John Paul II, born as Karol Jozef Wojtyla (pronounced Voy-tee-wah) in Wadowice, Poland on May 18, 1920. Pope since October 1978. He is the first Slavic pope in history and the first non-Italian pope in over 450 years (after Adrian VI in 1522). He has frequently travelled abroad (over 90 trips), more than any other pope before him.
Karol Wojtyla was ordained a priest on November 1, 1946. He taught ethics at Kraków and Lublin universities. In 1958 he was named auxiliary bishop of Krakow and four years later he assumed leadership of the diocese with the title of vicar capitular. In 1967 Pope Paul VI elevated him to cardinal. On October 16, 1978, at age 58, he was elected to succeed Pope John Paul I. He was the first Polish pope.
In 1981 he was shot at and nearly killed by Mehmet Ali Agca, a Turkish gunman, as he entered St. Peter's Square to address a general audience. There have been unproven speculations that the assassination was ordered by the Soviet Union. Two days after Christmas in 1983, Pope John Paul went to the prison and met with his would-be assassin.
He is considered a conservative on doctrine and issues relating to the ordination of women, and has been critical of liberation theology and those who call themselves Catholics while questioning the church's teachings. In a 1995 encyclical he reasserted the church's condemnation of abortion, euthanasia, and capital punishment. His stands on capital punishment, world debt forgiveness, and poverty issues shows that labels like 'conservative' and 'liberal' do not ride easily on religious leaders.
- 1995 - Visit to United States - October 4-8
- 1996 - Visit to France - 19-22 September
- 1997 - Rio de Janeiro - 2-6 October
- 1998 - Visit to Cuba - January 21 to 25