Karol Wojtyła was born 18 May 1920 in Wadowice, in Poland. He lost his mother and elder brother when he was a child. He was studying in Cracow University and attending a school for drama when the war broke out and the Nazis closed the university. He met Jan Tyranowski who became a sort of spirtual guide, worked in a factory and lost his father in 1941.
In 1942, he began taking courses in the clandestine seminary of Cracow and at the same time participated in the also clandestine "Rhapsodic Theatre" well aware of the risks. After the war, he was ordained priest and sent to Rome where he worked under the guidance of a French Dominican. After finishing his doctorate in theology in 1948 he returned to Poland as a vicar and as chaplain for the university students and then a professor.
He analyzed how the new communist society worked and supervised young adults ; with them he had open discussions, organized hikes or made some sport.
He was appointed Auxiliary Bishop of Cracow in 1958, nominated Archbishop of Cracow in 1964 and Cardinal in 1967. After the untimely death of Pope John Paul I, he was elected to the papacy, 16 October 1978, choosing the name of John Paul II. He was the first non italian Pope in 450 years.
In May 1981, he was shot and severely wounded but this attempt on his life strengthened his faith and courage. He forgave the man who shot him and visited him in jail two years later.
He regularly met government personalities and religious leaders. His goal was to promote peace, brotherhood and love. He had an important role in the democratization of Central and Eastern Europe. He was the first Pope to visit a Synagogue, a Mosque ; he held out his hand to the non-Catholic Christians and organized inter-religion meetings in Assisi.
After having been called the athlete of God, Pope John Paul II started suffering from various illnesses in the mid-90s, making his body weak but neither his mind nor his heart. He lead the Catholic Church into the 3rd millennium, visited Jerusalem and asked Jews for forgiveness. He was always working to avoid war, criticizing the use of strength and the selfishness of rich nations.
Weakened by disease and age, he died on 2 April 2005, with the same courage and spiritual high standards he had showed during his whole life. "Don't be afraid!"
Jean-Paul II was beatified in 2011 and canonized by pope Francis in 2014.
During his 26 years Pontificate, John Paul II has published many documents, several books, he has presided numerous beatification and canonization ceremonies. He has completed 104 pastoral visits outside of Italy and 146 within Italy, visiting a total of 129 countries.
He has received more than 17.5 million pilgrims in the General Audiences in the Vatican, and more than 8 million pilgrims during the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, not to mention the millions of faithful met during his pastoral visits throughout the world.
His "World Youth Days", in Rome, Buenos Aires (1987), Santiago de Compostela (1989), Czestochowa (1991), Denver (1993), Manila (1995), Paris (1997), Rome (2000) and Toronto (2002) have drawn millions and millions of young people, willing to make the world a better place and share their love. Everyone could witness that the crowds gathered during the different WYDs were among the largest ever seen, and the joy, inner peace and strength of the baptized adults.