Pope John Paul II
Born Karol Jozef "Lolek" Wojtyla in the year 1920 just outside of Krakow, Poland in the small town of Widowice.
His father was a retired military man and tailor. His mother was a school teacher. Lolek’s childhood friends included many Jewish children, making him the only Pope to actually know Jewish people personally, which helped him smooth relations with Israel later in history through his childhood friendships.
He was a great student (he speaks 8 languages and holds at least 4 college degrees) and very athletic, standing almost 5’11” tall and weighing into at 175 in his college years. His passions included poetry, religion and theater.
When Hitler invaded Poland he took a job cutting stone in a quarry, later began his priesthood studies in a seminary, worked at a chemical plant, acted in plays and eventually took courses at the University in Krakow where he was awarded two Masters degrees.
Ordained into the Catholic Church in 1946, he continued his University studies and after getting his Doctorate around 1949 he became a priest in Krakow as well as becoming a Chaplain at a University.
He continued his work teaching even after the Communists took over in the late 1940’s and abolished most of the religious factions and was made acting Archbishop for the area in 1962 and in 1967 was named Cardinal for the region.
In a surprising, if not shocking moment on October 16, 1978 after seven unsuccessful ballot attempts to replace the one month tenure of frail Pope John Paul, the college of Cardinals picked the Archbishop and Cardinal of Krakow, Poland to become the new Pope. The first non-Italian Pope in almost 500 years.
During his tenure he made 170 visits to 115 countries (he was often known as the “travelling Pope”), including Poland, Cuba, Israel, the United States and Mexico.
He was not without his critics as many found him somewhat ultra-conservative (such as regarding marriage, divorce and contraception), even though he had some liberal tendencies (such as his out reach to the Jewish sector).
In 1981 a Turkish man made an attempted assassination on the Pope, which was said to be part of a KGB initiative, but this was later denied. The Pope visited the assassin in his jail cell after recovering from the bullet wound and forgave the man. Since this time, however, the Pope began travelling in a bullet-proof vehicle affectionately named the “Pope mobile” by the mass media.
Now, with the death of Pope John Paul II this month a void is to be filled by the Roman Catholics.
The process of electing Pope John Paul, and soon his successor, goes back to the year 1059 and Pope Nicholas II, who decreed that only Cardinals could vote to elect the Pope. Prior to this it was a political nightmare of local priests, interference from Kings and Emperors all attempting to influence the election of the next Pope much like special interest groups do today with American politics in getting bills passed, defeated or amended in Congress.