Karol Wojtyła. Birth

The history of pope John Paul II

By The Centre for the Thought of John Paul II

Emilia Kaczorowska and Karol Wojtyła (20th Century)The Centre for the Thought of John Paul II

"My boyhood and adolescence are connected primarily with my father whose spiritual life deepened after he had lost his wife and older son. I looked at his life up close, I saw him demanding of himself, I saw him kneeling to pray. And that was the most important thing in those years, which mean so much in a young man’s adolescence." André Frossard, "Do not be afraid." Interviews with John Paul II

The Wojtyła familyThe Centre for the Thought of John Paul II

"On December 4 this year, after lasting only four days but severe illness, a secondary doctor of the Municipal Hospital, Dr. Edmund Wojtyła, died from severe septic scarlet fever. He got infected with that disease, which turned out to be deadly for him, while making an attempt to help his patient suffering from scarlet fever; alas to no avail. (…) Let us honour his memory!" From the minutes of the City Council of Bielsko meeting.

Karol Wojtyła with friends (20th Century)The Centre for the Thought of John Paul II

#LOLEK

May 18, 1920 – The Polish-Bolshevik war continues. In Wadowice, in a two-room apartment in the market square, Karol Wojtyła, or Lolek, as he will be called later, is born. His brother, Edmund, is almost 14. Their sister, Olga, died four years earlier, just after being born.

 

With his father – a serviceman – Karol wanders in the mountains. His brother, in turn, takes him to football games. Mountains and sport will remain near and dear to Karol for the rest of his life. Lolek attends the local boys’ primary school first and then the junior high school. He has a lot of friends with whom he learns and plays football. Extremely talented, he is particularly interested in literature and theatre.

Emilia KaczorowskaThe Centre for the Thought of John Paul II

Being the fifth out of thirteen children in a craftsman’s family, Emilia – Karol’s mother – was brought up in Kraków. Following her marriage, she was mainly a housekeeper, occasionally working as a tailor.

Wadowice (20th Century)The Centre for the Thought of John Paul II

Karol is barely 9 when he loses his mother. Another blow comes three years later, when his beloved brother passes away too. Until graduating from the junior high school, Karol lives with his father in Wadowice. He becomes an altar boy, receives the Carmelite scapular. Upon completing the final exams (“matura”), Karol moves to Kraków where he pursues his dream studies, i.e. Polish Studies.

Wadowice (20th Century)The Centre for the Thought of John Paul II

"We would play football in the streets next to the church, and the parish priest would chase us away because he was afraid that we would break the beautiful stained-glass windows."

Eugeniusz Mróz, Lolek's friend

Karol Wojtyła (20th Century)The Centre for the Thought of John Paul II

#KAROL

"Every time I meet labourers, I can’t help but confess that I experienced God’s grace in a nearly four-year long labour in quarries and in a factory." John Paul II, Gabon (Africa), 1982.

KrakówThe Centre for the Thought of John Paul II

1939. In June Wojtyła completes his first year of Polish Studies at the Jagiellonian University. September 1, Germany invades Poland. The University is closed.

Karol Wojtyła, 20th Century, From the collection of: The Centre for the Thought of John Paul II
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Jagiellonian University, From the collection of: The Centre for the Thought of John Paul II
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Gazeta Polska, 20th Century, From the collection of: The Centre for the Thought of John Paul II
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Kraków Soda Factory “Solvay”The Centre for the Thought of John Paul II

The occupants issue a work order. Karol crushes stone blocks with a pickaxe and transports them by wheelbarrows at the Soda Factory “Solvay” in Kraków. During breaks at work he reads and prays. Every morning he attends a mass at the parish in Dębniki. Then in clogs and denim clothes, with a haversack slung over his shoulder, he goes to work.

World War IIThe Centre for the Thought of John Paul II

The German occupiers plundered cultural goods and took works of art and monuments to the Third Reich.

World War II, 20th Century, From the collection of: The Centre for the Thought of John Paul II
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Karol Wojtyła as an actor (20th Century)The Centre for the Thought of John Paul II

In time of war, theatre is also a way to fight with the occupants – it keeps the spirit of the nation alive. Karol combines hard physical work with performances at the Rhapsodic Theatre. He is a promising actor. During this period, he also writes his own youth poems and dramas.

Mieczysław KotlarczykThe Centre for the Thought of John Paul II

"In the winter of 1941, Mietek Kotlarczyk and Zosia, his wife, came along and stayed with Karol. And we called these basements catacombs. [...] and that was where – at Karol’s – seven premieres of an underground, secret, rhapsodic theatre were created." Halina Królikiewicz-Kwiatkowska, actress of the Rhapsodic Theatre

Cardinal Adam SapiehaThe Centre for the Thought of John Paul II

#PRIEST

"Vocation maturing in such circumstances acquires a new value and meaning. As the evil and horrors of war were spreading, the meaning of the priesthood and its mission in the world became extremely transparent and clear to me." John Paul II, “Gift and Mystery”

St. Leonard’s CryptThe Centre for the Thought of John Paul II

1942 – the war continues. “So many of my peers are dying – why not me?” Karol keeps asking himself this question time and time again. He gives up his theatre dreams and joins an underground seminary. Meanwhile, he continues to work in Solvay until “black Sunday” – on August 6, 1944 the Germans arrest young men for fear of another uprising akin to the Warsaw one. They do not look into the basement where young Karol lives, though. St. Leonard’s Crypt in the Wawel Cathedral. November 2, 1946. Wojtyła celebrates his first mass. The day before, he was ordained a priest by Archbishop Adam Sapieha. Shortly thereafter, the young priest is sent to study to Rome for two years.

Kraków after World War IIThe Centre for the Thought of John Paul II

Niegowić in the commune of Gdów. 1948. The village parish receives a new curate – Fr. Wojtyła. As he crosses the border of the parish, Wojtyła kneels down and kisses the ground. Just a year later, he is called back to Kraków, to St. Florian’s parish. He gives conferences for students, sets up a youth choir, organizes numerous trips. Next, he is chosen for academic work, and he works on his habilitation. He becomes a lecturer at the Catholic University of Lublin. "There was an auditorium with a stage, but the rehearsals took place by the oil lamp in an unheated room, since there was no electricity in Niegowić at the time. Anyway, everything by oil lamps. But for the show itself, the boys managed to get an old, post-German dynamo. A big one. In the attic of the building there were always two of them spinning and then there was light on stage." Maria Trzaska, a resident of Niegowić, speaking about the plays directed by Fr. Wojtyła  

Karol WojtyłaThe Centre for the Thought of John Paul II

"At that time, I was a prior in Jasna Góra. I remember vividly a young priest from Kraków coming with groups of youth – Wojtyła. It was actually quite a phenomenon. At that time, pilgrimages as we know them today virtually did not exist. All we used to have were just the traditional so-called companies, with orchestras. And here, all of a sudden, a group of young people with a priest wearing trousers is coming by bike." Fr. Jerzy Tomziński, Pauline

Karol WojtyłaThe Centre for the Thought of John Paul II

#UNCLE

"And so we set off, first in a kayak over the waves of the river, and then in a truck laden with sacks of flour, until I got to Olsztynek. The train for Warsaw left late at night."

John Paul II, Rise, Let Us Be on Our Way

Karol WojtyłaThe Centre for the Thought of John Paul II

July 1958. Wojtyła relaxes with young people on a kayak trip in Masuria. They call him “Uncle.” Summoned by Primate Wyszyński, Wojtyła goes to Warsaw to learn about his episcopal appointment. Eminence, I am way too young, I am barely 38,” he says. “From such a weakness” – Wyszyński replies – “we all recover rather quickly.” “When he returned to us after the nomination, he said right away that Uncle would remain Uncle.”  Teresa Malecka, from the Fr. Karol Wojtyła group

Arcybishop Karol Wojtyła (20th Century)The Centre for the Thought of John Paul II

At that time, the communists are building Nowa Huta – a district of Kraków envisaged as a model communist urban planning. People from the neighbourhood demand to have a church built as well. They obtain a building permit; however, the decision is quickly withdrawn. A crowd is gathering around the cross erected at the construction site. The services brutally suppress the protest. Yet, the young bishop does not give up. In 1967 he sticks the first shovel, and 10 years later he consecrates a new church, called the Lord’s Ark.

Karol Wojtyła by Andrzej Kossobudzki OrłowskiThe Centre for the Thought of John Paul II

Jasna Góra, 1966. The episcopate gathers on the ramparts of Jasna Góra and a great crowd of the faithful – on the plains. This is the climax of the Millennium of the Baptism of Poland celebrations. “So we entrust the entire Poland under the slavery of your love,” powerful voice of Primate Wyszyński reverberates, entrusting the Homeland to Mother of God. The bishop of Kraków provides a strong support for the primate in those celebrations.

Bishop Karol WojtyłaThe Centre for the Thought of John Paul II

The time Bishop Wojtyła spent in the car was devoted to reading and preparing texts. He had a lamp installed in front of the seat so that he could do it.

Karol Wojtyła (20th Century) by Cyprian GrodzkiThe Centre for the Thought of John Paul II

#CARDINAL

"Vocation always means that we are to see a new project of our own life – a different project from the one we have lived with so far."

André Frossard, “Do not be afraid.” Interviews with John Paul II.

Rome, the ’60s. Wojtyła actively participates in the works of the Second Vatican Council. In 1967, he receives a cardinal’s hat. He becomes an entrusted associate of Paul VI, vividly criticized for his encyclical, Humanae vitae. The young cardinal supports him both in his work, providing invaluable input, and spiritually. "(…) Should we need a pope one day, I have but one candidate – Wojtyła! Unfortunately, it is utterly impossible. He stands no chance.” Fr. Henri de Lubac, Jesuit, SV II expert  

il Giornale and Le FigaroThe Centre for the Thought of John Paul II

In 1978, the Sistine Chapel becomes the centre of attention of the entire world. The conclave has begun. Subsequent voting sessions bring no conclusion. The situation changes on the third day. Wojtyła becomes the front-runner. Cardinal Wyszyński suggests: “If elected, please do not say no.” 

“Habemus Papam!” a voice from the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica announces. Thunderous applause follows. “Cardinalem Wojtyła!” – confusion. Who is he? A cardinal from Poland! How come? The last non-Italian pope lived in the 16th century. The new pope appears on the balcony and immediately wins the hearts of all gathered. The extraordinary piece of news makes it to the newspapers all over the world. The Polish government has no idea how to react.

Trybuna Robotnicza, From the collection of: The Centre for the Thought of John Paul II
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The election of Karol Wojtyła as Pope (20th Century)The Centre for the Thought of John Paul II

John Paul II (20th Century)The Centre for the Thought of John Paul II

“They called him in from a distant country... distant, but still so close because of a community of faith and Christian tradition,” said John Paul II in his first words to the faithful. And he added: “If I make a mistake [speaking Italian – editorial note], you need to correct me.”

John Paul II (20th Century) by Cyprian GrodzkiThe Centre for the Thought of John Paul II

“Do not be afraid. Open wide the doors to Christ!” – these words from the first homily in St. Peter’s Square were considered the programme slogan of his pontificate.

John Paul II, Cyprian Grodzki, 20th Century, From the collection of: The Centre for the Thought of John Paul II
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John Paul II by Damazy KwiatkowskiThe Centre for the Thought of John Paul II

#PILGRIM

"(...) this is the role of the Church that wants to unite, that wants to bring together people and nations above what divides them and sometimes turns one against the other.”

John Paul II to the diplomatic corps, January 14, 1980.

John Paul II in Poland (20th Century) by Cyprian GrodzkiThe Centre for the Thought of John Paul II

1979, the Victory Square in Warsaw, filled to the brim with pilgrims, despite the fact that the authorities have done everything to make it difficult for people to attend. The Pope exclaims: “Let Your Spirit descend and renew the face of the earth. This Earth!” The pilgrimages to his homeland contribute to the renewal of consciences and give people new hope, which results in systemic changes in Poland. After 1989, John Paul II still continues to teach us how to gain freedom – internal freedom – and how to follow the Decalogue. He visits his homeland eight times. He is a father and an authority, although critical voices are heard, too. He travels all over the country. Each of these visits is an event of great significance for Poles.

John Paul II in Poland (20th Century) by Cyprian GrodzkiThe Centre for the Thought of John Paul II

In 1979, young people were camping all night in the street by the St. Anne’s Church in Warsaw to attend a meeting with the Pope.

John Paul II in Poland (20th Century) by Cyprian GrodzkiThe Centre for the Thought of John Paul II

John Paul II in Poland (20th Century) by Cyprian GrodzkiThe Centre for the Thought of John Paul II

"He said: ‘Do not be afraid...’ It was a call for us, at least this is how I understood it. Then we really raised from our knees.” Anna Walentynowicz, co-founder of NSZZ “Solidarność”

John Paul II in Poland (20th Century) by Cyprian GrodzkiThe Centre for the Thought of John Paul II

During a mass in Gdańsk-Zaspa, the altar by Marian Kołodziej looked like a ship, and the Pope gave a homily standing on the captain’s bridge.

John Paul II in Colombia (20th Century)The Centre for the Thought of John Paul II

John Paul II is the first pope in the history to visit the Church in all corners of the world. Altogether, he made 104 trips, covering a distance equal to more than 42 laps around the equator.

John Paul II in France (20th Century)The Centre for the Thought of John Paul II

#FATHER

"The young people I have met gave me confidence that there is a future for our world thanks to them." John Paul II to the youth, Gabon (Africa), February 18, 1982.

John Paul II in Italy by Arturo MariThe Centre for the Thought of John Paul II

It is 1985. John Paul II has a deep faith in young people whom he invites to Rome on Palm Sunday. Skeptics expect a turnout disaster. Yet, over 300,000 people arrive. Since then, the World Youth Days have become a regular event, giving hope for a young and dynamic Church. In 1991, for the first time ever, the youth from both sides of the Iron Curtain meet in Jasna Góra. In the Philippines, as many as 5 million people participate in the major WYD events. “He was a pope in the full sense of this word – he would build bridges. There has been no pope like him for a very long time.” Helmut Kohl, former Chancellor of Germany

John Paul II in Italy (20th Century)The Centre for the Thought of John Paul II

1986. In Assisi, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Christians of different denominations and representatives of other religions gather together. They are united in prayer for peace. John Paul II has repeatedly called for reconciliation – in the Balkans, in Rwanda. He personally intervenes in the Chile-Argentina conflict. He meets religious leaders again in 2002, begging God for peace after the attacks on the World Trade Center and after the war in Afghanistan began.

John Paul II in Italy (20th Century) by Alessandro BianchiThe Centre for the Thought of John Paul II

Through the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, John Paul II introduced the Church into the third millennium. At midnight on Christmas Eve 1999, he opened the Holy Door in St. Peter as a sign of the beginning of the Jubilee. The holy door expresses the symbolism of the transition from sin to grace. The year 2000 was full of events and meetings; e.g. the papal pilgrimage to the Holy Land took place. The jubilee ended on January 6, 2001 with the closing of the Holy Door.

John Paul II in Italy (20th Century)The Centre for the Thought of John Paul II

#SAINT

“Each one of us painfully feels the closure of life, the boundary of death. Each one of us is somehow aware of the fact that the man does not fit completely within these boundaries, though, that he cannot die completely.” John Paul II, Rome, April 5, 1979.



1981. The Pope circles St. Peter’s Square. He greets the faithful, takes children in his arms. Suddenly there is a loud bang! A bullet pierces the Holy Father’s body. The fight for his life begins. The Pope entered the See of Peter full of strength and physically fit. The attack has a detrimental effect on his health. At the end of his life, he suffers from Parkinson’s disease and his vulnerability becomes more and more apparent. However, despite the weakness of the body, his mind remains clear.

John Paul II with Mehmet Ali AğcaThe Centre for the Thought of John Paul II

The funeral of John Paul II (21st Century)The Centre for the Thought of John Paul II

Palm Sunday 2005. The disease progresses quickly. John Paul II makes a short appearance in the window. After a larynx surgery, he is unable to say even a word. He gives the faithful a silent blessing. He does not participate in the Way of the Cross at the Coliseum on Good Friday. He prays in his private chapel and hugs the cross. A week later, the agony begins. The faithful all over the world gather in prayer. John Paul II dies on April 2 at 9:37 PM.

 

“Our beloved Pope is standing today at the window of the Father’s house; he sees us and blesses us,” says Cardinal Ratzinger during the funeral. Among the countless crowds of the faithful, “Santo subito” – “Saint immediately” – banners appear nearly instantly. The Pope is declared a blessed just six years after his death and declared a saint in 2014. “John Paul II who, because of his inexhaustible energy and courage in taking on the challenges that the Church faced, was once called the God’s Athlete, remained him until the very end. Sick and suffering in recent years as a result of inexorable illness, he deserved that title even more. He was carrying out his mission with extraordinary serenity, derived from the power of spirit.” Polish Press Agency, a communique sent out immediately after the Pope’s death

Credits: Story

The exhibition was created and made available by The Centre for the Thought of John Paul II in cooperation with The Ministry of Foreign Affairs Republic of Poland.


Text: Barbara Stefańska
Editing: Marta Dzienkiewicz
Proofreading: Ewa Popielarz
Graphic design: Wojciech Paduch
International cooperation: Joanna Korzeniewska
Coordination: Maciej Omylak

The Centre for the Thought of John Paul II, jp2online.pl, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland, poland.pl

The creators of the exhibition did their best to reach the owners of copyrights of the exhibited photographs. In situations where attempts to determine the authorship of the used works have failed, those who have knowledge of the owners of copyrights are asked to contact us or inform us about the proper way of describing the works.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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