“Every individual is made in the image of God, insofar as he or she is a rational and free creature capable of knowing God and loving him.”–Apostolic Letter Mulieris Dignitatem
This year marks the canonization of Pope John Paul II. He was born in Wadowice, Poland on May 18, 1920, and died in 2007. His birth name was Karol Jozef Wojtyla. He was my pope for most of my life. Like many of my generation, I remember his charisma and his presence in the media.
Karol was the youngest of three children. His mother died in 1929, when he turned 8. His eldest sister, Olga, died before he was even born. He was closest to his older brother Edmund, despite their thirteen years difference. Edmund died of scarlet fever, a loss that wounded Karol.
One of Karol’s passions, even in his youth, was soccer. While in high school, he played as goalkeeper and fell in love with a Jewish girl named Ginka.
In 1938, his father moved to Krakow, where Karol enrolled at the Jagcellonin University. Although he took military training as part of his instruction, he never fired a weapon. While at the university, he learned twelve languages, nine of which he used as pope.
In 1939, the Nazis closed down the university during their invasion of Poland. He began to work in order to avoid deportation to Germany. He received an injury while working in construction that fractured his skull; while another injury left him in a permanent stoop. He lost his father to a heart attack a year later. Then in 1942, he began his pursuit of the priesthood, becoming a priest in 1946. He slowly moved up in rank. In 1978, He presided as cardinal at Vatican II. He was ordained pope in 1978. He was the most travelled pontiff so far, and served the second-longest tenure in the role.
As Pope, John Paul wrote fourteen encyclicals. He taught about sexuality in The Theology of the Body. He emphasized that theologians should focus on the relationship between faith and reason.
For me, there are three events that stand out.
- He spoke out often against Communism and fascism, having witnessed the horrors of both during his early life. He also spoke out against the death penalty. He consecrated Russia to the Immaculate Heart, believing that it would one day come out of communism.
- In 1981, an assassin attempted to kill him, but did not succeed. He believed it was the hand of God that prevented his death. He actually forgave the would-be assassin and often visited him in prison.
- He was stricken with Parkinson’s Disease in 1993. Despite his deteriorating health, he did not step down and continued to serve until his death. To this day, I still remember the disdain in the press saying that not only should he step down, but that his life should have ended so that he would no longer suffer. But the pope was adamant, believing that even in his suffering he wanted to show the dignity of life.
I was saddened by his death in 2007. To this day, World Youth Day is still celebrated annually in his honor, and the numbers of Catholic Youth who attend prove that Christianity is not dwindling in influence, despite the claims of its detractors. I believe that even after his death, he has still influenced those who remember him, and those who were not present to experience his persona. There will never be a man like him again, which is why I was ecstatic when he was canonized this year.