Pope John Paul II: Background

Karol Józef Wojtyła (pronounced: voy-TEE-wah; was born on May 18, 1920 in Wadowice, Southern Poland, a son of a former officer in the Habsburg army. His youth was marked by intensive contacts with the then-thriving Jewish community of Kraków, and the experience of Nazi occupation, during which he worked in a quarry and a chemical factory. In his youth he was an athlete, actor, playwright, and a superb linguist, fluently speaking 11 languages. Karol Wojtyła was ordained a priest on November 1, 1946. He taught ethics at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków and subsequently at the Catholic University of Lublin. In 1958 he was named auxiliary Bishop of Kraków and four years later he assumed leadership of the diocese with the title of Vicar Capitular.

On December 30, 1963, Pope Paul VI appointed him Archbishop of Kraków. As both bishop and archbishop, Wojtyła participated in the Second Vatican Council, making contributions to the documents that would become the Decree on Religious Freedom (Dignitatis Humanae) and the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes), two of the most historic and influential products of the council.

In 1967 Pope Paul VI elevated him to cardinal. In August 1978, following Paul's death, he participated in the Papal Conclave that elected Albino Luciani, the Cardinal Patriarch of Venice, as Pope John Paul I. At 65, Luciani was a young man by Papal standards. While Wojtyła at 58 could have expected to participate in another Papal conclave before reaching the age of eighty (the upper age limit for cardinal electors), he could hardly have expected that his second conclave would come so soon, for on 28 September 1978, after only 33 days in the papacy, Pope John Paul I died. In October 1978 Wojtyła returned to Vatican City to participate in the second conclave in less than two months.

The Second Conclave of 1978

The conclave itself was divided between two particularly strong candidates: Giuseppe Siri, the Archbishop of Genoa, and Giovanni Benelli, the Archbishop of Florence and close associate of Pope John Paul I. In early ballots Benelli came within nine votes of victory. However Wojtyła secured election as the compromise candidate, in part through the support of cardinals Franz König and others who had previously supported Siri. On election, the first non-Italian pope for nearly half a millennium was referred to by many simply as the man from a far country. In terms of his age, his nationality, and his rugged health, the former athlete and playwright broke all the papal rules. He was to become, arguably, the dominant twentieth-century pope of the Catholic Church, eclipsing Pope Paul VI in travels, and, to some, eclipsing Pope Pius XII in intellectual vigour, and Pope John XXIII in charisma.

Source: http://www.wikipedia.org contributed to this report

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