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       Karol Wojtyla growing up, the shaping of who would be and who is        our extraordinary pope.

   Adam Mielczynski

   Wow ! 25 years, Its hard to believe its been so long. 25 years since it was announced that Karol Wojtyla would lead the Catholic church. It has been a pontificate like no other, and surely one of the most influential and dramatically redefining . The inauguration of a Polish pope revived a sense of pride and hope for the poles, and one of inspiration for the whole world. The Silver Anniversary of the Polish Pope and Third-longest pontificate is a particularly appropriate occasion to further the teachings of Pope John Paul II and to show appreciation for his unbreakable faith and unwavering dedication to the cause of the poor and defenseless, and last but not least, his contributions toward building a civilization of love and peace. Now I would like to invite you to take a trip with me back in time, to the early life of Karol Wojtyla, as we go from his early life to the present, I hope you all feel what I felt getting to know our pope.

   The day is May 18th ,1920, in a little town of Wadowice, 50 km southwest of Krakow, "Lolek" (as he would later become known) was born. Being born on the same day as Marshal Jozef Pilsudski struck a deciding blow in the war against the Soviet Union and seized Kiev- what is now known as the polish miracle, his birth is referred by many as "the second Polish miracle". Precisely for that reason, Karol Wojtyla Sr - his father- decided his son would bear the marshals middle name, and therefore baptized his son as Karol Jozef Wojtyla.

   Karol's father (Karol Wojtyla Sr) was a military man who had strict family values, and was a devoted catholic . His mother (Emilia) was the daughter of a Krakow upholsterer, she was a very sensitive young woman, of delicate health. However, she still bore 3 children 2 boys and one girl. Edmund, who was Karol's older brother, was the first born. Edmund was healthy, able, even brilliant, doing so well at school that he planned to become a doctor. Olga, was her only daughter, Olga was not as lucky, constantly sick she died early in infancy in 1914. Karol was her last child, Emilia simply adored him. She told the neighbors that he would one day be a great man, a priest she said. Karol and his mother were very close, he loved her very much. Later as Pope, Karols' adoration of his mother was still strong saying on many occasions that she was -like many mothers- "the soul of home." Karol was 8 when she died on April 13th, 1929 of kidney failure. After her death, Karol and his father became very close, his father a devoted catholic, became one of the key influences in Wojtylas later religious life.

   Wojtyla's father devoted himself solely to his son's up bringing .His father took over all the house chores, sewing, washing, and cooking, he became, Karol's mother, father, friend and colleague." Being very mature for his age, Karol always returned his father's devotion, after his morning at school, he shared the midday meal with his father, In the afternoons, he played sports, but always went home punctually in early evening for homework, dinner and a late walk with his sole surviving parent. Wojtyla was everyone's friend, however, One of Wojtyla's closest friends, a Jewish boy named Jerzy Kluger, was someone Karol became especially attached to. Always together the two often listened to Wojtyla's father tell stories of Poland's history. Lolek, in turn, went to the Klugers' 10-room apartment overlooking the town square and listened to music performed by a string quartet composed of two Jews and two Catholics.

  In one of the famous stories about their friendship, young Jerzy finds out that he and Karol are going to be in the same class at school in the fall. He can't wait to tell Wojtyla. When Jerzy realizes he's serving at Mass, he decides to go find him at church. The service is not over when Jerzy enters. People notice him. In such a small town, everyone knows who he is. One old woman in particular eyes the young Jewish boy disapprovingly. As mass ends, Jerzy races up to the altar to tell Karol his good news. Then he mentions the old woman's disapproval. "Maybe she was surprised to see a Jew in church." He says, "Why," Karol laughs. "Aren't we all God's children?"

   Karol's brother Edmund, graduated in 1930 from the School of Medicine from the Jagellonian University in Krakow. Although he quickly became well known as a sensitive, and knowledgeable doctor, his career was ended only two years after, when after contracting scarlet fever he died. Edmunds death deeply scared Karol, later as Pope Karol spoke of his brothers death as an event that effected him "perhaps even deeper than my mother's".His class mate Szczepan Mogelniecki said in "The brother's death was more his tragedy, it bound Karol ever more deeply to the sense that his fate was one with Poland's."

   In his early teens , Karol became fascinated with theater. Early in the 30's, he met Mieczyslaw Kotlarcyzk who would teach him about "the Living Word," a style of performing which emphasized language, monologues and simplicity of sets. Kotlarcyzk ran the Amateur University Theatre in Wadowice. Wojtyla began acting in plays at the school and eventually branched out into Kotlarcyzk's productions. His relationship to Kotlarcyzk launched Wojtyla as an actor and a playwright. Wojtyla and his father left Wadowice after he finished high school in 1938, they moved to Krakow, where after the Nazis invaded Karol took a job as a stone cutter in a quarry to provide for both himself and his father.

  February 18, 1941, is a day that our pope remembers as one of the saddest in his life, it is the day his father passed away, never getting to see his son become the great man he would become. Right then, Karol Wojtyla's loneliness was complete. Once more, suffering fatefully bound him to his beloved country's anguished destiny. Although he would later regain his calm, his friends remember that his father's death opened again some yet unhealed wounds. As pope, Wojtyla told the writer Andre Frossard, "At twenty I had already lost all the people I loved, and even those I might have loved, like my older sister who died before I was born." The terrible losses mounted for Karol, each a mortal blow to his identity, leaving him at his youthful age barring his country's rich themes inside him.

  It was another 18 months after his fathers death before Karol answered the call God had made to him. Wojtyla began studying at an underground seminary in Krakow and registered for theology courses at the university. He continued his studies, acted and worked in a chemical plant until August of 1944. Later that same year, approaching the defeat of Nazi Germany, the time came when the Germans began rounding up random Polish men sending them off to concentration camps, or to be killed. Wojtyla however remarkably managed to escape, taking refuge in the archbishop of Krakow's residence, where he remained until the end of the war. He was ordained in 1946 in Krakow, and spent much of the next few years studying -he earned two masters degrees and a doctorate - before taking up full priestly duties in 1949, beginning what would be an extraordinary journey in his passion of catholic faith.

   Karol Wojtyla's truth-his faith-is profoundly layered, starting at the deepest level with his having to find meaning in a stunning catalogue of personal losses: his mother died, his only brother died, his father died, his nation was occupied and his culture was threatened with extinction, his university was closed and many of his professors were executed, his Jewish friends and families were uprooted and killed in the Holocaust- all by the time he was 26. And yet, the young Wojtyla found strength in what he believed, and that was the will of an unfathomable God. Wojtyla, when in his twenties often expressed his profound love and passion of God through the many beautiful, and touching poems he wrote, using every gift our God gave to him he was able to express his true and profound feelings. In doing so he was able to reach a state of peace, and understanding of a God that he too at times failed to understand.

  From 1948 to 1951, Wojtyla served in various parishes in Krakow where he immersed himself directly in church life, performing weddings, funerals and baptisms as well as mass and confession. Wojtyla's belief in, and closeness to youth can be seen early in his priestly beginnings. He worked with university students, who cherished the young, "hip" priest. He also often organized mountain hikes for his young parishioners, but dressed in casual shorts and polo shirts he would not be recognized as a priest, rather a teacher. In July of 1958 a letter came from Rome that summoned the tanned Wojtyla - and interrupted his kayak trip- to the residence of Poland's senior cardinal. The 38 year old priest was named auxiliary bishop of Krakow, beginning his meteoric rise through the ranks of the church.

   Wojtyla was elevated to bishop in 1963 , He was initially seen by the communists as a religious figure who was not politically inclined and could be easily managed, he was rather emerging a person to watch within the church. In 1964, Wojtyla was invited to Rome to participate in Vatican II. The bishops discussed Nostra Aetate, in which John XXIII redefined the Catholic Church's relation to the Jews. The document plainly said that the Jewish people were not guilty of killing Christ. And it clearly asserted that Judaism has its own ongoing integrity - Christianity had not replaced Judaism in God's eyes. Wojtyla as predicted continued his rise through the ranks of the church, Just days after his 47th birthday in 1967, Wojtyla was appointed cardinal - the second youngest living cardinal in the Roman Catholic church.

   Throughout his ministry, Wojtyla was passionate in his defence of the unborn , his opposition to abortion and birthcontrol was clear. As Cardinal, Wojtyla made an extremely unusual and personal gesture. At a different time, in a country with a developed media, it would become a highly visible public statement. He visited the synagogue in the Jewish District of Krakow. No cardinal had ever made such a visit. Wojtyla insisted on doing it as a gesture of friendship as well as because he had fought so hard for the Vatican Council's declaration removing the blame for Christ's death from the Jews, he personally wanted to make his position known.

   In August 1978, Pope Paul VI died, and the grieving college of Cardinals, including Wojtyla, was summoned to Rome to elect a new pontiff. An Italian cardinal was selected and took the name of John Paul I. Wojtyla, the young Polish cardinal, also earned a handful of votes, in a way foreshadowing the future. Just 33 days later however, overwhelmed by the task of leading the world's one billion Catholics - John Paul I died of a heart attack. Wojtyla was shocked when he heard the news. In the span of little more than a month , the cardinals were once again summoned to Rome. With a heavy heart, Wojtyla left Poland to elect a new Pope. The 111 cardinals entered conclave - shut off completely from the outside world inside the Sistine Chapel - on Oct, 14.One, two, three, four ballots - and still no candidate emerged as the new leader, however, On the third day - Oct. 16 - support for Wojtyla surged, breaking a deadlock between two Italian cardinals. Following the eighth ballot, at 6:44pm, October 16th 1978. a puff of white smoke rose over St. Peter's Square announcing to the crowd below that a new Pope had been elected, soon after from the balcony of St peters Basilica overlooking the square the new pope was announced as Karol Wojtyla! Taking on the name of John Paul II to honor his two predecessors who died just weeks before, Wojtyla became the 264th pope, and the first non Italian pope in more than 450 years.

  From the first day of his election, John Paul II's pontificate raised concern in Central Communist Committee headquarters, In the eyes of the communist leaders, the Vatican and the Pope above all were regarded as their number one, most dangerous enemies in the world. In 1979, when John Paul II's plane landed at Okecie Airport, church bells ran throughout the country. Kissing the ground and blessing the huge crowd that turned out the newly chosen Pope sparked a sense of hope in the Polish people, a sense of hope that was fueled by the idea that they were no longer alone in their fight against the oppressive communist government that was controlling their lives. Preaching 32 sermons in 9 days the pope spoke of human dignity, the right to religious freedom, and a revolution of the spirit. Poland was in a way re-baptized. Opening a door to what would be a Poland with no communism, John Paul II would continue to be actively involved in ridding his beloved country of the oppressor that it was so tightly gripped by.

   It took time, it took the Pope's support from Rome, it took several more trips in 1983 and 1987 But the flame was lit. It would smolder and flicker before it burned from one end of Poland to the other. Millions of people spread the revolution, but it began with the Pope's trip home in 1979. As General Jaruzelski said, "That was the detonator." John Paul II became a key icon in the fall of Communism, both in Poland , and in the soviet Union, gaining support from many democratic, and powerful countries such as the United States, the pope inspired and unified the people of Poland, leading to the eventual destruction of communist rule.

   Pope John Paul has redefined what the role of a pope is. He is a universal pope, one who sees the barriers of countries as simple divisions on a map. Traveling to over 115 countries in the last 25 years, he has touched the hearts of millions, in a charismatic way. In his book "The Making of Popes 1978," Andrew M. Greeley offers a close-up of the pope working a crowd: "His moves, his presence, his smile, his friendliness, his gestures ...have pleased everyone... He is great with crowds -- shaking hands, smiling, talking, kissing babies."

   His influence on the world has been seen through both a religious and political approach, many at times expressing his views to the UN, speaking on terms of maintaining peace, something he clearly knows the value of. As pope he has made the world's business his business -especially in regard to human rights. He has seen and experienced the horrors of war, and truly knows the importance and value of both human rights and peace. As Cardinal Roger Etchegaray told the Washington Post. "His great hope is to awaken the entire world to the dignity and responsibility of defending human rights."

  John Paul II has always had a special place for youth in his heart, his love and belief in young people has been seen through his close interaction and guidance of youth in his early beginnings as a young priest. His belief in us young people as being the future of the Christian faith, and that it is us that will lead the world into becoming a better , more peaceful place has made him the Sheppard leading us to becoming salt of the earth … and the light of the world.

   In 1984, Pope John Paul II announced the year 1985 as a Jubilee year for the Catholic Church. In an effort to recognize the growing youth of the Church, the Holy Father wrote a letter to the young people of the world inviting them to gather with him in Saint Peter´s Square to kick off the adventure of World Youth Day. The Palm Sunday of 1984 was declared by our pope as the first World Youth Day , on that day Pope John Paul II summoned all the youth that attended to go back to their home towns and communities and celebrate their new-found fellowship and continue the tradition for years to follow. During the Jubilee of the Redemption in 1984, Pope John Paul II also entrusted a special gift to the youth of the world, a simple cross consisting of two crossed planks of wood that the young people of the world now carry as a symbol of their faith. This Cross now serves as the symbol of WYD. Like the young people who attend WYDs, the Cross travels around the world and appeals to them to deepen their faith and live it more sincerely. The cross has since then traveled to all parts of the world, inspiring and lifting the spirits of all young people that have seen it, it serves as a link to all the youth of the world, unifying them in spirit, and in faith. With these words, The Pope sent off his call to youth around the world, and started the first of what will soon (with God's help) be the18th World Youth Day. "Beloved young people: At the end of the Holy Year, I entrust to you the very symbol of this Jubilee Year: the 'Cross of Christ'! Bear it in the world as the sign of the love of the Lord Jesus for humanity, and proclaim to everyone that it is only in Christ, who died and rose from the dead, that salvation and redemption are to be found". April 22, 1984


   When doing my research, I first asked myself the question, who is the pope, and what does he mean, not just to me, but to the world. When reading about his extraordinary life, I many times paused with goose bumps running down my skin, I realized how special this man really is. He is in many ways a symbol of God's intervention, his love , understanding and admiration for God - seen through his love for all the people of the world- is unsurpassable. It is doubtful there has ever been a pope who has so successfully translated his strength, determination and faith into such widespread respect and goodwill. In a world of shifting trends and leaders of questionable virtue, John Paul II has been a towering figure at the moral center of modern life. The pope has proclaimed, and lived the message he first spoke In his inaugural mass , and with this I leave you tonight. " Open the doors to Christ! To his saving power open the boundaries of states, economic and political systems, the vast fields of cultre, civilization and development. Do not be afraid. Christ knows "what is in man" . He alone knows it."


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