Pope Saint John Paul II (1920 - 2005) was born in Wadowice, Poland, and baptised Karol Józef Wojtyla. As a boy he enjoyed outdoor activities such as hiking and football but his childhood was not fully carefree and without suffering. Our Lord allowed him to undergo several trials already from an early age. Before he had turned 21, he had lost, one by one, both his parents and his only sibling, an older brother. After his father’s death, St John Paul realized he had a vocation to the priesthood and began his studies to fulfill this calling. However, during WWII the University he attended was closed by the Nazis, and he had to enroll in an underground seminary in Krakow. He would study at night and work during the day, holding such jobs as messenger for a restaurant and manual laborer at a stone quarry.
Saint John Paul II was ordained in 1946 and then sent to Rome where he earned a doctorate in theology. Back in Poland, he first ministered as a rural parish priest and eventually became a chaplain for University students and a professor of philosophy. He was appointed archbishop of Krakow in 1964 and was elected pope in 1978, the first non-Italian pope since the XVI Century. As pope, he visited 124 countries, improved the relations with Orthodox Churches, gave us the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary, and published a Catechism of the Catholic Church. His famous visit to Poland, in June of 1979, where hundreds of thousands of people at Victory Square chanted “We want God”, in defiance of the communist regime, is believed to have greatly contributed to the fall of communism in that country. Saint John Paul II died in 2005 after suffering for several years from Parkinson’s disease.