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John Paul II For Dummies

The first Polish pope, John Paul II was a thinker and a leader whose religious convictions defined a new approach toward world politics — and changed the course of history. See the key dates in John Paul II's life, as well as the many ways he made history and influenced the worldview of Catholicism. And have a look at Pope John Paul II's six other names, one of which protected him from Communists.

Key Dates in the Life of Pope John Paul II

Karol Wojtyła, who became Pope John Paul II, did not allow anything to weaken his convictions. He lost both parents and his only brother before the age of 21, but Karol remained faithful to the Church and became a priest. Neither the German Nazis who invaded his homeland during World War II nor the Soviet Russians who occupied Poland throughout the Cold War could discourage his commitment to his religion. As pope, despite a would-be assassin's bullets and Parkinson's disease, John Paul II never succumbed to discouragement.

Here are the key dates in Pope John Paul II's life.

  • May 18, 1920: Karol Wojtyła, Jr., is born in Wadowice, Poland.

  • June 20, 1920: He is baptized in the Church of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

  • April 13, 1929: His mother, Emilia Kaczorowska, dies of kidney and heart failure.

  • December 5, 1932: His brother, Edmund, dies of scarlet fever.

  • February 18, 1941: His father, Karol Wojtyła, Sr., dies.

  • November 1, 1946: Karol is ordained a priest.

  • June 1948: He earns a doctorate in theology.

  • September 28, 1958: He is ordained auxiliary bishop of Krakow.

  • 1962–1965: He attends the Second Vatican Council.

  • June 26, 1967: He is elevated to cardinal.

  • October 16, 1978: He is elected Pope John Paul II.

  • May 13, 1981: Pope John Paul II is shot by Turkish terrorist Mehmet Ali Agca. John Paul II is taken to Gemelli Hospital, where he undergoes a six-hour operation.

  • April 1, 1982: He receives credentials of the first British ambassador to the Vatican since Henry VIII, an historic achievement.

  • January 25, 1983: He publishes Sacrae Disciplinae Leges, the revised Code of Canon Law.

  • December 27, 1983: Pope John Paul II visits Mehmet Ali Agca, the man who attempted to assassinate him, in prison.

  • January 10, 1984: Full diplomatic relations are established between the Holy See and the United States of America. (Previously, the U.S. had no ambassador to the Vatican and the Holy See had no embassy in America.)

  • February 18, 1984: The New Concordat between the Holy See and the Italian Republic on the revision of the 1929 Lateran Treaty is signed.

  • December 1, 1989: Official visit of Secretary General Mikhail Gorbachev of the U.S.S.R. to the Vatican. This marks the first time a pope met with the head of the Soviet Union.

  • October 18, 1990: John Paul II promulgates the Code of Canon Law for Oriental (Eastern or Byzantine) Churches.

  • December 7, 1992: He officially presents the revised Catechism of the Catholic Church to the College of Cardinals.

  • November 1, 1996: John Paul II marks 50 years of priestly ordination.

  • December 24, 1999: He opens the Holy Door at St. Peter's Basilica, inaugurating Jubilee Year 2000. (Jubilees were first begun in the 13th century and marked the passage of a century.)

  • January 6, 2001: He closes the Holy Door to conclude Jubilee Year 2000.

  • February 1, 2005: Pope John Paul II is admitted to Rome's Gemelli Polyclinic for breathing difficulties.

  • February 24, 2005: The pope is taken by ambulance to Gemelli Polyclinic with breathing difficulties. A tracheotomy is performed that evening. He spends 18 days in the hospital.

  • March 30, 2005: The pope receives a feeding tube through the nose.

  • April 2, 2005: At 9:37 p.m. Rome time, Pope John Paul II dies. He served 26 years, 5 months, 17 days.

The Ways Pope John Paul II Made History

John Paul II's reign as pope contained few hours of idle time, and as a result he changed the world and the perception of Catholicism. Among his accomplishments, Pope John Paul II

  • Canonized 484 men and women as saints.

  • Beatified 1,339 as blessed.

  • Expanded formal diplomatic relations of the Vatican with other nations from 84 to 174, including the United States.

  • Traveled 721,052 miles (1,243,757 km) or the equivalent of 31 consecutive trips around the globe.

  • Made 143 pastoral visits inside Italy.

  • Made 104 international trips.

  • Visited 129 countries and 876 cities.

  • Wrote 14 encyclicals, 15 apostolic exhortations, 11 apostolic constitutions, and 44 apostolic letters (84 papal letters in all).

  • Gave approximately 3,288 speeches.

  • Spent 18.75 percent of his papacy traveling.

  • Convened nine consistories. Elevated 232 cardinals, ordained 321 bishops, and baptized 687 children and 814 adults.

  • Held 1,161 general audiences, attended by over 17.6 million people.

John Paul II made history in other ways, just by being himself. Pope John Paul II was

  • First non-Italian pope since Adrian VI (1522–1523).

  • First Polish pope ever.

  • Youngest pope since Pius IX (1846–1878).

  • Longest-reigning pope elected in the 20th century.

  • Third longest papacy in the history of the Church, surpassed only by Pius IX (31 years, 7 months, 21 days) and St. Peter (34+ years).

The non-Catholic world, however, will remember John Paul II for his groundbreaking efforts to open dialogue with members and leaders of other faiths and religions. His gestures to heal wounds between Christians and Jews and between Catholics and Protestants were sincere and profound — if not totally successful. Pope John Paul II was

  • First pope since St. Peter to visit a Jewish synagogue (Tempio Maggiore di Roma, also known as the Great Synagogue, Rome, April 1986).

  • First pope to visit a mosque (Omayyad Great Mosque of Damascus, May 2001).

  • First pope since St. Peter to visit the Holy Land and the city of Jerusalem (March 2000).

As a result of his papacy as his efforts to bring peace to the world, John Paul II's funeral was attended by 4 kings, 5 queens, at least 70 presidents and prime ministers, more than 14 leaders of other religions, 157 cardinals, 700 bishops, 3,000 priests, and 3,000,000 other people. His funeral was the largest and most attended in history and it was the first time and place so many heads of state gathered in one place.

The Names of Pope John Paul II

Like any pope, John Paul II was not born as "John Paul." Here are the names, nicknames, aliases, and pseudonyms John Paul II used (or answered to) in his lifetime.

  • Karol Jozef Wojtyła — The name Pope John Paul II was born, baptized, and grew up with.

  • Lolek — The nickname young Karol was called as a boy. The English equivalent would be Charlie or Chuck, because his first name is Charles in English.

  • Wujek — Polish for “uncle.” This was a nickname given by students to their professor-priests — especially under Communist occupation — so as not to alert government officials that a Catholic priest was violating the law and teaching outside of school.

  • Andrzej Jawien, Piotr Jasien, and Stanislaw Andrzej Gruda — Three pseudonyms John Paul II used when he authored a few plays and poems.

  • John Paul II — The name he took after being elected pope by the College of Cardinals in 1978 after the death of Pope John Paul I, who only reigned for one month.

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