Servant of God and the father of WYDs, who visited Australia in 1986 and 1995, John Paul II is the still much loved inspiration for a generation of young people who will feel his presence and seek his intercession during WYD08. It was he who entrusted the Cross and the Icon of Our Lady to the youth of the world and who defied age by trusting and hoping in the young people, staying forever young, seeing in them the presence of Christ and the future of the Church.
Karol Józef Wojtyla was born on 18 May, 1920 in Wadowice in southern Poland. He was the youngest of three children to Karol Wojtyla and Emilia Kaczorowska. His carefree childhood was cut short with his mother's death when he was just nine years of age, leaving his father to raise him.
During Karol's youth, he was a keen athlete, actor, philosopher and playwright. He began pursuing his interests at the Jagiellonian University, in Kraków. During the Nazi occupation in 1939, Karol's studies were abruptly halted when the university professors and academics were arrested and deported to Sachsenhausen, triggering him to begin clandestine studies and Nazi resistance activities.
From 1940-1944 Karol worked as a manual laborer in a limestone quarry, and then as a salesman to earn his living and to avoid being deported to Germany. In 1941, Karol's father, the last remaining Wojtyla family member, died when Karol was 20.
A year after his father's death, Karol entered the underground seminary run by the Archbishop of Kraków, Cardinal Sapieha. He was ordained a priest on 1 November, 1946. On 28 September, 1958 he became the youngest bishop in Poland at 38 years of age and in December 1963 Pope Paul VI appointed him Archbishop of Kraków. In 1967 he was elevated to Cardinal and in 1978 he was elected the 264th Pope, the first non-Italian pope since Adrian VI (Dutch, 1522-1523) and the youngest, age 58 at election, since Pius IX in 1846.
Certain themes surround John Paul II's papacy: belief in the universal call to holiness, hope in the young, devotion to Mary Mother of God, diligent defense of the dignity of human life from conception to natural death, all presented with humor, 'stage-presence' and a loveable nature.
In 2003 Pope John Paul II was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for his life's work in opposing Communist oppression and helping to reshape the world. He travelled more than one million kilometers outside of Italy during his papacy, visiting over 126 countries. He spoke ten languages fluently and is known as the Father of World Youth Days. He wrote more words of teaching and recognized more saints and blesseds than any other pope in history.
Surviving an assassination attempt in 1981, this strong man was eventually much reduced by Parkinson's disease. On 2 April 2005 at 9:37pm local time, Pope John Paul II died in the Papal Apartments with tens of thousands of people holding vigil in Saint Peter's Square below. A crowd of over two million within Vatican City, over one billion Catholics worldwide, and many non-Catholics mourned his death. The public viewing of his body in St Peter's Basilica drew over four million people to Vatican City and was one of the largest pilgrimages in the history of Christianity. He is now commonly referred to as John Paul the Great!
Servant of God John Paul II's life is wonderful example for all young people on whom he counted; his message to them remains 'Do not be afraid'. He was able to inspire hope in human hearts having been through the crucible of darkness and death, yet still flourishing. He teaches us how to repay good for evil, how to choose life. WYD08 pilgrims can confidently come to him and ask him to be able to know the truth, and through this to be set free.
Servant of God, John Paul II, father of World Youth Day - pray for us
The original article can be found at World Youth Day Sydney 2008: