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John Paul II

(1920—2005) Polish cleric, pope 1978–2005


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1920–2005)

Polish-born pope (1978–2005) whose many travels abroad included a visit to Britain (1982) and tours of his native country (1979, 1987, and 1991).

Wojtyla was born in Wadowice, Poland, the son of a junior army officer. In 1938 he moved with his father to Kraców and enrolled in the Jagiellonian University to take Polish studies and philosophy. Here he also developed a keen interest in drama and poetry. During the Nazi occupation of Poland in World War II, he joined the underground student resistance movement to pursue his studies, working in a stone quarry by day. In 1942 he started to study theology in secret at the university and was finally ordained a priest in 1946. After studying philosophy and moral theology at the Angelicum Institute, Rome, he returned home in 1948 to a climate of oppression and growing conflict between Church and state. He served as a priest to the village of Nieogowić near Kraców and then in a city parish. Meanwhile, in 1949, he obtained the first of two doctorates from the Jagiellonian University and in 1954 was appointed professor of theology at the Catholic University of Lublin. Made a bishop in 1958, Wojtyla attended the Second Vatican Council (1962–65) and in 1964 was appointed Archbishop of Kraców. He became a cardinal three years later. Under the Polish primate, Cardinal Wyszynski, Wojtyla helped steer Poland's Catholics through the 1970 food riots, becoming increasingly outspoken against the communist authorities.

On 16 October 1978, the election of the first Polish pope was greeted with jubilation in Poland. His subsequent support for the solidarity movement of the 1980s has been credited with hastening the collapse of communism in Poland and hence throughout Eastern Europe. In spite of a series of worldwide visits in which he has confronted poverty, hunger, and distress, especially in Central and South America, he has upheld staunchly and uncompromisingly the church's traditional opposition to artificial means of contraception and abortion. This has led his critics to assert that the size of the new generation of Catholics is more important to him than measures to alleviate hunger and deprivation. He has reaffirmed his conservative attitude to other social issues by his condemnation of homosexuality (1986) and his opposition to the ordination of women and the relaxation of the rule of celibacy for priests. He has also had to grapple with the Church's dilemma over the politicization of the priesthood in South America, a development that he has attempted to curb, and the incorporation of local traditional practices into the Churches of Africa and south Asia. In May 1981, John Paul II survived an assassination attempt in St Peter's Square, Rome.

Subjects: Christianity.


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