Today's Birthdays: May 18
John Paul II
1920–2005, pope (1978–2005), a Pole named Karol Jozef Wojtyla, born in Wadowice; successor of John Paul I.
He was the first non-Italian pope elected since the Dutch Adrian VI (1522–23) and the first Polish pope. Ordained a priest in 1946, he taught ethics at Kraków and Lublin universities and published works on theological and philosophical topics as well as poetry and a play. He was consecrated a bishop in 1958, became archbishop of Kraków in 1964, was a prominent spokesman for the Polish Church at the Second Vatican Council (see Vatican Council, Second), and was made a cardinal in 1967.
As pope, John Paul II has continued to implement the decisions of Vatican II and has placed special emphasis on Marian devotion. He has traveled widely, increasing the international character of the papacy. In the first decade alone of his pontificate he visited 50 countries, despite the physical setback caused by his being shot in St. Peter's Square on May 13, 1981, by a Turkish terrorist. John Paul has continued to travel widely despite his increasing age and frailty, and by 2003 had visited more than 125 nations, having made 100 trips abroad. In 1998 he visited Cuba; in 1999 he visited Romania and Georgia, becoming the first pope to visit predominantly Orthodox countries; in 2000 he visited the Holy Land; in 2001 he retraced St. Paul's missionary journeys in Greece, Syria, and Malta and visited Ukraine; and in 2002 he visited Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Canada, Guatemala, and Mexico. He also has expanded international representation in the College of Cardinals and Roman Curia.
John Paul has pursued ecumenism (primarily with the Anglican Communion and Orthodox churches) and has taken various steps to improve relations with Jews, including Vatican recognition of Israel and acknowledgment of Catholic failures in responding to the Holocaust. Conservative on doctrine and issues relating to women, he also has been strongly critical of liberation theology and of those who call themselves Catholics yet continually question the church's teachings. In a 1995 encyclical he reasserted the church's condemnation of abortion, euthanasia, and capital punishment. However, he also considers it the church's responsibility to grapple with social questions and has been an outspoken commentator on world events. John Paul has issued two encyclicals (1981, 1991) on economic issues in which he praised free-market economies but criticized the inadequacies and injustices of both capitalism and Communism. He expressed his opposition to the imposition (1981) of martial law in Poland and used the resources of the church behind the scenes to support Solidarity prior to the collapse of Communism in his native country. His 1998 encyclical, Fides et Ratio, condemned both atheism and faith unsupported by reason and affirmed the place of reason and philosophy in religion.
John Paul II
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