Witness to the World: John Paul II

John Paul's beginning of life
John Paul II, real name: Karol Wojtyla, was born in the year 1920 in Wadowice Poland. He was born in an apartment whose windows looked out on top the Church of our Lady where Karol would worship and serve as an altar boy. His mother was called Emilia and she adored him. She read scriptures to him. But unfortunately she was often ill in bed as was suffering from inflammation in both her heart and kidney. She began to be increasingly nervous and silent. Sadly, as was expected Emilia died on April the 13, 1929 when Karol was only eight years old. The Pope's adoration for his young mother was well known. He said she was "the soul of home". After Emilia's death, his father took Karol to Kalwaria, a Marian shrine that was close to Wadowice. Karol's long life devotion to the Virgin began on that trip after he had lost his mother.

As Karol grew up
Years later, Father Figlewicz recalled seeing "the shadow of early orphanage" in his altar boy Karol. But the priest also described Karol as "lively, very talented, very quick and very good". Karol had an optimistic nature and all through life he had incredible stamina. When he was at school he played games like football and first learned to ski when he was young. He enjoyed mountain climbing he did this with his friends and another local priest he followed. This priest was called Father Edward Zacher and with him Karol and his friend went up the nearby slopes on their boards, as there were no ski lifts around then. In the wintertime skating happened on the river Skawa which snakes it's way through Wadowice while in the summer the boys swam there. Though Karol's and his father's lives were simple they still had many friends at church and some company at home.

Karol met up with a person called Kotlarcyzk who helped Karol to become an actor and a playwright. Soon after when Karol graduated from high school him and his father moved to Krakow in 1938. Later Karol's father died on February 18,1941. Karol was distraught. After he had found his father dead, he stayed up all night praying by his father's bedside with Juliusz Kydrynski, who was his closest friend from the theatre. He started going to the grave everyday and was extremely upset. When Pope John Paul the second told a writer Andre Frossard, "At twenty I had already lost all the people I loved, and even those I might have loved, like my older sister who, they said, died, six years before I was born." Karol's loneliness was complete. Once more suffering fatefully bound to him as the painful destiny of his beloved country soon came.

At 21 years of age Karol was arrested in a Nazi round-up camp and narrowly escaped being sent to Auschwitz. At 23, a speeding German army truck hit him from behind and drove on without stopping. If a woman had not called for help to a comatose man, Karol might have died.

Karol Wojtyla becomes a great Pope
Karol became Pope John Paul II in 1978; he is the first non-Italian to serve as Pope since Adrian VI of the Netherlands (served from 1522--1513). In 1979 the Pope visited Auschwitz to speak to the Jews who convert. Ascherson who went with the Pope said "I remember a long line of nuns went past him and he blessed each on of themU`Afterwards somebody who was standing beside him said, 'The most extraordinary thing happened. One of the nuns stopped and said, " I want to know that I am a Russian Jew who converted". The Pope was immensely moved, tears ran down his face, and he embraced her.

Another time when Pope John Paul II shows his wonderful feelings to his people is when the clergy pointed to the wide spread suffering of the poor, The Pope said they were blessed by richness of spirit. When priests invited the people up to the altar, the Pope cried "anarchy". When priests and nuns took up arms against massacre, John Paul II roared to them "pray!" Luckily in 1981 Pope John Paul II survived an assassination attempt in St. Peter?s Square, Rome.

John Paul's life story is extraordinary. But his suffering also marks him as a man of particular time and place and of Catholicism.

By Simon Connor, Year 8, Presentation College, Reading, England.