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Pope Facts


Pope John Paul was born Karol Jozef Wojtyla on May 18, 1920. He is 84 years old. He has been pope for 26 years. That puts him in the top three longest-serving in history. John Paul is the 264th pope. He is fluent in Polish, Italian and Latin. He also speaks conversational English, French, German and Spanish. He is the first non-Italian pope since 1522. He is the first Slavic pope in history.


The pope suffers from Parkinson's Disease. That's a degenerative nerve disease that makes it hard to control muscles and causes tremors. He was sent to Gemelli hospital in Rome February 24 for testing. Vatican sources say he was suffering breathing problems. His suite at Gemelli hospital includes a chapel, kitchen and sleeping quarters for his aide. The pope had spent February 1 - 10 there for problems related to the flu. Some medical experts speculate the pope is suffering from some form of pneumonia. On Oct. 3, 2003, the Vienna archbishop said the pope was nearing the last months of his life. On September 11, 2003, the pope faltered while speaking in Slovakia. Someone else finished the speech.


He is the head of the Roman Catholic Church. He is also the Bishop of Rome. In addition, he is the head of state of Vatican City.


Pope John Paul II has traveled to 170 countries, more than any of his predecessors. Some call him the "pilgrim pope." He has set the record for the largest Mass ever, with 1.2 million people in Dublin, Ireland on September 30, 1979. He has encountered more people than any pope in history. More than 17.6 million people have attended his general audiences alone. He's had 737 meetings with heads of state. Pope John Paul II has named 482 saints. He has created 232 cardinals.


Karol Wojtyla was born in Wadowice, Poland. Both parents were strict Catholics. His mother, Emilia, was of Lithuanian descent. His father, Karol Wojtyla, Sr., was an army sergeant. Karol was the third of three children. But his sister, Olga, died as a baby before Karol was born. He experienced significant loss as a child. His mother died when he was 9. And his older brother, Edmund, died when Karol was about 13 years old. Edmund was a doctor. Karol's father died when he was about 21 years old.


The young Karol excelled at sports, theater and in his studies. In 1938, he enrolled at Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland to study literature.


To keep from being deported to Germany, he worked as manual laborer in a quarry 1940-44. In the last months of German occupation, he worked in a chemical factory. In 1942, Karol secretly began studying to be a priest.


Karol was ordained in Krakow in 1946. He was first assigned to work in France with young people and Polish refugees. Karol then studied at Pontifical Angelicum University in Rome. After that he returned to Poland, teaching ethics at the Catholic University of Lublin.


In 1958, he was made an auxiliary bishop of Krakow. He was about 38 years old. In 1962, Bishop Wojtyla was put in charge of the archdiocese. In 1964, he was officially appointed as archbishop of Krakow. He gained attention after addressing the pivotal Vatican Council II several times. He became a cardinal in 1967, appointed by Pope Paul VI.


Pope Paul VI died August 6, 1978. The College of Cardinals then appointed Pope John Paul I. But he died September 28, 1978. October 16, 1978, Cardinal Wojtyla was elected pope. He accepted the position with tears in his eyes. At his first public appearance as pope he said, "I was afraid to receive this nomination, but I did it in the spirit of obedience to Our Lord and in the total confidence in his mother, the most holy Madonna." He refused a largescale coronation. And on October 22,1978, he was installed as pope in a simple mass in Saint Peter's Square.


On May 13, 1981 (at 5:19 pm) the pope was shot in St. Peter's Square. He was severely wounded and doctors operated on him for six hours at Gemelli Hospital. The would-be assassin was a young Turk named Mehmet Ali Agca. On May 17, the pope prayed "for the brother who shot me, whom I have sincerely forgiven". The pope credited Mary with interceding to save his life. He was shot on the feast day of Our Lady of Fatima. On May 13, 1982, the pope made a pilgrimage to Fatima, Portugal and recited a prayer consecrating and entrusting to world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. In December, 1983, Pope John Paul visited Ali Agca in prison and prayed with him.


Pope John Paul II is credited with revolutionizing the papacy, especially by reaching out across the world. He ardently opposes communism and some call him pivotal in the break-up of the Soviet Union. While he has had a modern image, he is also known for conservative values. He strongly opposes contraception and abortion. Pope John Paul II firmly believes priests should remain celibate and should only be men. He is a vocal advocate of human rights around the world. He's been especially strong in calling on rich nations to share their wealth with the poor. The pope openly opposed the U-S invasion of Iraq. And he has called for an independent Palestinian state. In the sexual abuse scandal, he released a statement calling the abuse a "crime." But the 2002 message fell short of saying which priests should be removed. In March 2000, the pope visited Israel and said the Catholic Church was to blame for fostering anti-Semitism leading up to the Holocaust.


The pope was named Time Magazine's "Man of the Year" in 1994. In 2004, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Bush. It's the highest civilian honor in the United States.


He has written five books: "Crossing the Threshold of Hope" (October 1994) "Gift and Mystery: On the 50th Anniversary of My Priestly Ordination" (November 1996) "Roman Triptych - Meditations", a book of poems (March 2003) "Rise, Let Us Be On Our Way" (May 2004) "Memory and Identity" (2005). He's also written 14 encyclicals , 15 apostolic exhortations , 11 apostolic constitutions and 44 apostolic letters