Wojtyla had a much broader experience of the world than most priests and appeared to embrace life in its many dimensions. He had been a talented actor during his youth, had many close friendships, with women as well as men, wrote poetry and plays. A lifelong sportsman, he enjoyed mountain climbing, skiing, swimming, and canoeing. During the war, to avoid deportation to a German work camp, he took a job breaking rocks in a quarry. He saw firsthand the horrors of a conflict in which millions of Poles were butchered, including 90 percent of the nation's large Jewish population. Two thousand of Wadowice's 9,000 residents were Jews and, unlike many of his compatriots, Wojtyla risked his life trying to help them. "You cannot imagine what it was like to have such a warm, human, and brotherly friendship," said Jerzy Kluger, a Jewish schoolmate who continued the friendship as a resident of Rome.
Our photo gallery spans the pope's youth to his last days at the vatican.
When Wojtyla was 8, his mother, Emilia, died. At 11, he lost his older brother, Edmund, a doctor. When he was 21, his father, Karol, a noncommissioned Army officer, died. The losses seemed to have stimulated young Karol's intense religiosity. He developed a special attachment to the figure of the Virgin Mary, and, over his lifetime, was convinced that her "motherly hand" had saved him time and again. When he became pope he made his motto the Latin expression Totus Tuus ("wholly yours"), dedicated to the mother of Christ.
As a brilliant student, Wojtyla caught the attention of the archbishop of Krakow, Prince Adam Sapieha, who ordained him as a priest in 1946. Seeing the young priest's promise, Sapieha immediately sent him to Rome's Angelicum University for graduate studies. There, while living at the Belgian College, he became fluent in French and Italian, two of the eight languages he would eventually master. He wrote his doctoral thesis in Latin on the Spanish mystic St. John of the Cross, for which he won high praise. Along with traditional Catholic theology, he experimented with new trends in 20th-century philosophy.
While he relished Western Europe's religious freedom, the region struck him as shallow and materialistic. At 28, in his first published article, he said he saw "on the one hand, an ocean of consumer goods, stores, restaurants, automobiles. On the other, misery, unemployed people, children begging, and on Sunday, the churches empty."
He returned to Poland as a parish priest and quickly rose in the ecclesiastical hierarchy. At 38, he became the youngest bishop in the country. In 1964, at 43, he was made archbishop of Krakow. Even with his new responsibilities, he continued to write, meet with students, play the guitar, ski, and kayak. His old mentor, Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski, the archbishop of Warsaw, called him "my rugged mountaineer."
Wojtyla acquired international stature within the church through his participation in Vatican Council II, the great attempt to modernize the Catholic faith. The Latin mass was abolished, the priest was asked to face the congregation during mass, and the Synod of Bishops was encouraged to have a voice in the direction of the church through the principle of "collegiality."