Karol Wojtyła 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 he worked.
Having completed ecclesiastical studies at the Major Seminary of Krakow, Karol Wojtyła 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. Wojtyła 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 Wojtyła 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 See.
During the Second Vatican Council, Mons. Wojtyła 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 values.
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 Wojtyła took part in all was 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 Wojtyła proved to be an eager champion and indomitable defender of the fundamental principles of sound Christian doctrine.
On the problems of marriage and responsible parenthood, after the encyclical "Humanae Vitae", Cardinal Wojtyła 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 Wojtyła 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 fundamental values...
"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 Wojtyła, the Arch. bishop 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 Wojtyła'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 immediate collaborators".
Cardinal Wojtyła'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.
Karl Wojtyła 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.