Happy 100 Birthday in Heaven Saint John Paul II!!!

Pope John Paul II

“Whoever wants to understand the poet – should go to his homeland” W. Goethe

 On May 18, we will celebrate the 100th birthday of Saint John Paul II. The Polish Pope would not be the same man, the same priest, actor and poet, bishop, philosopher and pope, were it not for the influence and example of his parents’ life.

It was in the family that Karol Wojtyla learned to love, believe and understand the world. On March 11 – that is, a few weeks ago – the archbishop of Krakow, Marek Jędraszewski, decided to start the beatification processes of Emilia Wojtyla née Kaczorowska and Karol Wojtyla (father) – parents of Saint John Paul II. Who would Karol Wojtyla be, if not for the influence of his parents?  How strongly did his family home in Wadowice shape his personality, priestly calling and spirituality?

Mother:   As John Paul II himself emphasized; his mother was the soul of the family home. Emilia Wojtyla, née Kaczorowska, was born in 1884 in Krakow. “If I live at all, it is only because she was the one who gave me this life”, the Pope used to say many times. She gave birth to him despite the fact that pregnancy was a threat to her life and the doctor offered abortion, explaining that in order to save herself she has to get rid of the conceived child. From the very beginning she surrounded him with boundless love. “This child will be someone great!”, she used to tell her friends and neighbours. She hugged and rocked him many times in the wood cradle, singing to sleep. It was his mother who taught him the sign of the cross and the first prayers. “My faith was taught to me by my mother’s hands, who folded my little hands to a prayer and showed me how to make the sign of the cross – the sign of Christ, who is the Son of the living God”, recalled the pope many years later. Emilia dreamed of one of her sons becoming a priest and the other a doctor. John Paul II once said: “My mother wanted to have two sons: a doctor and a priest, and it happened – my brother became a doctor and I became a priest despite all adversities.”

From the birth of Karol, Emilia felt very unwell.  Exhausted by a difficult pregnancy, she never recovered and her life was marked by illness and weakness.  From 1927, Emilia’s disease progressed very quickly. She never left the house, only on sunny days her husband carried her on a chair to the balcony where she liked to sew or mend her son’s clothes. Then she just lay in bed. Emilia Wojtyla died on April 13, 1929. She was 45 years old. Her son Karol, the future pope, was 9 years old.

There is a high probability that it was the mother’s illness that made John Paul II so sensitive to human suffering that he spoke and wrote so much about it.  Perhaps Emilia’s heroic attitude and her decision to give birth to a child, even at the cost of sacrificing her own life, contributed to such intensive teaching of the Pope about respect for the lives of conceived children.

Father:   John Paul II had more memories about his father than about his mother.  Once he said about him: “My childhood is primarily associated with the figure of the father, whose spiritual life after the loss of his wife and older son has deepened. I looked closely at his life, I saw how much he demanded of himself, I saw him very often as he knelt to pray.  Looking at him, I learned that I had to set my own requirements and try to fulfil my duties as best I can. I considered my father as an extraordinary man”.

Karol Wojtyla (father) was born in 1879.  When he was 21 years old, he reached the recruitment age.  After several years of military service, he decided to remain in the army permanently.  After Emilia’s death, Karol Wojtyla (father) took over all parental responsibilities. First, however, he organized for his sons, Edmund and Karol, a pilgrimage to the Marian shrine in Kalwaria Zebrzydowska near Krakow. When the mother was missing, he showed them another Mother – Mary, that they would entrust their suffering to her, praying and participating in the Way of the Cross on the famous Calvary paths.  In this way he directed their thinking.

He never married a second time.  He remained a widower and focused on the education of little Karol – the future pope. The older son, Edmund, was already an adult and studied in Krakow. Karol Wojtyla (father) perfectly fulfilled his duties as the father and head of the family.  He was preparing breakfasts and dinners and only for lunch they were going to the restaurant which was located opposite the house.  In the eyes of his neighbours and friends he was the model for an ideal parent. A strong man, but at the same time like a loving mother he shaped the character of young Karol. He took care of his son’s comprehensive development and education, raised him in a spirit of patriotism. Karol Wojtyla (father), as befits a soldier, also taught Karol to follow the regular rhythm of the day, which was determined by:  meals, doing homework together, evening walks and many other activities.  He took care of his son’s spiritual life, hence he included a systematic prayer in the schedule of the day, which they said together at specific times, as well as before and after each meal.  In addition, both father and son used to go to the Latin daily mass at seven o’clock in the parish church.

John Paul II remembered his father from those times: “I could observe his everyday life, which was very strict. He was a military man and when he became a widower, his life became even more a life of constant prayer. Sometimes I woke up at midnight and I saw my father kneeling, just like kneeling as I saw him always in the parish church”.

When the future pope was 12 years old, he heard memorable words from his father: “You are not a good altar boy! You don’t pray enough to the Holy Spirit! You must pray to him much more!”. The Pope recalled after many years: “It was a great spiritual lesson for me, more permanent and stronger than all I had thanks to reading and studying. It is thanks to him that after many years I wrote the encyclical to the Holy Spirit. “ His father’s strong faith had a great impact on his son, and John Paul II was aware of this to the end of his life.

The pope’s father died suddenly.  John Paul II recalled: “In 1941 my father died, and it was February 18.  I returned home from work and found my father dead” and he added “I have never felt so lonely…”. The period of mourning was for him one of the most difficult but also the most important in his life. It is significant that Karol Wojtyla decided to become a priest just after the death of his father. It was this moment in his life that was a breakthrough, and his father’s departure had an impact on his life choices. It was the father who shaped his spirituality and relationship with God.  John Paul has repeatedly confirmed this: “We have never talked about the priestly vocation, but this example of my father was for me the first home seminary.”

John Paul II would not be the same man, the same priest, actor and poet, bishop and philosopher, and finally the pope, if not for the huge influence of his parents.  It was in the family that the pope learned to love and understand the world.  He gained knowledge and faith, learned patriotism and love for people.

If John Paul II did not carry the family home in Wadowice in his heart, if he did not carry the world of his childhood, his whole message and holiness would have a different dimension. That is why, when Pope Benedict XVI came to Wadowice on a pilgrimage in 2006, he said: “The great German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe said: “Whoever wants to understand the poet should go to his homeland. So, to understand the life and ministry of John Paul II, I had to come to his hometown.”  To royal Wadowice where 100 years ago this wonderful journey to holiness began.  And finally, I would like to write for you something very similar that I came up with recently: Whoever wants to understand John Paul II should get to know the life of his parents.

Happy 100 Birthday in Heaven Saint John Paul II! Together with your parents you will always remain in our hearts!

Fr Gregory