Most people are familiar with today’s saint, Karol Wojtyla, Pope JP II. Born in Poland in 1920, he died in 2005 at the age of 85, after serving as pope for 27 years, the 2nd longest papacy in history, and the first non-Italian pope in over 400 years. He was inaugurated pope on this day in 1978.
JP II was beatified 8 years ago in 2011 and canonized a saint 3 years later in 2014. Both his beatification and canonization took place on Divine Mercy Sunday, the 1st Sunday after Easter. For his many accomplishments as pope and for his scholarship he is sometimes referred to as John Paul the great.
Karol was the youngest of 3 children. His sister died before he was born. His mother died when he was 8. His older brother died when Karol was 13.
Karol was athletic. He played football. Many of his friends were Jewish. In fact, his first girlfriend was Jewish. He performed the mandatory military training, but refused to fire a gun. He had a talent for languages and eventually became fluent in 12 languages.
During the occupation of Poland by Nazi Germany in WW II, he worked as a laborer in the rock quarries where he worked long hard hours and sustained many physical injuries. In 1941, when he was 21, his father died, leaving him as the only surviving member of his family.
It was after his father’s death that Karol decided to become a priest. He studied in secret because of the oppressive Nazi occupation. During his seminary studies he avoided Nazi imprisonment and execution by hiding in basements. He also helped to prevent many Jews from being sent to Nazi concentration camps where they would certainly be killed.
He was ordained a priest at the age of 26. He then studied for his doctorate in philosophy at the Dominican university of the Angelicum under the famous Dominican scholar Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange. During that time Karol visited Padre Pio who predicted that he would be pope.
While teaching at the University of Lublin Karol organized a group of students who regularly met for prayer and philosophical discussions. The group also went on hiking, biking, skiing and kayaking trips. All of this while under the repressive regime of soviet communist occupation.
At the age of 34 he earned a 2nd doctorate, a doctorate in theology, in which he wrote about Catholic moral theology based on phenomenology and personalism.
Karol wrote a great deal of theological and philosophical works, as well as plays and poetry, always presenting Catholic teaching in a way that the modern world could accept it.
At the age of 38 he was made auxiliary bishop of Krakow, the youngest bishop in Poland. 6 years later he was made the archbishop of Krakow. He participated in the Vat II and was the main architect of the principal document Gaudium et spes.
At the age of 47 he became a cardinal, and at the age of 58 was elected the 264th pope.
Despite the many hardships he had to endure, JP II remained faithful to Christ throughout his life. That is what made him a saint. He embodied the words of today’s psalmist; “here I am Lord, I come to do your will.” He proved to be that blessed servant who Jesus refers to in today’s Gospel as constantly on watch for his master.
Today we enjoy his special intercession. St JP II, pray for us.
Fr. Gregory Maturi, O.P.