Pope John Paul II 1920-2005: World's First Superstar Pope; He Caused a Stir as the First Non-Italian Pope in 400 Years When He Was Elected in 1978 - and Karol Wojtyla Continued to Break with Tradition as He Covered the Four Corners of the Globe during His Eventful Papacy

Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland), April 4, 2005 | Go to article overview

Pope John Paul II 1920-2005: World's First Superstar Pope; He Caused a Stir as the First Non-Italian Pope in 400 Years When He Was Elected in 1978 - and Karol Wojtyla Continued to Break with Tradition as He Covered the Four Corners of the Globe during His Eventful Papacy


Pope John Paul II had been ailing for some time.Over the last year he had frequently looked frail and tired as he stubbornly insisted on fulfilling his diary of public engagements. But the announcement of his death on Saturday still shocked the world. However back in 1978 when Karol Josef Wojtyla was elected by his fellow cardinals,it was the Catholic world which was in shock.

Still numbed by the death of Pope John Paul I, whose papacy lasted just 33 days,many were uneasy that their new leader was not only Polish,but the first non-Italian pope since Adrian VI in 1522.

But the 58-year-old former Bishop of Krakow soon won their hearts - and the hearts of the whole world.

The son of an army officer and school teacher,brought up in war torn Poland, John Paul II had the common touch.

He made the Vatican his chapel house and the rest of the world his diocese. During his 27 years travelling the world as head of the Catholic church,more people saw John Paul II than any President, Prime Minister or pop star.

In this special tribute,we look at his life,his achievements,his legacy - including a special feature celebrating his historic visit to Scotland in 1982JOHN PAUL II was the first superstar Pope. But he was also the pilgrim Pope and the praying, preaching Pope who wanted to save a world that 'lives by the flesh'.

His world and his glass-topped Popemobiles allowed countless millions to see for the first time a Holy Father in their own lands - and he was remembered by every one of them.

His Spitting Image was a jive-talkin' rock'n'roll idol in white robes and sunglasses. But, because he railed against the gulf between the world's rich and its wretched, his portrait hung in mud-huts of Africa and the squalid barrios of South America that had never seen a TV set.

John Paul II was hailed, even by non-Catholics such as Dr Billy Graham, as 'the greatest of our modern Popes' - and by non-Christian leaders such as the Dalai Lama as 'a holy man with a will and determination to help humanity through spirituality'.

Forged by his battles against Nazism and Communism in his Polish homeland, he was a key figure in the collapse of Communism across Eastern Europe. Yet in the latter, more rigid, years of his Papacy, critics said the pilgrim Pope had lost his way and that he was as authoritarian as any dictator he had opposed.

He risked unpopularity and defections from the Catholic Church with his opposition to birth control and abortion, declaring them 'the culture of death'.

The election of Karol Wojtyla, Archbishop of Krakow, in 1978, the 'year of three Popes', gave the world its first non-Italian Pope for four centuries. He succeeded John Paul I, who died in his sleep after just a month in office.

The election of the 58-year-old Pole brought to real life a prophecy made by a Polish poet over 100 years before: 'Behold the Slavic Pope is coming, a brother of the people.' There was another omen. He was born in 1920 in a yellow-stone house in Koscielna Street, or 'Church' Street, in Wadowice, which is now a museum attracting nearly 250,000 visitors a year.

His mother died giving birth to a stillborn daughter when he was nine and some see his idealisation of motherhood and life-long devotion to Mary, the Mother of Christ, as stemming from that.

A teacher who tried to console the bereaved boy recalled that he was quite composed and said: 'It is God's will.'

When he was 21, his father, a former army officer, died and he lost his brother, a doctor, during a scarlet fever epidemic.

The young Wojtyla wanted to become a contemplative monk. He petitioned to enter a monastery three times, but the archbishop refused. He foresaw great things for the young intellectual with a forceful stage presence, whom he had talent-spotted while he was still at secondary school.

His training for a life dedicated to the priesthood started in 1942, when he began his studies while doing night shifts at a chemical plant and a stone quarry on the outskirts of Nazi- occupied Krakow to avoid deportation to a concentration camp. …

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Pope John Paul II 1920-2005: World's First Superstar Pope; He Caused a Stir as the First Non-Italian Pope in 400 Years When He Was Elected in 1978 - and Karol Wojtyla Continued to Break with Tradition as He Covered the Four Corners of the Globe during His Eventful Papacy
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