Vatican City (AsiaNews) - John Paul II was the 264th Pope, the 263rd successor to Peter, the prince of the Apostles.
Karol Józef Wojtyła, elected Pope on October 16 1978, was born on May 18 1920 in Wadowice, a town 50 kilometres from Kraków (Poland). He was the second of two sons of Karol Wojtyła and Emilia Kaczorowska, who died in 1929. His elder brother Edmund, a physician, died in 1932, and his father, a non-commissioned officer in the army, died in 1941.
John Paul II received his first communion at the age of 9 and was confirmed at the age of 18.
After completing high school at Wadowice's Marcin Wadowita Secondary School in 1938 he registered with Jagiellonian University in Kraków.
When the Nazi occupiers shut down the university in 1939, the young Karol worked from 1940 till 1944, first in quarry, then in the Solvay chemical factory, to make ends meet and avoid deportation to Germany.
In 1942, having felt a calling to the priesthood, he entered Kraków's main seminarynow forced undergroundwhich was directed by Kraków's Archbishop, Card Adam Stefan Sapieha. At the same time, he was one of main organisers of the underground 'Rhapsodic Theatre'.
At the end of the war, the future Pope continued his studies at Kraków's main seminary, now legal again, and at the Faculty of Theology of Jagiellonian University until his ordination on November 1, 1946
Cardinal Sapieha later sent him to Rome where he obtained a PhD in theology defending a dissertation on faith in the works of St John of the Cross. During his summer breaks he exercised his pastoral ministry among Polish immigrants in France, Belgium and the Netherlands.
Karol J. Wojtyła returned to Poland in 1948 where he served first as coadjutor in the parish of Niegowić, near Kraków, then in the parish of St Florian in Kraków itself.
After serving as the university students' chaplain till 1951 he went back to his philosophical and theological studies. In 1953 he defended a thesis on how a Christian ethics can be grounded in the ethical method of Max Scheler. He was later appointed professor in Moral theology and ethics at Kraków's main seminary and at the Faculty of Theology of Lublin.
In 1958 Pope Pius XII named the 38-year-old Wojtyła titular bishop of Ombi and auxiliary Bishop of Kraków. He received the Episcopal ordination in Kraków's Wawel Cathedral on September 28, 1958, from the hands of Archbishop Eugeniusz Baziak. Pope Paul VI made him Archbishop of Kraków on January 13, 1964, and cardinal on June 26 1967.
He took part in the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) where he played an important role in drafting the constitution Gaudium et spes, eventually participating in the five assemblies of the Synod of Bishops that preceded his elevation to the papacy.
During his pontificate, Pope John Paul II made 141 pastoral visits in Italy, and, as Bishop of Rome, visited 301 of Rome's 334 parishes. He conducted 105 apostolic trips around the world expressing the pastoral care of Peter's successor for all the churches.
Among the important documents the Pope authored there are 14 Centesimus Annus encyclicals: (May 1, 1991); Dives in Misericordia (November 30, 1980); Dominum et Vivificantem (May 18, 1986); Ecclesia de Eucharistia (April 17, 2003); Evangelium Vitae (March 25, 1995); Fides et Ratio (September 14, 1998); Laborem Exercens (September 14, 1981); Redemptor Hominis (March 4, 1979); Redemptoris Mater; Redemptoris Missio (December 7, 1990); Slavorum Apostoli (June 2, 1985); Sollicitudo Rei Socialis (December 30, 1987); Ut Unum Sint (May 25, 1995); Veritatis Splendor (August 6, 1993). In addition, he wrote 13 apostolic exhortations, 11 apostolic constitutions and 41 apostolic letters.
John Paul II also wrote five books: Crossing the Threshold of Hope (1994) based on a long interview with Italian journalist Vittorio Messori, which was translated in 32 languages and sold more than 20 million copies; Gift and Mystery : On the Fiftieth Anniversary of My Priestly Ordination, ( 1996 ); Rise, Let Us Be On Our Way (2004), in which he talks about his experience as a bishop; and last, "Memory and Identity : Conversations at the Dawn of a Millennium" (2005), a book on reflections and memories. John Paul also published a book of poetry: Roman Triptych Meditations (2003).
The Holy Father celebrated 131 ceremonies of beatification during which he proclaimed 1282 Blessed and 50 canonisations for a total of almost 500 Saints.
He held eight consistories, named 201 cardinals and presided over six plenary assemblies of the College of Cardinals.
Since 1978 he has convened 15 assemblies of the Synod of Bishops: six Ordinary General (in 1980, 1983, 1987, 1990; 1994 and 2001), one Extraordinary General (in 1985) and eight Special Assemblies (in 1980, 1991, 1994, 1995, 1997, 1998 [twice] and 1999).
No Pope has met as many people as John Paul II has. In more than 1,000 Wednesday General Audiences he met an estimated 16 million people. He met many more in other special audiences and religious ceremonies (more than 8 million pilgrims during the Great Jubilee of 2000 alone), not to mention the millions of faithful who came to se him during his pastoral visits in Italy and around the world.
He also met many government leaders in 38 official visits, 650 audiences or meetings with heads of state and 212 audiences or meetings with heads of government.
John Paul II has worked for peace and better relations with other religions, above all Anglicans and Orthodox Christians
He has also taken steps to bridge the gap with Judaism, recognising the State of Israel and asking for forgiveness for the shortcomings and sins of Christians towards their 'elder Brothers' over the centuries.
In his doctrine he has strongly defended human life from conception till natural death.
John Paul II has also paid close attention to social issues, signing two encyclicals on the distortions of capitalism and communism: Laborem Excercens (September 14, 1981) and Centesimus Annus (May 1, 1991) on the 100th anniversary of Pope Leo XIII's encyclical Rerum Novarum.
In 1983 he promulgated the new version of the Code of Canon Law, reforming the 1917 edition that had been promulgated under Pope Benedict XV.
On August 15, 1997, in the apostolic letter Laetamur Magnopere, he approved and officially promulgated the Catechism of the Catholic Church.