By Ray Cleere
Pope John Paul II was one of the most significant figures in the 20th century and one of the most famous Popes in the history of the Catholic Church. He was the most travelled Pope in history and visited 130 countries to spread his message of faith and peace during his 26 year pontificate.
He consistently drew huge crowds wherever he went, some among the largest ever assembled in human history, such as the Manilla World Youth Day, which gathered an estimated 4 million people, the largest Papal gathering in history.
Pope John Paul II was born Karol Josef Wojtyla, 100 years ago, on May 18th, 1920, in Wadoice, a small Polish city, 35 miles from Krakow. He was the second of two sons born to Karol Wojtyla and Emilia Kaczorowska.
His mother died while giving birth to a third child – stillborn – in 1929. His eldest brother Edmund, a doctor, died in 1932 and his father, a non-commissioned army officer, died in 1941.
He made his First Holy Communion at the age of nine and was confirmed at age 17. Having graduated from Martin Wadowita High School in Wadoice, he enrolled in Krakow’s Jagiellonian University in 1938 and in a school for drama. The Nazi occupation forces closed the university in 1939 and young Karol had to work in a quarry and then in a chemical factory to earn his living and to avoid being deported to Germany.
In 1942, and then aware of his call to the priesthood, he began courses in the Clandestine Seminary of Krakow, run by Cardinal Adam Stefan Sapieha, then Archbishop of Krakow. At the 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 seminary of Krakow, once it had reopened. He also studied in the Faculty of Theology of the Jagiellonian University. He was ordained to the priesthood on November 1st, 1946.