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St John Paul

Many people who knew young Karol Wojtyla in Poland thought he might someday be an actor or a writer. Instead, he became pope.

Karol Józef Wojtyła was born in the town of Wadowice in Poland in 1920. He was the youngest of three children, and his mother died when he was only nine. When he graduated from high school and went to college, he studied drama. But as World War II approached, the university was closed, and Karol went to work in a quarry and then a factory to earn money and avoid being sent to Germany to serve in the army.

When he was 22, he realized God was calling him to something different. He knew he wanted to be a priest. But at the time, studying for the priesthood in Poland could only be done secretly, so that is what Karol did. When World War II ended, he was finally able to pursue his dream openly. In 1946, he was ordained a priest.

Karol was a good student and a good priest, and this soon caught the attention of church leaders, who sent him to Rome for more study. He later returned to Poland to teach at the seminary. In 1958, he was made a bishop in Krakow, Poland, and just six years later became the archbishop there. By 1967, he had been named a cardinal.

He took part in all of the historical sessions of Vatican II and made important contributions. In 1978, his fellow cardinals elected him pope. He took the name “John Paul II.”

John Paul II was pope for a very long time, nearly 27 years. He travelled the world many times over, going places that popes had not been to before. He danced in Africa. He giggled with children. He cried with dying people. He was a very human and approachable pope. He loved young people so much that he started World Youth Day so he could meet youth from all over the world every few years. The pope was known as a true outdoorsman who loved to ski and hike.
The pope was seriously injured, but quickly asked people to pray for the man who had shot him. He later met personally with Agca to extend his forgiveness.
In 2013 Pope Francis declared that Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II were to be canonized on the same day. In preparation for the Jubilee Year of Mercy, Pope Francis referred to Saint John Paul II as a great “apostle of mercy” and role model for us today.

St Maximilian Kolbe

Raymond Kolbe was born in Poland. When he was just a teenager, he joined the Franciscan order and took the name Maximilian. Maximilian loved his work and enjoyed studying to become a priest, and he especially loved the Blessed Mother.

Before he became a priest, he started the Militia of Mary Immaculate or the Immaculata Movement devoted to Our Lady.

Then when he took his vows to become a priest he added “Mary” to his name. Father Maximilian Mary knew that the world which was so full of sin, needed their Heavenly Mother to guide and protect them.

He started a magazine called “The Knight of the Immaculata” so that more people would know about Mother Mary. He and his Franciscan priests published two monthly newsletters that were sent to people around the world.

The Mother of God blessed Father Maximilian’s work. He built a large center in Poland. This center was called “City of the Immaculate.”

In about fifteen years, a large community of eight hundred Franciscans lived there and worked hard to make the love of Mary known. Father Kolbe also started another City of the Immaculate in Nagasaki, Japan and yet another one in India.

In 1938, the Nazis invaded the Polish City of the Immaculate. They stopped the wonderful work going on there. In 1941, the Nazis arrested Father Kolbe. They sentenced him to hard manual labor at Auschwitz.

Three months after he arrived at Auschwitz a prisoner managed to escape. The Nazis became very angry and decided to punish the rest of the prisoners.
They decided to choose ten prisoners and put them in a bunker without food or water so that they would starve to death. All the prisoners stood straight, while ten men were pulled out of line.

One prisoner they chose was a married man with a family. He begged and pleaded to be spared for the sake of his children. Father Kolbe, who was listening, felt deeply moved and decided to help that suffering prisoner. He stepped forward and asked the commander if he could take the man’s place. The commander agreed.

Father Kolbe and the other prisoners were sent into the bunker and they remained alive without food or water for many days. One by one, as they died, Father Kolbe helped and comforted them. He was the last to die on August 14, 1941.