VATICAN CITY, APRIL 2, 2005 (Zenit.org).- Born Karol Józef Wojtyla, John Paul II left his mark occupying the third longest pontificate in the history of the Church.
Young Karol was born in Wadowice, a small city 35 miles southwest of Krakow, May 18, 1920.
The second of two sons born to Karol Wojtyla and Emilia Kaczorowska, his small family would not witness his rise to the papacy. His mother died in 1929, his brother Edmund, a doctor, died in 1932 and his father, a non-commissioned army officer, died in 1941.
He made his First Holy Communion at age 9, and was confirmed at 18. Upon graduation from high school in Wadowice in 1938, he and his father moved to Krakow where Karol entered the Jagiellonian University to study literature and philosophy.
The Nazi occupation forces closed the university in 1939, and young Karol had to work in a quarry, 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 Krakow, run by Cardinal Adam Stefan Sapieha, archbishop of Krakow. At the same time, Karol Wojtyla was one of the pioneers of the "Rhapsodic Theatre," also clandestine.
After the Second World War, he continued his studies in the major seminary of Krakow, once it had re-opened, and in the faculty of theology of the Jagiellonian University, until his priestly ordination in Krakow on Nov. 1, 1946.
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. At that time, during his vacations, he exercised his pastoral ministry among the Polish immigrants of France, Belgium and Holland.
In 1948, he returned to Poland and was vicar of various parishes in Krakow as well as chaplain for the university students until 1951, when he took up again his studies on philosophy and theology. In 1953, he defended a thesis on the ethical system of Max Scheler at Lublin's Catholic University.
He later he became professor of moral theology and social ethics in the major seminary of Krakow and in the Faculty of Theology of Lublin.
On July 4, 1958, he was appointed auxiliary bishop of Krakow by Pope Pius XII, and was consecrated bishop Sept. 28, 1958.
On Jan. 13, 1964, he was nominated Archbishop of Krakow by Pope Paul VI, who made him a cardinal June 26, 1967.
Besides taking part in the Second Vatican Council with an important contribution to the elaboration of the constitution "Gaudium et spes," Cardinal Wojtyla participated in all the assemblies of the Synod of Bishops.
Since the start of his pontificate Oct. 16, 1978, Pope John Paul II has completed 104 pastoral visits outside of Italy, and 146 within Italy. As Bishop of Rome he has visited 317 of the 333 parishes.
His principal documents include 14 encyclicals, 15 apostolic exhortations, 11 apostolic constitutions and 45 apostolic letters.
The Pope has also published five books: "Crossing the Threshold of Hope" (October, 1994); "Gift and Mystery: On the 50th Anniversary of My Priestly Ordination" (November, 1996); "Roman Triptych – Meditations," a book of poems (March, 2003); "Rise, Let Us Be On Our Way" (May, 2004) and "Memory and Identity" (February, 2005).
John Paul II has presided at 147 beatification ceremonies, proclaiming 1,338 blesseds, and 51 canonization ceremonies, canonizing 482 saints. He has held 9 consistories in which he created 231 (+ 1 in pectore) cardinals. He has also convened six plenary meetings of the College of Cardinals.
The Holy Father has presided at 15 synods of bishops: six ordinary (1980, 1983, 1987, 1990, 1994, 2001), one extraordinary (1985) and eight special (1980, 1991, 1994, 1995, 1997, 1998(2) and 1999).
His contact with people has exceeded that of any other Pope. More than 17,600,000 pilgrims have participated in the more than 1,160 General Audiences held on Wednesdays, and more than 8 million pilgrims participate in the events of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000 alone.
Karol Józef Wojtyla, John Paul II: May 18, 1920-April 2, 2005