Roman Catholic Saint, Pope. Born Karol Joseph Wojtyla in Wadowice, Poland to an administrative officer in the Polish army and a former schoolteacher, he rose to Pope and is said to have profoundly changed the Catholic church. As a youth he enjoyed sports and later developed a love of theater planning to become a professional actor. During the Nazi occupation of Poland he clandestinely pursued both his studies and his acting while working as a stone cutter to support himself and to hold the work permit he needed to avoid deportation or imprisonment. He was also active in the UNIA, a Christian democratic underground organization. B'nai B'rith and other authorities have testified that he helped Jews find refuge from the Nazis. While convalescing from an accident, he decided to pursue a religious vocation and by 1942 he was studying for the priesthood; ordained a priest on November 1, 1946. On July 4, 1958, as Father Wojtyla was named auxiliary bishop of Krakow and four years later he assumed leadership of the diocese with the title of vicar capitular. He was nominated Archbishop of Krakow on January 13, 1964. He was a visible leader, often taking a public stand against communism and government officials. In 1967 Pope Paul VI elevated him to cardinal. By this time several of his poems and writings had been published including "Easter Vigils and Other Poems." He was created Cardinal on June 26, 1967. On October 16, 1978, at age 58, he was elected to succeed Pope John Paul I. He was the first Polish pope and also the first non-Italian pope since Pope Adrian VI in 1522. His more than 100 trips abroad attracted enormous crowds (some of the largest ever assembled). With these trips, John Paul covered a distance far greater than that traveled by all other popes combined. They have been regarded as an outward sign of the efforts at global bridge-building between nations and between religions that have been central to his pontificate. In 1981 Pope John Paul II suffered severe wounds when he was shot as he entered St. Peter's Square to address a general audience. He spent two and a half months hospitalized, but he fully recovered from his wounds; two days after Christmas in 1983, he went to the prison and met with his would-be assassin. He enjoyed hiking, skiing, backpacking, and kayaking. Young people had an even more special place in his heart. In 1985 he called young people to join him for the first annual World Youth Day celebration in Rome. Since that time he continued to speak with young people, encouraging them to live the gospels and reach out in a spirit of evangelization to their peers. On July 27, 2000, he was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal by the Congress of the United States. He was beatified on May 1, 2011 by Pope Benedict XVI, and Canonized on April 27, 2014, at St. Peter's Square, Vatican City by Pope Francis.
Bio by: Fred Beisser