John Paul II (Karol Józef Wojtyła), Pope

Feast Day: October 22
Canonized: April 27, 2014
Beatified: May 1, 2011

Many people who knew young Karol Wojtyla in Poland thought he might someday be an actor or a writer. Instead, he became pope. Karol Józef Wojtyła was born in the town of Wadowice in Poland in 1920. He was the youngest of three children, and his mother died when he was only nine. When he graduated from high school and went to college, he studied drama. But as World War II approached, the university was closed, and Karol went to work in a quarry and then in a factory to earn money and avoid being sent to Germany to serve in the army.

When he was 22, he realized God was calling him to something different. He knew he wanted to be a priest. But at the time, studying for the priesthood in Poland could only be done secretly, so that is what Karol did. When World War II ended, he was finally able to openly pursue his dream. In 1946, he was ordained a priest.

Karol was a good student and a good priest, and this soon caught the attention of church leaders who sent him to Rome for more study. He later returned to Poland to teach at the seminary. In 1958, he was made a bishop in Krakow, Poland, and just six years later became the archbishop there. By 1967, he had been named a cardinal.

He took part in all of the historical sessions of Vatican II and made important contributions. In 1978, his fellow cardinals elected him pope. He took the name “John Paul II.”

John Paul II was pope for a very long time, nearly 27 years. He traveled the world many times over, going places that popes had not been to before. He danced in Africa. He giggled with children. He cried with dying people. He was a very human and approachable pope. He loved young people so much that he started World Youth Day so he could meet youth from all over the world every few years. The pope was known as a true outdoorsman who loved to ski and hike.

He helped bring about the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe through his preaching and his meetings with heads of state. In 1981, a man named Mehmet Ali Agca shot the pope in St. Peter’s Square. The pope was seriously injured, but quickly asked people to pray for the man who had shot him. He later met personally with Agca to extend his forgiveness. In 2000 during the canonization mass for Maria Faustina Kowalska, Pope John Paul II declared the Second Sunday of Easter as Divine Mercy Sunday. The responsorial psalms for this Mass all have a focus on the theme of mercy.

Pope John Paul II was also a teacher, writing many important documents that educated people about the faith. He wrote five spiritual books of his own, too. After suffering for many years with an illness that weakened him greatly, he died in 2005. More than three million people traveled to Rome to pay their respects to him.

Just a few weeks later, Pope Benedict XVI announced that the usual five-year waiting period before someone could be considered a saint would not be necessary for John Paul II, because his life had clearly been so holy. In 2013 Pope Francis declared that Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II were to be formally canonized on the same day. In preparation for the Jubilee Year of Mercy, Pope Francis referred to Saint John Paul II as a great "apostle of mercy" and role model for us today.


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Check out the dynamic activity, Visit John Paul II.


Connecting to Be My Disciples®
Grade 1, chapter 14
Grade 4, chapter 17
Grade 5, chapter 8
Grade 6, chapter 22
Christ in the Liturgy, chapter 5
Life in Christ Jesus, chapters 2, 3

Connecting to Blest Are We®
Grade 4, chapter 18
The Story of Jesus, chapter 6
The Story of the Church, chapters 15, 16, 19, 20