Pope John Paul II
at his Inauguration in 1978

John Paul II, Karol Józef Wojtyła, (born May 18, 1920) is the first Slavic pope in history and the first non-Italian pope since Adrian VI in 1522. He is also the most widely travelled pope, having made over 100 papal visits abroad, more than all his predecessors put together. John Paul II was elected pope of the Roman Catholic Church on October 16, 1978, following the short pontificate of his namesake, Pope John Paul I.

Table of contents
1 Personal background
2 The Second Conclave of 1978
3 The First Polish playwright-Pope
4 Travels
5 Relations with the Jewish people
6 Criticising a 'culture of death'
7 Serious Health Problems
8 Antipopes
9 Encyclicals of Pope John Paul II
10 Pastoral visits outside Italy
11 References
12 External links

Personal background

Karol Józef Wojtyła (pronounced Voy-tee-wah) was born in Wadowice, Poland in 1920. An athlete, actor and playwright in his youth, Karol Wojtyła was ordained a priest on November 1, 1946. He taught ethics at Kraków and Lublin universities. In 1958 he was named auxiliary bishop of Kraków and four years later he assumed leadership of the diocese with the title of vicar capitular.

On December 30, 1963, he was named Archbishop of Kraków by Pope Paul VI. Both as bishop and archbishop, Wojtyła participated in the Second Vatican Council, making contributions to the documents that would become the Decree on Religious Freedom (Dignitatis Humanae) and the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes), two of the most historic and influential products of the council.

In 1967 Pope Paul VI elevated him to cardinal. In August 1978 following Pope Paul's death he participated in the Papal Conclave that elected Albino Luciani, the Cardinal Patriarch of Venice, as Pope John Paul I. At 65, Luciani was a young man by papal standards. While Wojtyła at 58 could have expected to participate in another papal conclave before reaching the age of eighty (at which he would be excluded), he could hardly have expected that his second conclave would come so soon, for on 28 September 1978, after only 33 days in the papacy, Pope John Paul I died, in circumstances that still remain mysterious. In October 1978 Wojtyła returned to the Vatican to participate in the second conclave in less than two months.

The Second Conclave of 1978

John Paul II's Coat of Arms
The Letter M is for
Mary, the Mother of God, to whom he holds strong devotion

The conclave itself was divided between two particularly strong candidates, Giuseppe Siri, the reactionary Archbishop of Genoa, and Giovanni Benelli, the liberal Archbishop of Florence and close associate of Pope John Paul I. In early ballots Benelli came within nine votes of victory. Wojtyła however secured election as the compromise candidate, in part through the support of liberal cardinals like Franz König and conservatives who had previously supported Siri. On election, the first non-Italian pope for nearly half a millennium was referred to by many simply as the man for a far country. In terms of his age, his nationality, and his rugged health, the former athlete and playwright broke all the papal rules. He was to become the dominant twentieth-century pope of the Catholic Church, eclipsing Pope Paul VI in travels, Pope Pius XII in intellectual vigour, and Pope John XXIII in charisma.

The First Polish playwright-Pope

When on October 16, 1978, at age 58, he succeeded Pope John Paul I, he fulfilled a prophesy made to him decades earlier by Padre Pio that he would one day be pope. There was also another part to the prediction. The monk with the stigmata also predicted that Wotjtyła's reign would be short and end in blood, a prophesy that almost became true when on May 13, 1981 he was shot and nearly killed by Mehmet Ali Agca, a Turkish gunman, as he entered St. Peter's Square to address a general audience.

There have been unproven speculations that the assassination was ordered by the Soviet Union. Two days after Christmas in 1983, Pope John Paul went to the prison and met with his would-be assassin.


During his reign, Pope John Paul II made more foreign trips than all previous popes put together. While some of his trips (to the United States and the Holy Land) were to places previously visited by "The Pilgrim Pope", Pope Paul VI, many others were to places that no pope had ever visited before. He became the first reigning pope to travel to the United Kingdom, where he met Queen Elizabeth II, the Supreme Governor of the Church of England. In a dramatic symbolic gesture, he knelt in prayer in Canterbury Cathedral, founded by Augustine of Canterbury and the See of the Church of England, alongside the current Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Runcie. Throughout his trips, he stressed his devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary through visits to various Marian shrines, notably Knock in the Republic of Ireland, Fatima in Portugal and Lourdes in France. His public visits were centered around large Papal Masses; one million people, one quarter of the population of the island of Ireland, attended his Mass in Phoenix Park in 1979.

There was a plot to assassinate the Pope during his visit to Manila in January 1995, as part of Operation Bojinka, a mass terrorist attack that was developed by Al-Qaida members Ramzi Yousef and Khalid Sheik Mohammed. A suicide bomber would dress up as a priest. He would then use the disguise to get closer to the Pope's motorcade so that he could kill him by detonating himself. Before January 15, the day which the men would attack the Pope during Philippine visit, an apartment fire led investigators led by Aida Fariscal to Yousef's laptop computer, which had terrorist plans on it, as well as clothes and items that suggested an assassination plot. Yousef would be arrested in Pakistan about a month later, but Khalid Sheik Mohammed would not be arrested until 2003.

Relations with the Jewish people

John Paul II has written and delivered a number of speeches on the subject of the Church's relationship with Jews, and has often paid homage to the victims of the Holocaust in many nations. His visit to the Synagogue of Rome was the first by a pope since the founding of the Catholic Church.

The Anti-Defamation League recently stated, "The Anti-Defamation League congratulates Pope John Paul II on the 25th anniversary of his papacy. His deep commitment to reconciliation between the Catholic Church and the Jewish people has been fundamental to his papacy. Jews throughout the world are deeply grateful to the Pope. He has defended the Jewish people at all times, as a priest in his native Poland and during his pontificate....We pray that he remains healthy for many years to come, that he achieves much success in his holy work and that Catholic-Jewish relations continue to flourish." [1]

Criticising a 'culture of death'

He is considered a conservative on doctrine and issues relating to the ordination of women, and has been critical of Liberation Theology and those who regard themselves Catholics while questioning the church's teachings on faith and morals. In the 1995 encyclical Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life) he reasserted the church's condemnation of abortion, euthanasia, and capital punishment, calling them all a part of the "culture of death" that is pervasive in the modern world. His stands on capital punishment, world debt forgiveness, and poverty issues are considered politically liberal, showing that 'conservative' and 'liberal' labels are not easily assigned to religious leaders.

Serious Health Problems

As the youngest pope since Pope Pius IX was elected in 1846, John Paul entered the papacy as an exceptionally healthy, relatively young man who, unlike previous popes, swam and skied. However, after twenty-five years on the papal throne, two serious assassination attempts, the first of which injured John Paul II, and a number of cancer scares, John Paul's physical health is poor. In May 2003, the Vatican confirmed that, as international observers had suspected, Pope John Paul is suffering from Parkinson's disease. He has difficulty speaking and hearing. He also has severe arthritis in his right knee, which he developed following a hip replacement. Nevertheless, he has continued to tour the world. Despite speculation that he may resign, he appears determined to remain in office until his death or until he becomes irrevocably mentally impaired. Those who have met him say that, though physically in poor shape, he remains mentally in full health.

Pope John Paul II becomes the first pope ever to preach in a Lutheran Church in Rome, in December 1983
In 2000, he publicly endorsed the Jubilee 2000 campaign on African debt relief fronted by Irish rock stars Bob Geldof and Bono. Indeed the nature of the relationship between the 79-year-old pope and Bono was revealed when someone working at U2's recording studio revealed that a recording session for Bono's band, U2 was interrupted on at least one occasion by a phone call to the recording studio in Dublin by the pope, who wanted to talk to Bono about the campaign.


For antipopes during his papacy, see

Encyclicals of Pope John Paul II

  • Centesimus Annus - On the 100th anniversary of Pope Leo XIII's encyclical Rerum Novarum - On Capitol and Labor; On Catholic social teaching May 1, 1991
  • Dives in Misericordia - The Father of mercies and God of all comfort November 30, 1980
  • Dominum et Vivificantem - The Lord and Giver of Life May 18, 1986
  • Ecclesia De Eucharistia - On the Eucharist in its Relationship to the Church April 17, 2003
  • Evangelium Vitae - The Gospel of Life March 25, 1995
  • Fides et Ratio - Faith and Reason September 14, 1998 -- condemned both atheism and faith unsupported by reason and affirmed the place of reason and philosophy in religion
  • Laborem Exercens - On Human Work September 14, 1981
  • Redemptor Hominis - The Redeemer of Man March 4, 1979
  • Redemptoris Mater - Mother of the Redeemer March 25, 1987
  • Redemptoris Missio - On the Permanent Validity of the Church's Missionary Mandate December 7, 1990
  • Slavorum Apostoli - In commemoration of the Sts. Cyril and Methodius June 2, 1985
  • Sollicitudo Rei Socialis - On Social Concerns December 30, 1987
  • Ut Unum Sint - That they may be one - On Commitment to Ecumenism May 25, 1995
  • Veritatis Splendor - The Splendor of Truth - Regarding Certain Fundamental Question of the Church's Moral Teaching August 6, 1993

Pastoral visits outside Italy

Pope John Paul II in old age

  1. January 25 - February 1 1979 - Dominican Republic, Mexico, the Bahamas
  2. June 2 - June 10 1979 - Poland
  3. September 29 - October 8 1979 - Republic of Ireland and the United States
  4. November 28 - November 30 1979 - Turkey
  5. May 2 - May 12 1980 - Zaire, Congo, Kenya, Ghana, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast
  6. May 30 - June 2 1980 - France
  7. June 30 - July 12 1980 - Brazil
  8. November 15 - November 19 1980 - Germany
  9. February 16 - February 27 1981 - Pakistan, the Philippines, Guam (USA), Japan, Anchorage (USA)
  10. February 12 - February 19 1982 - Nigeria, Benin, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea
  11. May 12 - May 15 1982 - Portugal
  12. May 28 - June 2 1982 - United Kingdom
  13. June 10 - June 13 1982 - Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), Argentina
  14. June 15 1982 - Geneva (Switzerland)
  15. August 29 1982 - San Marino
  16. October 31 - November 9 1982 - Spain
  17. March 2 - March 10 1983 - Lisbon (Portugal), Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Panama, El Salvador, Guatemala, Belize, Haiti
  18. June 16 - June 23 1983 - Poland
  19. August 14 - August 15 1983 - Lourdes (France)
  20. September 10 - September 13 1983 - Austria
  21. May 2 - May 12 1984 - Fairbanks (USA), Republic of Korea, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Thailand
  22. June 12 - June 17 1984 - Switzerland
  23. September 9 - September 21 1984 - Canada
  24. October 10 - October 13 1984 - Zaragoza (Spain), Santo Domingo (Dominican Republic), San Juan (Puerto Rico)
  25. January 26 - February 6 1985 - Peru, Ecuador, Venezuela, Trinidad and Tobago
  26. May 11 - May 21 1985 - the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Belgium
  27. August 8 - August 19 1985 - Togo, Ivory Coast, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Zaire, Kenya, Morocco
  28. September 8 1985 - Kloten (Switzerland), Liechtenstein
  29. January 31 - February 11 1986 - India
  30. July 1 - July 8 1986 - St. Lucia, Colombia
  31. October 4 - October 7 1986 - France
  32. November 18 - December 1 1986 - Bangladesh, Singapore, Fiji, New Zealand, Australia, the Seychelles
  33. March 31 - April 13 1987 - Chile, Uruguay, Argentina
  34. April 30 - May 4 1987 - Germany
  35. June 8 - June 14 1987 - Poland
  36. September 10 - September 21 1987 - United States (including New Orleans), Fort Simpson (Canada)
  37. May 7 - May 18 1988 - Uruguay, Bolivia, Lima (Peru), Paraguay, Curacao
  38. June 23 - June 27 1988 - Austria
  39. September 10 - September 19 1988 - Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland, Mozambique
  40. October 8 - October 11 1988 - France
  41. April 28 - May 6 1989 - Madagascar, Réunion, Zambia, Malawi
  42. June 1 - June 10 1989 - Norway, Iceland, Finland, Denmark, Sweden
  43. August 19 - August 21 1989 - Santiago de Compostela and Asturias (both Spain)
  44. October 6 - October 16 1989 - Seoul (Republic of Korea), Indonesia (East Timor), Mauritius
  45. January 25 - February 1 1990 - Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Burkina Faso, Chad
  46. April 21 - April 22 1990 - Czechoslovakia
  47. May 6 - May 14 1990 - Mexico, Curacao
  48. May 25 - May 27 1990 - Malta
  49. September 1 - September 10 1990 - Luqa (Malta), Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda, Yamoussoukro (Ivory Coast)
  50. May 5 - May 13 1991 - Portugal
  51. June 1 - June 9 1991 - Poland
  52. August 13 - August 20 1991 - Czestochowa (Poland), Hungary
  53. October 12 - October 21 1991 - Brazil
  54. February 19 - February 26 1992 - Senegal, Gambia, Guinea
  55. June 4 - June 10 1992 - Angola, Sao Tome and Principe
  56. October 9 - October 14 1992 - Dominican Republic[an error occurred while processing this directive]