Karol Wojtyla was born in Wadowice, not far from Cracow, on 18 May 1920. His family circumstances were modest — his father was a worker, and he himself began to work in the Solvay chemical factory while he was still at school, continuing to do so during his years at university and thus experiencing at first hand the conditions and the problems of the workers. The exceptional quality of his mind soon revealed itself, and while at work he became actively involved in efforts both to improve the conditions of the workers at the factory and to provide for their religious and cultural formation. With a view to entering the priesthood, he began his own specifically ecclesiastical studies while he was still working in the factory, going on to complete them at the major seminary in Cracow, where he was ordained priest on 1November 1946. After this he went to Rome and there studied at the Angelicum for another two years, at the end of which time he obtained a doctorate in philosophy. Returning in 1948 to Poland, and to the difficulties and tensions of the post-war situation there, he exercised his pastoral ministry as assistant to the archbishop in various parishes in the archdiocese of Cracow, while working at the same time among the undergraduate and graduate students at the state university in Cracow, where he gained his own doctorate in theology; he later become professor of ethics at the Catholic University of. Lublin. In July 1958 he received episcopal ordination and was appointed auxiliary to the Archbishop of Cracow, succeeding to the see himself on 13 January 1964. He was made a cardinal by Pope Paul VI in the consistory of 26 June 1967, and has been a member of the Vatican Congregations for the Sacraments and Divine Worship, for the Clergy, and for Catholic Education.
Karol Wojtyla is a man of wide learning with what those who know him havedescribed as a "searching" and analytical mind. He has a ready command of at least six languages, including Italian, and has made numerous contributions to French philosophical reviews, besides publishing longer studies, among them one on Max Scheler. During his university days he joined an avant -garde theatre group and wrote poetry, but not all his enthusiasms are intellectual; he is a keen skier, hiker and canoeist.
During the second Vatican Council all his contributions were marked by a consistent openness of mind. During discussions of the constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, for example, he urged that it should speak first of the People of God and only then go on to talk about the hierarchy; and later, speaking in the name of all the Polish bishops on the subject of the Church in the modern world, he said: "It is not the Church's place to teach unbelievers. She must seek in common with the world. . . Let us avoid any spirit of monopolising and moralising. One of the major faults of this schema [for the constitution Gaudium et Spes] is that in it the Church appears authoritarian." On a later occasion, during the 1969 Synod of Bishops, he supported Cardinal Francois Marty, who criticised the draft statement on collegiality on the grounds that it failed to approximate to the concrete development of collegiality expressly desired by Pope Paul VI, and still less to that described at the second Vatican Council. In the council too he revealed another aspect of his personality, that of reconciler, which has always characterised his pastorate in Poland: he firmly opposed demands fora condemnation of atheism, pointing out that it would at best be counter-productive— though he equally firmly opposed efforts on the part of some of the more conservative fathers to get the council to drop the declaration on religious liberty, which he and other eastern European bishops felt would be of assistance to them in their dealings with the Communist regimes in their countries. In this connection, he said in an article published in L'Osservatore Romano in February 1976 that "one can understand that a man may search and not find; one can understand that he may deny; but it is incomprehensible that a man should be told: you may not believe'." In Poland itself, though he has consistently supported Cardinal Wyszynski, his attitude to the regime has been less intransigent than that of the latter —though he has never been afraid to speak out strongly on social and economic issues, and is known to be a supporter of the so-called "flying university", the clandestine classes which keep free enquiry alive in academic circles: a significant sign.