In January 1979 John Paul II attended a conference of Latin American b...