Pope John Paul II was the head of the Catholic Church from 1978 to 2005. Interested individuals wouldn’t know it based on his name. However, he is remarkable for being the first non-Italian to become Pope since the 16th century. On top of that, John Paul II can claim a number of other important achievements as well.
Like most other Popes, John Paul II didn’t always bear the name he is most known for. Instead, he was born Karol Józef Wojtyła in the Polish town of Wadowice on May 18 of 1920. In time, he went to Jagiellonian University in Krakow, where he proceeded to learn as many as 15 languages, proving very useful for his future calling. John Paul II started thinking about becoming a priest after his father’s death from a heart attack in 1941, leaving him the last surviving member of his immediate family.
John Paul II managed to survive the Nazi occupation of Poland. Furthermore, it is interesting to note that he helped out a number of Polish Jews during that period, which was presumably motivated to some extent by the fact that he was quite familiar with the Jewish community in his hometown. Afterward, John Paul II rose high in the Catholic hierarchy, so much so that he was elected Pope by the second papal conclave of 1978. As for why he chose his papal name, it was meant to signal that he would continue the work of his immediate predecessor John Paul I.
As Pope, John Paul II is known for a number of things. For example, he is considered to have been a spiritual inspiration for the peaceful inspiration that brought down Communism in Poland. Similarly, he is also remembered for working to improve the Catholic Church’s relationship with Judaism, Islam and the Eastern Orthodox Church.
However, John Paul II’s tenure is not free from criticism. During his time, he came under fire from both sides of the political spectrum, either because he was conservative or not conservative enough when it came to his positions. Furthermore, John Paul II has received much criticism for not responding fast enough to the Catholic sex abuse crisis.
Still, John Paul II remained a revered figure. For proof, look no further than the fact that he was canonized in 2014 after his death in 2005, meaning that he is considered a saint by the Catholic Church.