washingtonpost.com  > World > Europe > Western Europe > Pope and Vatican
Page 5 of 5  < Back  

The Church Loses Its Light

Jaruzelski also acted as an intermediary in putting the pope in touch with Gorbachev, the reforming Soviet president and Communist Party leader.

In 1987, Gorbachev moved away from the Brezhnev Doctrine, under which Moscow reserved the right to intervene militarily in its satellites. The next year, his government said the traditional communist policy of suppressing religion had been abandoned and it sponsored a ceremony in Moscow to mark the 1,000th anniversary of the introduction of Christianity to Russia.

_____Obituary Submissions_____
Visit the obituary information page to learn about news obituary and death notice submissions.
_____Message Boards_____
Post Your Comments

John Paul responded by sending two delegations -- one to the religious observance and the other, headed by Cardinal Agostino Casaroli, the Vatican secretary of state, to the Soviet government. Casaroli carried a letter to Gorbachev in which the pope expressed his hopes for religious freedom in Russia and increased diplomatic contacts.

In January 1989, a ban on Solidarity was lifted, and in August that year, after free elections, more than 40 years of communist rule in Poland came to an end. That December, Gorbachev became the first Soviet Communist Party chief to call on the pontiff. In 1990, the Vatican and Moscow established formal diplomatic relations.

Although John Paul paid special attention to Eastern Europe, his interests were global. In Latin America, he helped defuse a dispute between Argentina and Peru. In Chile, he pressured Gen. Augusto Pinochet, head of the military government, to hold free elections.

In the Philippines, he directed church officials to support Corazon Aquino, a factor in ending the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos. In Africa, he sought to end religious and ethnic violence in Sudan and Rwanda. He refused to visit South Africa until it had ended its racist policies of apartheid.

After Iraq's defeat in the 1991 Persian Gulf War, he sought a more active role for the church in the changed conditions of the Middle East. In addition to establishing diplomatic relations with Israel, he met with Yasser Arafat, head of the Palestine Liberation Organization.

Training and Trials

Karol Josef Wojtyla was born May 18, 1920, in Wadowice, an industrial town near Krakow in the shadow of the Tatra Mountains in southern Poland. His father, after whom he was named, was a noncommissioned officer in the army of the Austro-Hungarian Empire -- which included his region of Poland until the end of World War I -- and then in the Polish army. His mother, Emilia Kaczorowska, died when he was a child. His older brother, Edmund, a medical student, died of scarlet fever he contracted from a patient.

In 1938, the Wojtylas, father and son, moved to Krakow. The future pope enrolled in Jagiellonian University, where he studied philosophy and joined the Rhapsodic Theater. He also wrote poetry and a number of plays on religious themes. Because he was a student, Wojtyla was exempted from military service when Nazi Germany invaded Poland on Sept. 1, 1939, starting World War II in Europe.

One of the first acts of the Nazi occupation authorities in Krakow was to close the university. They also began deporting able-bodied men for work in Germany. To avoid this, Wojtyla got a job as a laborer in a quarry supplying a chemical plant. Because it was war work, he got a special identity card that exempted him from the occupiers' dragnets.

His studies continued underground, as did his work with the theater. He also kept up his numerous church activities. In 1940, while attending a prayer group, he met a tailor named Jan Tyranowski, who was to have a profound influence on his decision to join the priesthood. Tyranowski was a student of Saint John of the Cross and Saint Teresa of Avila, the Spanish mystics who founded the Discalced Carmelites, and he encouraged a sense of mysticism he found in Wojtyla.

In 1942, Wojtyla began studying for the priesthood. Because of strictures imposed by the occupation, this activity was carried on in secret in the residence of Prince Adam Stefan Sapieha, the archbishop of Krakow and Wojtyla's sponsor in the church.

On Aug. 1, 1944, the Warsaw uprising against Nazi rule began. Fearing a similar outbreak in Krakow, the Nazis there began a roundup that netted an estimated 8,000 men and boys. Wojtyla escaped -- the Germans who searched the house where he was staying failed to look in the basement room where he was praying. He soon moved to the relative safety of the archbishop's residence, where he lived in secret.

Wojtyla was ordained Nov. 1, 1946. He was sent to Angelicum University in Rome, where he wrote his thesis on Saint John of the Cross and received a doctorate in philosophy.

He also earned a doctorate in theology at Jagiellonian University. When he returned to Poland in 1948, he became a deacon in the village of Niegowic and, the following year, assistant pastor of St. Florian's Church in Krakow.

In 1953, he defended his thesis on the phenomenology of Max Scheler, a German philosopher, and was appointed a philosophy professor at a seminary in Krakow. The next year, he joined the faculty of Catholic University in Lublin.

In 1958, he was named auxiliary bishop of Krakow, and in 1964, when the communist government lifted a ban on such appointments, he was promoted to archbishop. In 1967, Pope Paul VI made him a member of the College of Cardinals. On Sept. 28, 1978, Pope John Paul I, the former Cardinal Albino Luciani, died of a heart attack after serving only 34 days. Six days later, Wojtyla left Poland to join his fellow cardinals in Rome to choose a successor.

On Oct. 16, after three days of deliberation in the Vatican's Sistine Chapel and eight ballots, Wojtyla was elected the supreme pontiff. "It is God's will," he declared when the vote was announced. "I accept."

< Back  1 2 3 4 5

© 2005 The Washington Post Company