John Paul II
"Open wide the doors to Christ", urged John Paul II during the homily at the Mass when he was installed as Pope in 1978.
Born in Wadowice, Poland, Karol Jozef Wojtyla had lost his mother, father and older brother before his 21st birthday. Karol's proming academic career at Krakow's Jagiellonian University was cut short by the outbreak of World War II. While working in a quarry and a chemical factory, he enrolled in an "underground" seminary in Krakow. Ordained in 1946, he was immeediately sent to Rome where he earned a doctorate in theology.
Back in Poland, a short assignment as assistant pastor in a rural parish preceded his very fruitful chaplaincy for university students. Soon he earned a doctorate in philosophy and began teaching that subject at Poland's University of Lublin.
Communist officials allowed him to be appointed auxiliary bishop of Krakow in 1958, considering him a relatively harmless intellectual. They could have not been more wrong!
He attended all four sessions of Vatican II, was appointed archbishop of Krakow in 1964 and named a cardinal three years later.
Elected Pope in October 1978, he took the name of his short-lived, immediate predecessor. Pope John Paul II was the first non-Italitan pope in 455 years. In time, he made pastoral visits to 124 countries, including several with small Christian populations.
The Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, a key event in John Paul's ministry, was marked by special celebrations in Rome and elsewhere for Catholics and other Christians. Relations with the Orthodox Churches improved consideraby during his ministry as pope.
One of the most well-remembered photos of his pontificate was his one-on-one conversation in 1983 with Hehmet Ali Agca, who had attempted to assassinate him two years earlier.
In his 27 years of papal ministry, John Paul wrote 14 encyclicals and five books, canonized 482 saints and beatified 1338 people. Pope Benedict XVI beatified John Paul II on May 1, 2011, Divine Mercy Sunday.
Before John Paul's funeral Mass in St. Peter's Square, hundreds of thousands of people had waited patiently for a brief moment to pray before his body, which lay in state inside St. Peter's for several days. The media coverage of his funeral was unprecedented.
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, then dean of the College of Cardinals and later Pope Benedict XVI, presdided at the funeral Mass and concluded his homily by saying: "None of us can ever forget how, in that last Easter Sunday of his life, the Holy Father, marked by suffering, came once more to the window of the Apostolic Palace and one last time gave his blessing urbi et orbi (to the city and to the world).
"We can be sure that our beloved pope is standing today at the window of the Father's house, that sees us and blesses us. Yes, bless us, Holy Father. We entrust your dear soul to the Mother of God, your Mother, who guided you each day and who will guide you now to the glory of her Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen."
In his 1999 Letter to the Elderly, Pople John Paul II wrote: "Grant, O Lord of life . . .when the moment of our definitive 'passage' comes, that we may face it with serenity, without regret for what we shall leave behind. For in meeting you, after having sought you for so long, we shall find once more every authentic good which we have known here on earth, in the company of all those who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith and hope. . . .Amen."