Pope John Paul II: Krakow’s Adopted Son, and Poland’s greatest modern-day hero
Pope Francis is currently making headlines with his historic visit to Cuba and the USA. Among many other activities, he addressed the US Congress, met with President Obama at the White House, addressed the UN in New York, met with September 11 victims’ families, spoke to the homeless, visited with school children, gave a mass in Madison Square Gardens and touched the hearts of many people in Philadelphia. All along the way, thousands have turned out to see him, and he’s generally creating lots of waves about many important social issues. Good waves, to make people think and care. He’s soft-spoken, but quite charismatic and his words carry a lot of weight, and he’s turning out to be a very popular, potentially influential Pope.
One of his recent predecessors, Pope John Paul II, was very similar in many ways and was also a hugely popular Pope.
So, we were very happy that we were able to see some sights connected to Pope John Paul II in Krakow, Poland recently.
Pope John Paul II (1920-2005) was born as Karol Wojtyla in nearby Wadowice. He lost his mother as a young boy and he and his father moved to Krakow later so he could attend Jagellonian University to study philosophy.
He was one of the famous graduates of Jagiellonian University in Krakow and we found mention of him here too. His undergraduate career was cut short when Nazi occupiers closed the university in 1939, and he was forced to work in a quarry. In defiance of the Nazis he secretly studied theology and after the war he returned to the University, but to study theology. See here for an earlier article on the Jagellonian University Museum:
He quickly rose in the ranks of the Catholic Church and became archbishop of Krakow in 1964. In 1967 be became the youngest cardinal ever in the Catholic Church. Throughout the 1960s he fought an ongoing battle with the Communist regime and encouraged his countrymen—mostly with gentle but pointed wordplay, as he also didn’t want to jeopardize the stature of the church in Poland. He was elected Pope in 1978, taking the name Pope John Paul II.
He is revered in Poland, and especially in Krakow, as a native son who rose to change the course of history, and as a symbol of hope to Poland and the world.
There are many reminders of him around Krakow.
Head first to Kanonicza Street (go south on Grodska from the main square, towards the castle. At the imposing church of Sts Peter and Paul, go right and Kononicza runs roughly parallel to Grodska). A little way down the street is an attractive light yellow building. This is now the Archdiocescan Museum and John Paul II Center, where there are modest collections celebrating his legacy. He lived here when he was the archbishop of Krakow, and when he became Pope it remained his home-away-from-Rome for visits to his hometown. He would often talk from the window above the big door to people below—about religion, sports, current events, or whatever was on their minds. As his health deteriorated in Rome, thousands would gather here, and on the night that he died, tens of thousands of Krakovians were on and around this street to honor him.
Up on Wawel (the Castle Hill), in a small square opposite the Wawel Cathedral is a statue of the Pope, to commemorate his opening of the Cathedral Museum there in 1978, before he became Pope. The Cathedral Museum also has a small collection of items relating to his life.
From Wawel, you can walk back to the main square some of the way along part of the Planty (the park established around the city after the fortified ring walls were demolished by the Austrians in the early 1800s). Here on one of the walkways, we passed a special outdoor exhibit on Pope John Paul II, recollecting some of the great moments in his Papacy and some of his extensive travels—he sure did get around!