St. John Paul II
St. John Paul II was born 0n May 18, 1920, in Poland. He was raised by his father, a lieutenant in the army after he lost his mother when he was eight years old. His father engaged him in the faith and he regularly attended and assisted at the church adjacent to his home. He was an excellent student whose studies were interrupted by WWII when Germany invaded Poland. He ended up working in a factory. During this time he began to write plays. He met a youth minister who introduced him to the writings and spirituality of St. John of the Cross, the Carmelite mystic and contemporary of St. Teresa of Avila.
St. John Paul II decided to enter religious life after the death of his father. He studied clandestinely and avoided capture by the Nazi forces. He was consequently ordained in 1946. He subsequently earned 2 Doctorates and became a teacher. He was a prolific author of poetry and spiritual writings. He also was a Young Adult minister. He was elevated to auxiliary bishop of Kraków in 1958 by Pope Pius XII and then in 1963, St. Pope Paul VI named him archbishop of Kraków. After the closing of Vatican II in 1965 St John Paul II was appointed to St. Pope Paul VI’s Commission for the Study of Problems of the Family, Population, and Birth Rate.
St. John Paul II was elected pope in October 1978 after the unexpected death of Pope John Paul I who served only 33 days as pontiff. He became the first non-Italian first non-Italian pope in more than 400 years of church life. As he was intensely spiritual, he called on the world at his installation to “Be not afraid!”.
His papacy included more than 100 pastoral trips worldwide between 1980 and 2004. He touched each continent and kissed the ground of every country he visited. He attended the closing of the National Eucharistic and Marian Congress in Haiti in 1983. Shortly thereafter the Duvalier era came to an end. Communism ended in Poland in 1989. He made several visits to the United States and celebrated mass multiple times in NYC.
As St. John Paul II was entering St. Peter Square on the feast day of Our Lady of Fatima 1981 he was shot 4 times. The Muslim shooter was immediately apprehended, and subsequently convicted and sentenced to life by an Italian Court. St. John Paul II befriended and forgave his shooter when he visited him in prison in 1983. He remained in touch with his shooter’s family and in 2000 submitted a pardon request to the Italian authorities. The shooter was pardoned and deported to Turkey. He later converted to Christianity. He would return to Rome to lay roses at the St. John Paul II’s tomb. Those of us who lived the papacy of St. John Paul II was blessed to have had such an extraordinary leader who taught us the love of God and true forgiveness.
St. John Paul II died in April 2005 and was canonized in 2014. His feast day is October 22.