|Karol Wojtyla was born at Wadowice, in the diocese of Krakow on 18 May
1920. His family was not wealthy, and he was obliged to work already
during secondary school in order to help the family.
After high school, he studied Arts at the Jagiellonian University,
Krakow. For four years during the second world war, he worked first in
some stone quarries and then in the soda and "Solvay" chemical
products factory. At the same time he dedicated himself in secret to the
study of Sacred Theology, his vocation to the priesthood having matured
already at that time.
His interest in the problems of workers goes back to those years, not
only from the religious standpoint but also from the socio-educational
and cultural one. It was thanks to him particularly that a hall for
recreational activities for the workers was set up in the factory where
Having completed ecclesiastical studies at the Major Seminary of
Krakow, Karol Wojtyla was ordained priest on 1 November 1946, and sent
for further studies to Rome. In 1948 he obtained there the degree of
Doctor in Theology with a thesis on the virtue of Faith in the writings
of St John of the Cross. The director of his thesis was the late Fr
Garrigou Lagrange O.P.
On returning to his country he taught in the Catholic University,
Lublin, and at the Theology Faculty, Krakow. Nominated vicar cooperator
and assistant of University students and graduates, he exercised his
ministry in particularly difficult years owing to the internal situation
of his country and international tension.
A great many articles and essays bear witness to his cultural and
teaching activity. They are mainly dedicated to problems of youth and
Christian ethics and were published in specialized reviews in Poland and
abroad. Among them special mention should be made of the monograph:
"Evaluation of the possibility of founding a Catholic morality on
the basis of the ethical system of Max Scheler".
On 4 July 1958 Mons. Wojtyla was nominated by Pius XII titular bishop
of Osubi and Auxiliary of the Apostolic Administrator of Krakow, Mons.
Eugenio Baziak. On the death of the latter in June 1962, he was elected
Vicar Capitular, and on 13 January 1964 became Archbishop of Krakow.
Pope Paul VI, in the Consistory of 26 June 1967 created Archbishop
Wojtyla cardinal with the title — pro hac vice presbyterale — of S. Cesareo al Palatino. Of this
church he took possession on the following 21 February.
On that occasion, after an affectionate thought for his distant
country, for the faithful, the clergy and particularly the Cardinal
Primate, he confirmed the union with the successor of Peter and stressed
how that ceremony of his taking possession of the titular church was the
tangible proof of the union of the Church of Poland with the Apostolic
During the Second Vatican Council, Mons. Wojtyla was intensely active
and was greatly appreciated by the Council Fathers for his knowledge of
the problems of the contemporary world and for his specific competence
on the subject of religious freedom. As a result of this he was given
the task to draw up Chapter VI of the Constitution Gaudium et Spes.
On the subject of social communications, he also suggested some
clarifications in connection with the moral order, the perfection of the
human person, and the specific importance of art in a clear hierarchy of
On religious freedom, furthermore, he insisted that stress should be
laid on the principles which should be accepted also by the public
authorities: "The human person is the end and not the instrument of
the social order; religion is the apex and the perfecting of personal
life and of the aspiration to truth."
Cardinal Wojtyla took part in all the Assemblies of the Synod of
Bishops and was a member of the Council of the General Secretariat. In
the 1974 Assembly, dedicated to evangelization, he was the rapporteur
for the doctrinal part.
Vice-President of the Polish Episcopal Conference and President of
the Episcopal Commissions for ecclesiastical studies and for the lay
apostolate, Cardinal Wojtyla proved to be an eager champion and
indomitable defender of the fundamental principles of sound Christian
On the problems of marriage and responsible parenthood, after the
encyclical Humanae Vitae, Cardinal Wojtyla published a very
interesting essay entitled Love and Responsibility, which was
translated into several languages. For L'Osservatore Romano he
wrote a significant article, in which he stated:
"A correct and penetrating analysis of conjugal love presupposes
an exact idea of marriage itself. It is not the 'product of evolution of
unconscious natural forces', but a 'communion of persons' (H.V.
8), based on the reciprocal gift of self. And for that reason a correct
judgment on the concept of responsible parenthood presupposes 'an
integral vision of man and of his vocation' (H.V. 7). To acquire
such a judgment, 'partial perspectives, whether of the biological or
psychological, demographic or sociological orders' (H.V. 7), are
not at all sufficient. None of these perspectives can constitute the
basis for an adequate and correct answer to the questions formulated
above. Any answer that comes from partial perspectives cannot but be
partial. To find an adequate answer, it is necessary to keep in mind a
correct view of man as a person, since marriage establishes a communion
of persons, which comes into being and is realized through the
reciprocal gift of self."
And, after clarifying the essence of conjugal love which finds its
source in God who "is Love", and the principles on the
basis of which "an exact judgment of responsible parenthood should
be formulated", Cardinal Wojtyla affirms that the "encyclical Humanae
Vitae contains not only clear and explicit norms concerning married
life, responsible parenthood and the correct regulation of births, but
through these norms it also indicates the values. It confirms their
correct meaning and warns us of the false one. It expresses the deep
concern to safeguard man from the danger of distorting the most
"The Vicar of Christ reminds modern men, restless and impatient,
and at the same time threatened in the area of the most fundamental
values and principles, of the laws that govern this area. And since they
are not patient and seek simplifications and apparent facilitations, he
reminds them what must be the price for true values, and what patience
and effort are required to reach these values. It seems that through all
the argumentations and appeals of the encyclical, full, moreover, of a
dramatic tension, there reach us the Master's words: 'By your endurance
you will gain your lives." (Lk 21:19) For it is a question just of
this, when all is said and done."
In October 1971, being in Rome for the Synod of Bishops, Cardinal
Wojtyla attended the beatification of the Polish religious Fr Maximilian
Kolbe, who, in the extermination camp of Auschwitz had offered his own
life in exchange for that of a father of a family who was to be killed.
Cardinal Wojtyla, the Archbishop of the diocese — Krakow — in the territory of which Auschwitz
lies, recalled Fr Kolbe's sacrifice with deep-felt words (see O.R.
15-10-71 p. 5). Among other things, he said that "at a time when so
many priests all over the world are questioning themselves, about their
'identity', Fr Maximilian rises in our midst to answer not with
theological discourses, but with his life and with his death, and as a
teacher to bear a testimony of the greatest love. Heroism is certainly
not within the reach of everyone, but does it not represent a defeat to
renounce aspiring to it?".
It would take too long, and lies outside our intentions, to give here
even an approximate survey of Cardinal Wojtyla's participation and
interventions in the various events of the Church's life, whether in his
diocese of Krakow, which has two million faithful, or in the Roman
Curia, or in the Christian world.
His doctrine, his spirituality, and his pastoral zeal were so much
appreciated by Pope Paul VI, of venerable memory, that in March 1976 he
called him to preach the Spiritual Exercises in the Matilde Chapel, that
is, to use Cardinal Wyszynski's words, "to provide, in the Vatican,
the service of the Word of Life for the Vicar of Christ and his most
Cardinal Wojtyla's episcopal magisterium and his multiform activity
are documented by his many writings, scientific works and doctrinal
articles. Among his most important works, in addition to Love and
Responsibility and the monograph on Max Scheler, already referred
to, mention should be made of Person and Act, The Foundations
of the Renewal of the Second Vatican Council, A sign of
Contradiction, which latter work gives the text of the Exercises
preached in the Vatican.
Karol Wojtyla after his priestly work in his native land, has now
been called, as the successor of John Paul I, to take the helm of the
Universal Church as Sovereign Pontiff and Bishop of Rome.