One of the great men of his age and leader of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope John Paul II was born Karol Jozef Wojtyla (1920-2005) on this day in the small town of Wadowice, Poland. As a young man, he loved poetry, soccer, and mountain climbing and dreamed of being a professional actor.
"The worst prison," he once said, "would be a closed heart."
The charismatic spiritual leader lived through wartime Poland and experienced the horrors and unimaginable cruelties of Nazi Germany first-hand. "Sometimes I would ask myself: so many young people of my age are losing their lives, why not me?" he wrote.
Throughout his life he taught the importance of service and became a noted champion for human rights. Always, he led with the spirit of compassion and hope.
"Do not abandon yourselves to despair," he advised. "We are the Easter people and hallelujah is our song."
In 1978 he became the first Slavic Pope, the youngest in 132 years, and the first non-Italian in 456 years. In 1981, he was shot and seriously injured while riding in Rome's St Peter's Square.
Taking a conservative stand on most issues, Pope John Paul II spoke eight languages fluently. The world statesman traveled more than any other pontiff, to every continent except Antarctica--129 countries in 104 foreign visits.
His 26-year papacy greatly impacted world politics and played a pivotal role in the collapse of communism in the Soviet Union and Christianity's relationship to Judaism. He beatified 1,338 people in 147 ceremonies and canonized 482 people in 51 ceremonies, more than all his predecessors over the past 500 years combined.
"The more sand that has escaped from the hourglass of our life, the clearer we should see through it," he said.
More Pope JOHN PAUL II Quotations
The work of the heart is made possible by the work of the hands.