ROME – Today marks the fifteenth anniversary of the death of Saint Pope John Paul II, who passed away on April 2, 2005.
John Paul II was the first non-Italian pope since the 15th century, and his pontificate was the second longest in the history of the Catholic Church. He led the Catholic Church for almost three decades, from 1978 until 2005.
Born Karol Józef Wojtyla on May 18, 1920, the young polish boy loved skiing and swimming. He studied poetry and theater at Karkow’s Jagiellonian University, but Nazi troops closed the school during the German occupation of Poland.
Discernment led Karol to a secret seminary during the Nazi occupation, and he finished his studies at Krakow seminary after the end of World War I.
He was ordained a priest in 1946. After eighteen years of priesthood, he became Bishop of Ombi in 1958 and Archbishop of Krakow in 1964. Pope Paul VI appointed him as a cardinal in 1967. When Karol was elected pope in 1978, he became the first non-Italian pope in over four hundred years.
During his papacy, John Paul II became the most well traveled world leader in history. He visited 129 countries during his pontificate.
Another record breaking aspect of his papacy was how many holy men and women he recognized as saints. He beatified 1,340 and canonized 483. That was more beatifications and canonizations than the combined amount from the preceding five centuries of Catholic Church history.
After his death in 2005, the five year waiting period was waived for the canonization process. Pope Benedict XVI proclaimed John Paul II venerable in 2009, and beatified him on Divine Mercy Sunday in 2011.
Together with Pope John XXIII, John Paul II was canonized by Pope Francis in 2014, again on Divine Mercy Sunday.
Posthumously, Catholics refer to him Saint John Paul the Great, but the title has no official recognition from the Catholic Church yet.