Pope: John Paul II

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John Paul II, was born on May 18, 1920, was elected pope on Oct. 16, 1978, succeeding John Paul I. His name was Karol Josef Wojtyla. John Paul II is the first Polish pope and the first non-Italian pope since the 16th century. During his pontificate he has traveled more extensively than any of his predecessors, preaching to millions of people on 6 continents and in more than 50 nations.

The son of a Polish army officer, Karol Wojtyla was born in Wadowice, Poland. He attended an underground seminary during the World War II German occupation and was ordained a priest in 1946. After studying in Rome and at the University of Krakow, he was appointed (1956) professor of ethics at the University of Lublin, where he published the first of many articles and books on philosophical and theological themes. Consecrated bishop in 1958, he served first as auxiliary bishop of Krakow and in 1964 became archbishop of Krakow, He was made a cardinal in 1967.

John Paul II's pontificate has revealed two principal goals. The first is his vigorous commitment to justice and peace. He has consistently encouraged nations to construct a social order that fosters human dignity. He has criticized the injustices of both Communism and capitalism. The pope has presented his ideas on social justice and other theological themes in the encyclicals Redemptor hominis (1979), Laborem exercens (1981), Dominum et vivificantem (1986), Redemptoris mater (1987), Centesimus Annus (1991), and Fides et Ratio (1998). His personal philosophy was outlined in the best-selling book Crossing the Threshold of Hope (1994).

John Paul's second goal is to affirm the unambiguous identity of Roman Catholicism. Uneasy with dissent, he has attempted to enforce the church's disciplinary rules and to resist uncontrolled innovations. (He has, for example, condemned some aspects of...