Polish Pope remembered on centenary of his birth

Religious services and a wide range of other events are being held across Poland to mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of Karol Wojtyła, who in 1978 became Pope John Paul II.  He was born on May 18, 1920 in the town of Wadowice, southern Poland.

Jan Paweł II 1979 rok

Jan Paweł II 1979 rokPAP

Saturday was to have been the first day of the week-long commemoration ceremonies in Wadowice with the participation of visitors from many countries. Due to the pandemic ,the events in the town have been postponed until a later date but there is a wide range of online initiatives in Wadowice and elsewhere aimed at recalling the key events in the life of Pope John Paul II and his spiritual legacy and teaching.

#ThankYouJohnPaul2 is a site where people are invited to share their reminiscences of their encounters with the Polish pope in the form of short testimonies, photos or film clips. The spokesman for the Polish Bishops’ Conference, Father Paweł Rytel-Andrianik, has told the Polish Press Agency that the past six days, since the launch of the site, have seen a very good response, including from people from Mexico, Spain, Brazil, Italy, Germany, France, the United States, Canada, Croatia, Portugal and Israel. “This is proof that the memory of John Paul II is kept alive all over the world and that his teaching and message remain as topical as ever”, he said.

The Wadowice town council has encouraged its residents to produce 100-seconds-long films with a personal message of thanksgiving to the pope.

An open-air exhibition documenting John Paul’s visit to the Baltic city of Gdańsk has opened at the site where the pontiff  celebrated a mass for one million people in June 1987. During that two-day visit, the Pope also had meetings with Solidarity leader Lech Wałęsa, Polish youth and the disabled people.

The city of Kraków offers an online conducted tour of the sites marking Karol Wojtyła’s links with the town as student, priest and bishop.

Karol Wojtyła was the son of a retired army officer and a mother of Lithuanian origin. He experienced the death of his mother, brother, and father by the age of 21. During his high school studies in Wadowice, he developed a love of the theatre and poetry. He acted in classical plays by the great Polish poets and Romantic playwrights in amateur groups, and having moved to Kraków to study at the Jagiellonian University, he joined the underground ‘Rhapsodic Theatre”. At the age of 22, he commenced secret studies for priesthood during the Nazi-German occupation. Upon ordination in 1946, he rose steadily through the Church hierarchy, eventually rising to cardinal in 1967. He was a man of many talents, with several theatre plays and volumes of poetry to his credit, as well as a love of skiing, canoeing and mountain excursions.

On October 16, 1978,  Karol Wojtyła was elected the first non-Italian pope in 455 years. His first visit to his homeland in June 1979, then under communist rule, is seen as one of the key factors in the rise of the Solidarity movement and the subsequent collapse of the communist regime.

In 1981 he nearly died in an assassination attempt in St. Peter’ Square.

During his long pontificate, lasting 26 years, 5 months and 17 days, John Paul II travelled to 129 countries, issued 14 encyclicals and wrote several books which became bestsellers.  He was the first pope to pray in a synagogue, in Rome; the first to enter a mosque in an Islamic country, in Damascus: and the first to preside  a meeting of the heads of all the major world religions, at a day of prayer for peace in Assisi in 1986.

He died on April 2, 2005. He was beatified  on May 1, 2011, and declared a saint on April 27, 2014. 

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