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His Holiness Pope John Paul II, born Karol Józef Wojtyla ( Polish pronunciation?.), (May 18, 1920 – April 2, 2005) was Pope from October 16, 1978 until his death.

John Paul II was chosen for the papacy on October 16, 1978, becoming the first non-Italian pope in 455 years and the first of Slavic origin in the history of the Church. He crusaded against communism, unbridled capitalism and political oppression. He stood firmly against abortion as well as contraception and defended the Church's approach to human sexuality. He was recognized as not only a religious leader, but a world leader.

His more than 100 trips abroad attracted enormous crowds (among them some of the largest ever assembled in human history). With these trips, John Paul covered a distance far greater than that traveled by all other popes combined. They have been seen as an outward sign of the efforts at global bridge-building between nations and between religions that have been central to his pontificate.

John Paul II beatified and canonized far more persons than any previous pope. It is reported that as of October 2004, he had beatified 1,340 people. Whether he had canonized more saints than all his predecessors put together, as is sometimes claimed, is difficult to prove, as the records of many early canonizations are incomplete, missing or inaccurate.

On March 14, 2004, his pontificate overtook Leo XIII's as the third-longest pontificate in the history of the Papacy (after Pius IX and St Peter). The length of his reign is in marked contrast with that of his predecessor Pope John Paul I, who died suddenly after only 33 days in office (and in whose memory John Paul II named himself).

Pope John Paul II died after a long fight against Parkinson's disease, among other illnesses, at the age of 84 on April 2 at 21:37(GMT+02:00), 2005.

His funeral took place on April 7, 2005. His final hours were marked by an overwhelming number of younger people who kept vigil outside his Vatican apartments. In his last message, specifically to the youth of the world, he said: "I came for you, now it's you who have come to me. I thank you." A conclave will assemble between April 17 and April 22 to conduct a Papal Election to elect a new Pope.

Personal Background
Karol Wojtyla at 12 years old.
Karol Józef Wojtyla  was born on May 18, 1920 in Wadowice in southern Poland and died in Rome on April 2 2005 . A son of a former officer in the Austrian Habsburg army, whose name also was Karol Wojtyla. By 1941, he had lost his mother, his father, and his older brother. 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 polyglot, possibly speaking as many as eleven languages. While in office, he spoke nine languages fluently: Polish, Slovak, Russian, Italian, French, Spanish, Portuguese, German, and English, in addition to having knowledge of Ecclesiastical Latin.

Karol Wojtyla 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, Wojtyla 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 Wojtyla 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 Wojtyla returned to Vatican City to participate in the second conclave in less than two months.

The second Conclave of 1978
The second conclave was divided between two particularly strong candidates for the papacy: Giuseppe Cardinal Siri, the Archbishop of Genoa, and Giovanni Cardinal Benelli, the Archbishop of Florence and a close associate of Pope John Paul I. In early ballots, Benelli came within nine votes of victory. However Wojtyla secured election as a compromise candidate, in part through the support of Franz Cardinal König amongst others who had previously supported Giuseppe Cardinal Siri.

The first Polish Pope

Pope Paul VI and Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, later to become Pope John Paul II.

In October 16, 1978, at age 58, Wojtyla succeeded Pope John Paul I. On election, the first non-Italian pope in 455 years 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 notable playwright broke all the papal rules. He was to become arguably the dominant twentieth-century leader of the Roman Catholic Church, eclipsing Pope Paul VI in the extent of his travels, and for some he also eclipsed the intellectual vigour of Pope Pius XII and the charisma of Pope John XXIII.

Like his predecessor, John Paul II deliberately simplified his office in order to make it a less regal institution. He chose not to use the Royal Plural, referring to himself as "I" instead of "We." John Paul also opted for a simple inauguration ceremony instead of the formal papal coronation, and he never wore the Papal Tiara during his term in office. This was done to emphasize the servant role embodied in the title Servus Servorum Dei (Servant of the Servants of God).

One of John Paul II's first official visits was to Poland in June 1979. There he conducted mass in Victory Square in Warsaw, an event which had a galvanising effect on the Polish Solidarity trade union.

On May 13, 1981, John Paul II was shot and nearly killed by Mehmet Ali Agca, a Turkish gunman, as he entered St. Peter's Square to address an audience. Agca was eventually sentenced to life imprisonment.

Who commissioned the murder attempt remained obscure until late March 2005, when documents originating from the former Soviet states showed that the KGB was responsible for setting up the attack. The underlying motives behind the attack have been contentious; perhaps the Soviets were afraid of the effect of the Polish pope on the stability of its Eastern European Soviet satellites, particularly Poland; other speculation has accused factions in the Vatican, especially the so-called "freemason" faction, opposed to Wojtyla and Opus Dei, of which cardinal Casaroli was a leading figure. Ali Agca himself remains reticent to disclose the truth about the origins of his assassination attempt, although he has often hinted that he received some help from inside the Vatican. Finally, whoever the commissioner was, it has been suggested that Agca, an excellent marksman, would have killed the Pope if he had intended to do so, and that his mission was to scare the Pope rather than to kill him. However, all these possibilities should be regarded merely as speculation, because no definitive evidence has yet come to light.

Two days after the Christmas of 1983, John Paul visited the prison where his would-be assassin was being held. The two spoke privately for some time. John Paul II said of the meeting, "What we talked about will have to remain a secret between him and me. I spoke to him as a brother whom I have pardoned and who has my complete trust."

The assumption of the papacy by John Paul II was correctly predicted decades earlier by Padre Pio. The same monk also predicted that Wojtyla's reign would be brief and end bloodily, a prophecy that the latter's shooting almost vindicated.

Another assassination attempt took place on May 12, 1982, in Fatima, Portugal when a man tried to stab John Paul II with a bayonet, but was stopped by security guards. The assailant, an ultraconservative Spanish priest named Juan María Fernández y Krohn, reportedly opposed the reforms of the Second Vatican Council and called the pope an "agent of Moscow." He served a six-year sentence that was followed by his expulsion from Portugal.

As Pope, John Paul II's most important role was to teach people about the Christian faith. John Paul wrote a number of important documents which many observers view as having a long-term impact on the Church and on the world.A great achievement of John Paul II was the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which became an international best-seller because of its clarity of doctrine, an important solution together with his other writings, to the doctrinal confusion which happened during the Post-Vatican Crisis. This refers to the 1970s and 80s when hundreds of priests, nuns and lay faithful left the Catholic Church. John Paul II was able to turn around the decline in the 1990s.
His first encyclical letters focused on the Triune God; the very first was on Jesus Christ, the Redeemer ("Redemptor Hominis"). He maintained this focus on God throughout his pontificate. 

In his master plan for the the new millennium, the Apostolic Letter At the beginning of the new millennium, a "program for all times," he emphasized the importance of "starting afresh from Christ." "No, we shall not be saved by a formula but by a Person." Thus, the first priority for the Church is holiness: "All Christian faithful...are called to the fullness of the Christian life." And the "training in holiness calls for a Christian life distinguished above all in the art of prayer." His latest Encyclical is on the Holy Eucharist, which he says "contains the Church's entire spiritual wealth: Christ himself." Building on his master plan further, he emphasized the need to "rekindle amazement" on the Eucharist and to "contemplate the face of Christ."

Other important documents are: The Gospel of Life ("Evangelium Vitae"), Faith and Reason ("Fides et Ratio"), The Splendor of the Truth ("Veritatis Splendor").

John Paul II was also considered to have halted the progressive efforts of Vatican II, becoming a flagship for the conservative side of the Catholic Church. He continued his staunch opposition of contraceptive methods, abortion and homosexuality.

A controversial point of the John Paul II papacy was his October 1, 1986 letter to all bishops that described homosexuality as a "tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil" and "an objective disorder." His book Memory and Identity claimed that the push for homosexual marriage may be part of a "new ideology of evil ... which attempts to pit human rights against the family and against man."

Source : Wikepedia
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