May 27, 2014
John Paul II
On May 18, 1920, in a small Polish town just outside of Wadowice, a child was born to Karol Wojtyla (1879-1941, and Emilia Kaczorosks (1884-1929). His name was Karol Jozef Wojtyla. Little did his parents know that one day their child was destined not only to become a priest and a bishop, but the 264th pope of the Roman Catholic Church, and only the second non-Italian pope.
Emilia, a schoolteacher, died in childbirth. Wojtyla was nine years old and the youngest of three children. This was just the beginning of a life of crosses. His oldest sister, Olga, died before he was born. His brother, Edmund, who he was very close with and who had a huge impact on him, was a physician and died of scarlet fever. Wojtyla was twelve years old.
Wojtyla was like any other boy in his early life. He greatly enjoyed skiing and swimming, but he particularly loved playing soccer, especially as goalie. Ironically, though Catholic, Wojtyla grew up in a large Jewish community. Yet, he showed no favoritism to Catholics on the playing field and often was seen sporting with the Jewish team. Neither did he show discrimination on a personal leve. In fact, Wojtyla’s first girlfriend was Ginka Beer, a Jewish girl.
It wasn’t until Hitler’s soldiers marched into Poland in 1938, that Woityla’s father moved to Krakow to enroll Wojtyla in the Jagiellonian University as a philosophy major. Wojtyla’s natural affinity for languages began at the university, eventually mastering eight different languages: Polish, Italian, Spanish, French, English, German, Portuguese, and Latin. His well-spoken linguistic gifts eventually served to strengthen his communication as pope with people around the world in 129 countries he visited during his pontificate.
In 1939, Nazi troops had closed the university during the German occupation of Poland, forced Wojtyla to leave academia, and go to work as a stonecutter at a quarry near Krakow. Despite Wojtyla’s aversion to weapons, his father forced him to take part in military training because he did not know how World War II was going to unfold. Without warning and at the young age of 20, Wojtyla’s father died of a heart attack in 1941 leaving him as the sole survivor of the family. Later, his father’s death would play an important part in his becoming a priest.
Wojtyla’s calling to become a priest came early in life. Initially, he believed his talents were with the theater so he signed up with an experimental theater group called “Studio 38”. But the Germans hated both Jews and Catholics. This forced Wojtyla to leave behind his theatrical aspirations; he chose to study theology at a secret underground seminary run by the archbishop of Krakow. After surviving a car accident, he had to hide in his uncle’s basement from the German Gestapos who were hunting for Polish teens to hunt down Jews. This day is historically known as “Black Sunday”. Wojtyla was always sympathetic toward the Jews and saved...