Karol J. Wojtyla, known as John Paul II since his October 1978 election to the papacy, was born in Wadowice, a small city 50 kilometres from Cracow, on May 18, 1920. Upon graduation from Marcin Wadowita high school in Wadowice, he enrolled in Cracow’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 (1940-1944) and then in the Solvay chemical factory to earn his living and to avoid being deported to Germany.
In 1942, aware of his call to the priesthood, he began courses in the clandestine seminary of Cracow, run by Cardinal Adam Stefan Sapieha, archbishop of Cracow.
After the Second World War, he continued his studies in the major seminary of Cracow, once it had re-opened, and in the faculty of theology of the Jagiellonian University. Soon after, Cardinal Sapieha sent him to Rome where he worked under the guidance of the French Dominican, Garrigou-Lagrange. He finished his doctorate in theology in 1948 with a thesis on the topic of faith in the works of St. John of the Cross.
In 1948 he returned to Poland and was vicar of various parishes in Cracow as well as chaplain for the university students until 1951, when he took up again his studies on philosophy and theology.
Later he became professor of moral philosophy and social ethics in the major seminary of Cracow and in the Faculty of philosophy at the Catholic University of Lubin (where he became the Director of the Chair of Ethic, and lectured for 25 years until his election for the Pope in 1978).
On July 4, 1958, he was appointed Auxiliary Bishop of Cracow by Pope Pius XII, and was consecrated September 28, 1958, in Wawel Cathedral, Cracow, by Archbishop Baziak. On January 13, 1964, he was nominated Archbishop of Cracow by Pope Paul VI, who made him a cardinal June 26, 1967.
Since the start of his Pontificate on October 16, 1978, Pope John Paul II has completed 95 pastoral visits outside of Italy and 142 within Italy. His principal documents include 14 encyclicals , 13 apostolic exhortations, 11 apostolic constitutions and 42 apostolic letters. The Pope has also published three books.
No other Pope has encountered so many individuals like John Paul II: to date, more than 16,700,000 pilgrims have participated in the General Audiences held on Wednesdays (more than 1,000). Such figure is without counting all other special audiences and religious ceremonies held [more than 8 million pilgrims during the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000 alone] and the millions of faithful met during pastoral visits made in Italy and throughout the world. It must also be remembered the numerous government personalities encountered during 38 official visits and in the 690 audiences and meetings held with Heads of State, and even the 226 audiences and meetings with Prime Ministers.
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