Pope John Paul II was
born Karol Jozef Wojtyla in Wadowice near Cracow, Poland on May
18, 1920. His father was an army sergeant, and his mother
died when he was 9. Karol Jozef Wojtyla had a sister who died
before he was born and an older brother who died before
adulthood. (As an adult, Pope John Paul II lamented not
having adult siblings.) Growing up, Pope John Paul II
loved athletics and drama, and he dreamt of becoming a writer.
avoid being sent to a labor camp in Germany when the Nazis invaded
Poland during World War II, Pope John
Paul II secured a job in a stone quarry and then the
Solvay chemical factory while continuing his studies of Polish
literature at Jagiellonian University undetected. Ignoring curfews
and SS roundups, Pope John Paul II
pursued his love of acting by performing secretly in homes. Pope
John Paul II was also an expert skier and swimmer, and he canoed
the rapids. He also liked mountain climbing, hiking and
After the Soviet liberation of
Poland, Pope John Paul II
finished his studies in Rome at the Angelicum. As a student, Pope
John Paul II's interest was centered around religion, and he had a
special devotion to the Blessed
Virgin Mary. His personal motto Totus tuus (All thine) was
dedicated to Our Lady. In 1943, Pope John Paul II entered
the seminary, and in 1946 he was ordained a priest and became
pastor of Saint Florian in Cracow. On various European
missions Pope John Paul II became fluent in 8 languages and could
phonetically speak 25 additional languages.
Paul II became a university professor, Bishop of Cracow at age 38, and
titular Archbishop with the ward of Wyszynski and actively
participating in the Second Vatican Council. In 1967 Pope
Paul VI named Pope John Paul II a cardinal at age 47 and assigned
Saint Cesarius on the Palatine as his titular church.
John Paul II was elected pope on October 16, 1978, and
installed on October 22, 1978. Popes select their names, so
to honor Pope John Paul I, whose papacy was short (August 26, 1978
to September 28, 1978), Cardinal Karol Jozef Wojtyla took the name
Pope John Paul II.
Five Polish Servants of the Sacred Heart nuns cared for
Pope John Paul II from the time he was Bishop Karol Jozef Wojtyla
was a physician who assisted the pope's doctor, Renato Buzzonetti
cooked Pope John Paul II's Polish meals - piroshki, cheesecake,
fish in aspic, pates, vegetable pies, and carp on Christmas eve.
When in school, Pope John Paul II and his classmates treated themselves
to kremowki, Polish cream cakes, after exams. "After
the final exam in high school, we went there to buy cream cakes. I
cannot believe we stomached all those cream cakes after the
exams," said Pope John Paul II.
kept the pope's pantry stocked with fresh produce and milk from
his summer place, Castel Gandolfo
was in charge of the pope's wardrobe
handled the pope's private correspondence
On May 13, 1981,* an assassination
attempt was made on Pope John Paul II's life by Mehmet Ali Ağca.
After being operated on for six hours at Rome's Agostino Gemelli
Polyclinic, Pope John Paul II believed Our Lady of Fatima
spared him. [The above photograph shows Pope John Paul II
and Mehmet Ali Ağca's mother.]
Italy's Mitrokhin Commission led
by Senator Paolo Guzzanti concluded that Soviet Union President
Leonid Brezhnev ordered the Bulgarian and East German secret
agencies to assassinate Pope John Paul II because Pope John Paul
II was against communism. Mehmet Ali Ağca attempted the
assassination on May 13, 1981. The inquiry found that
Mr. Ağca was trained by the Soviet secret service in Yemen.
"We are sure that the secret services of the former Soviet
Union have planned the attack against the pope,"
Senator Guzzanti told New Europe Radio.
John Paul II has written a book about the assassination attempt on
his life entitled Memory and Identity. According to the
British publishers, "He describes the day of the
assassination attempt in detail. He found himself suddenly in the
presence of death."
Also in his book Memory and Identity, Pope John Paul II
said of his visit at Christmas 1983 to Rebibbia prison to see
Mehmet Ali Ağca: "We talked for a long time. Ali Ağca
is, as everyone says, a professional assassin. Which means
that the assassination was not his initiative, that someone else
thought of it, someone else gave the order."
and Identity, Pope John Paul II recalls the
assassination attempt: "I had a feeling
that I would survive. I was in pain, I had reason to be afraid,
but I had this strange feeling of confidence...Oh, my Lord! This was a difficult
Mehmet Ali was pardoned and
released in 2000. An escapee, Mr. Ağca was then
rearrested by Turkey for the 1979 murder of journalist Abdi
İpekçi and completed his life sentence and releasesd in
January, 2010, at age 52.
On a pilgrimage to Our Lady of Fatima
in Portugal on May 12, 1982, a second assassination attempt was
made on Pope John Paul II's life, this time by Father Juan María
Fernández y Krohn, a Spanish priest who lunged at the Holy Father
with a knife. At first the Vatican reported that the knife
missed Pope John Paul II, but after his death, Pope John Paul II's
secretary, Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, said, "I can now
reveal that the Holy Father was wounded. When we got back to
the room, there was blood." Father Fernández objected
to Pope John Paul II's support of the Second Vatican Council and
was sentenced to six years in prison after which he was deported
from Portugal. On that visit Pope John Paul II placed one of
the 9mm bullets from the first assassination attempt into Our Lady
of Fatima's crown.
Researchers have uncovered 21
and possibly 22 attempts on the life of Pope John Paul II between
1978 and 1989.