Today we celebrate the memorial of Blessed John Paul II, Pope, 1920-2005. How do I summarize the life of the second longest reigning pope in Church History. He was born Karol Wojtyla in Wadowice, Poland. He lost both of his parents and older brother before he was 21. His promising academic career was cut short by WW II. While working Karol joined the underground seminary and was ordain a priest in 1946 and was immediately sent to Rome for a doctorate in theology. Back in Poland he had a few jobs and earned a doctorate in Philosophy, which for a while he taught at Lublin University. In 1958 he was made auxiliary bishop of Krakow and attended all of Vatican Council II. Fr. Wojtyla was appointed Archbishop of Krakow in 1964. On October 1978 he was elected the first non-Italian pope in 455 years taking the name John Paul II. He made pastoral visits to 129 countries, promoted ecumenical/interfaith initiatives especially in 1986 with the Day of Prayer for World Peace in Assisi.
He improved Jewish relations, was the first pope to visit a Synagogue in Rome. He visited the Western Wall in Jerusalem and established diplomatic relations between the Holy See and Israel. And also helped improve Catholic-Muslin relations. John Paul went back to Poland three times and encouraged the Solidarity movement, a non-violent revolution against communism. He gave Poland back its Christian soul and saw the collapse of communism in central and eastern Europe by 1989. Three of his best phrases were: "Open wide the doors to Christ," "Be not afraid," and be "a witness for hope." He served as pope for twenty-eight years. John Paul saw the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, wrote 14 encyclicals, five books, canonized 482 saints and beatified 1,338 people. He was an actor, poet, philosopher, theologian, evangelist and one of the most influential men of the last century. He was beatified by Pope Benedict XVI on May 1, 2011, and will be canonized on Divine Mercy Sunday, 2014.