Millions throughout the world are celebrating the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Pontificate of John Paul the Second. On October 16th, 1978, he was chosen to head the Roman Catholic Church. It was a time of danger, crisis, and challenge. His faith and courage gave inspiration to millions struggling against authoritarian rule. And his compassion, tolerance, and humanity have helped people of many faiths and cultures reach across the traditions and beliefs that divide them.
Karol Joseph Wojtyla was born in Wadowice [vah-doh-veet-sah], Poland, on May 18th, 1920. As student in occupied Poland, he risked his life to work with the Polish underground in rescuing persecuted Jews and opposing Nazi rule. It was during these trying times that he determined to devote his life to the service of God. Ordained a priest in 1946, he served as a pastor before joining the faculty of the University of Lublin, where he taught ethics and moral theology.
Poland and the rest of Eastern Europe were ruled by Communist regimes under the domination of the Soviet Union. An atheistic ideology that places no limits on the power of government, Communism was detested by the majority of people under its rule. As Archbishop of Krakow, Karol Wojtyla often defied Communist authorities in upholding Christian beliefs and moral teachings. His election as Pope sent shock waves throughout the Soviet empire and gave encouragement to those seeking a peaceful end to Communist rule.
In 1981, Pope John Paul the Second was shot down as he entered St. Peter's Square in Rome. He survived his wounds and forgave his would-be assassin. The Pope has been a force for healing and reconciliation in world often filled with intolerance, hatred, violence, and terror.
He has repeatedly called on people of good will everywhere to oppose anti-Semitism, racism, and other forms of prejudice and hatred. Speaking to a large group of young Muslims in Morocco, in August, 1985, the Pope said: "Christians and Muslims, in general, have badly understood each other. . . . We must respect each other and we must stimulate each other in good works on the path of God."
As President George W. Bush said, Pope John Paul the Second has "shown the world not only the splendor of truth, but also the power of truth to overcome evil and to redirect the course of history."