Poland is, by and large, a Catholic country, and one of the images that stays in my head from my very first visit is that of Pope John Paul II (or Jan Pawel, as he’s known in Poland). I already had enormous respect for this very human and vital man, but I hadn’t fully realised the reverence for him in his homeland. When I began to look into the story of his life, I understood why.
Pope John Paul II in 1993- courtesy of Wikipedia
Karol Józef Wojtyła was the head of the Catholic Church from 16th October 1978 till his death on April 2nd, 2005. Born at Wadowice in Southern Poland on 18th May, 1920, he was to become the first non-Italian pope since 1523.
He was the youngest of three children born to his parents, though his sister Olga had died before he was born. In reality he should not have been born himself because his mother, Emilia, had been told that she had no chance of giving birth to a live child. A devout Catholic, she refused an abortion, and the child did indeed live, though Emilia herself died in childbirth when Karol was just 8 years old. An athletic boy, he loved football and sports.
In 1938 he and his Dad moved to Kraków, where he enrolled at the Jagellonian University. He took philosophy, and developed a talent for languages (he learned 12, which puts me to shame!). He had to take part in compulsory military training, but refused to fire a weapon. In 1939, the German occupying force closed the university and he had to find work to avoid deportation. His Dad died of a heart attack in 1941, so that, by the age of 20, he had “already lost all the people I loved”. It was then that he began to think seriously about the priesthood.
Statue of John Paul II in the grounds of na Skalce church, in Kraków
In 1942 he knocked on the door of the Archbishop of Kraków and asked to be admitted to the clandestine undergound seminary. He had some narrow escapes, but survived the war years to spend a year as a village parish priest, before being transferred to Kraków. He taught ethics at the Jagellonian University and gathered a little group around him that became known as “Rodzinka”- his “little family”. As well as prayer and charitable works the group went kayaking and skiing with him.
You have to remember that these were now Communist times in Poland. The Faculty of Theology was disbanded at the university and priests were forbidden to travel with students. Father Wojtyła asked his students to call him “Wujek”- the Polish word for uncle (which I love very much), so that it would not be obvious he was a priest. The name stuck, and to Poles he would always be their beloved Wujek.
The museum dedicated to Pope John Paul. a beloved local
At just 38, Wojtyła was appointed Bishop of Kraków, and from there it was a steady rise to the papacy. His mission was “to place his Church at the heart of a new religious alliance that would bring together Jews, Muslims and Christians in a great [religious] armada”. He was to travel the world like no Pope before (129 countries in total!) in an effort to do so.
In June 1979 he made his first trip back to Poland as Pope. His country was still completely under the Soviet thumb but he encouraged them to adhere to their faith and affirm solidarity with one another. The Communists were not to relinquish power for another decade, but it was with the Pope’s encouragement and “soft power” that Solidarnosc was born as a movement. In 2004 he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for his lifelong opposition to Communist oppression and for trying to reshape the world. The full story is in the Wikipedia link at the top of this post.
Beside Wawel Castle, in Kraków
I was in Kraków in 2007 on the 2nd anniversary of his death, and the crowds and emotion were overwhelming even then. Candles flickered as his voice was broadcast into the night. Since then I have always been aware of his presence whenever I am in the city.
P is for Piotrek and Przemek
Piotrek is the English equivalent of Peter, and a popular name in Poland, so of course, I have a cousin of that name! He’s the carpenter son of Lodzia and Zygmunt, and a lovely man with whom I have danced at a wedding or two.
Within the family we also have a diminutive Piotrek (Piotrus) who is a proper scene stealer, as small boys are. He is the son of Krzystof and Ilona, whose wedding I went to in April 2008.
Piotrek with Dad, Krzystof
And with Mum, Ilona
A little shy, with me
And fearless, on the bike
That just leaves Przemek! He is the son of my cousin Adam’s sister, Basia (also my cousin- no wonder I’m confused!). His English is impeccable. He and fiance Marta were house-hunting when I was last there, so who knows if there’ll be yet another wedding in the not too distant future.
Przemek and Marta
Well, I’ve bent your ears enough for one post so it’s time to say thank you to Julie Dawn Fox for hosting the Personal A-Z Challenge, and to lovely Frizz for also letting me tag along on his A-Z. As always the links and logos will take you there.