John Paul II
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JOHN PAUL II
JOHN PAUL II was the first non-Italian pope since 1523, whose energetic, active approach to his office, unprecedented world travel, and firm religious conservatism have enhanced the importance of the papacy in both the Roman Catholic church and the non-Catholic world. The pope is also the head of the independent state of Vatican City.
Born Karol WojtyÑ-a on May 18, 1920, in Wadowice, Poland, he studied poetry and drama at the University of KrakÑƒw. During World War II he worked in a stone quarry and in a chemical factory while preparing for the priesthood. Ordained in 1946, he earned a doctorate in theology at Romes Angelicum Institute in 1948. Until he became auxiliary bishop of KrakÑƒw in 1958, he was a university chaplain and taught ethics at KrakÑƒw and Lublin. His philosophical approach, which integrated the methods and insights of phenomenology with Thomistic philosophy, owed much to the 20th-century German thinker Max Scheler.
In 1964 WojtyÑ-a became archbishop of KrakÑƒw and in 1967 a cardinal. An active participant in the Second Vatican Council, he also represented Poland in five international bishops synods between 1967 and 1977.
John Paul II was elected pope on Oct. 16, 1978, succeeding John Paul I. On May 13, 1981, he was shot at close range and severely wounded in an assassination attempt as he entered Saint Peters Square in the Vatican, but he made a full recovery.
Throughout the 1980s and 90s, John Paul II dealt forcefully with dissent within the church, reaffirming Roman Catholic teachings about homosexuality, abortion, artificial methods of human reproduction and birth control, and priestly celibacy. He resisted secularization in the church, although he endorsed the use of modern technologies such as the Internet to spread the churchs messages. In redefining the responsibilities of laity, priests, and religious orders, he rejected ordination of women as priests and opposed direct political participation and office holding by priests. His initial ecumenical moves were toward Eastern Orthodoxy and Anglicanism, but his greatest achievement came on Oct. 31, 1999, when Catholics and Lutherans signed, at Augsburg, Germany, an accord ending the dispute over the doctrine of justification which sparked the Protestant Reformation 482 years earlier. During the same period, he also contributed to the restoration of democracy and religious freedom throughout the Eastern European Communist countries, especially in his native Poland, and made numerous journeys, including those to Africa, Asia, and the Americas.
Despite recurrent health problems in the 1990s, John Paul maintained an active schedule. In September 1993 he traveled to the Baltic republics, the first papal visit to countries of the former Soviet Union. His journey to Lebanon in May 1997, to give his support to the Christian minority and to heal religious divisions there, was followed by a visit to Brazil in October. On a five-day visit to Cuba in January 1998, he denounced U.S. trade sanctions against that country and pressed Fidel Castros government to release political prisoners and ease restrictions on religious and political rights. He also pressed Nigeria on human rights issues during a three-day visit two months later; while there, John Paul beatified a Nigerian priest. Emphasizing a central theme of John Pauls papacy, that of Jewish-Christian reconciliation, the Vatican issued a statement in mid-March apologizing to Jews for the Churchs failure to take decisive action against Nazi Germany; the document received a mixed reception from Jewish groups, in part because it defended the actions of Pope Pius XII during the Holocaust. Concerned with the mission of Roman Catholicism in the Americas and the problem of increased Protestant proselytism in Latin America, the pope visited Saint Louis, Mo., and Mexico City in January 1999. In June of that year, in the spirit of strengthening ties with the Orthodox church, the pope traveled to Bucharest, Romania, his first visit to a country where Orthodox Christians formed a majority, and, in November, to the former Soviet republic of Georgia. Also in November, the popes second visit to India (the first was in 1986) marked his efforts to find a solution to the rising tensions between Hindus and Christians.
Fulfilling the promise of his apostolic letter Tertio Millennio adveniente (As the Third Millennium Draws Near, 1994), John Paul greeted the year 2000, which he proclaimed the year of the Great Jubilee, with a series of epoch-making activities calling for dialogue and brotherhood among the faiths. In February of that year, John Paul was the first pope to travel to Egypt, where he celebrated a mass in Cairo, touching on discrimination against Christians (see Coptic Church) in Egypt and other countries of Africa. In March, on Ash Wednesday and on the first Sunday of Lent, at Saint Peters Basilica, John Paul emphasized the millennial theme of “purification of memory” by offering apologies for sins committed in the service of truth and sins committed against Jews, women, indigenous peoples, the unborn, and other groups. Later that month, on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, he visited sites sacred to Christians, Muslims, and Jews, and brought