P is for Pope, Piotrek and Przemek!

Poland-eagle-150square Poland is, by and large, a Catholic country, and one of the images that stays in my head from my very first visit is that of Pope John Paul II (or Jan Pawel, as he’s known in Poland).  I already had enormous respect for this very human and vital man, but I hadn’t fully realised the reverence for him in his homeland.  When I began to look into the story of his life, I understood why.

Pope John Paul II in 1993- courtesy of Wikipedia

Pope John Paul II in 1993- courtesy of Wikipedia

Karol Józef Wojtyła was the head of the Catholic Church from 16th October 1978 till his death on April 2nd, 2005.  Born at Wadowice in Southern Poland on 18th May, 1920, he was to become the first non-Italian pope since 1523.

He was the youngest of three children born to his parents, though his sister Olga had died before he was born.  In reality he should not have been born himself because his mother, Emilia, had been told that she had no chance of giving birth to a live child.  A devout Catholic, she refused an abortion, and the child did indeed live, though Emilia herself died in childbirth when Karol was just 8 years old.  An athletic boy, he loved football and sports.

In 1938 he and his Dad moved to Kraków, where he enrolled at the Jagellonian University.  He took philosophy, and developed a talent for languages (he learned 12, which puts me to shame!).  He had to take part in compulsory military training, but refused to fire a weapon.  In 1939, the German occupying force closed the university and he had to find work to avoid deportation.  His Dad died of a heart attack in 1941, so that, by the age of 20, he had “already lost all the people I loved”.  It was then that he began to think seriously about the priesthood.

Statue of John Paul II in the grounds of na Skalce

Statue of John Paul II in the grounds of na Skalce church, in Kraków

In 1942 he knocked on the door of the Archbishop of Kraków and asked to be admitted to the clandestine undergound seminary.  He had some narrow escapes, but survived the war years to spend a year as a village parish priest, before being transferred to Kraków.  He taught ethics at the Jagellonian University and gathered a little group around him that became known as “Rodzinka”-  his “little family”.  As well as prayer and charitable works the group went kayaking and skiing with him.

You have to remember that these were now Communist times in Poland.  The Faculty of Theology was disbanded at the university and priests were forbidden to travel with students.  Father Wojtyła asked his students to call him “Wujek”- the Polish word for uncle (which I love very much), so that it would not be obvious he was a priest.  The name stuck, and to Poles he would always be their beloved Wujek.

The museum dedicated to Pope John Paul. a beloved local

The museum dedicated to Pope John Paul. a beloved local

At just 38, Wojtyła was appointed Bishop of Kraków, and from there it was a steady rise to the papacy.  His mission was “to place his Church at the heart of a new religious alliance that would bring together Jews, Muslims and Christians in a great [religious] armada”.  He was to travel the world like no Pope before (129 countries in total!) in an effort to do so.

In June 1979 he made his first trip back to Poland as Pope.  His country was still completely under the Soviet thumb but he encouraged them to adhere to their faith and affirm solidarity with one another.  The Communists were not to relinquish power for another decade, but it was with the Pope’s encouragement and “soft power” that Solidarnosc was born as a movement.   In 2004 he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for his lifelong opposition to Communist oppression and for trying to reshape the world. The full story is in the Wikipedia link at the top of this post.

Beside Wawel Castle in Kraków

Beside Wawel Castle, in Kraków

I was in Kraków in 2007 on the 2nd anniversary of his death, and the crowds and emotion were overwhelming even then.  Candles flickered as his voice was broadcast into the night.  Since then I have always been aware of his presence whenever I am in the city.

P is for Piotrek and Przemek

Piotrek is the English equivalent of Peter, and a popular name in Poland, so of course, I have a cousin of that name!  He’s the carpenter son of Lodzia and Zygmunt, and a lovely man with whom I have danced at a wedding or two.

Within the family we also have a diminutive Piotrek (Piotrus) who is a proper scene stealer, as small boys are.  He is the son of Krzystof and Ilona, whose wedding I went to in April 2008.

That just leaves Przemek!  He is the son of my cousin Adam’s sister, Basia (also my cousin- no wonder I’m confused!).  His English is impeccable.  He and fiance Marta were house-hunting when I was last there, so who knows if there’ll be yet another wedding in the not too distant future.

Przemek and Marta

Przemek and Marta

Well, I’ve bent your ears enough for one post so it’s time to say thank you to Julie Dawn Fox for hosting the Personal A-Z Challenge, and to lovely Frizz for also letting me tag along on his A-Z.  As always the links and logos will take you there.



  1. I didn’t know much about him and thanks for the education. I would have loved to have known such a strong person. Those were difficult times and to pull through with such grace is astounding.

    1. How do people get to be so full of grace? But beyond that, an extraordinary man. I was not brought up in the faith but I would have gone to see him if I’d had the opportunity.

  2. Faith and family, two treaures that inspires us everyday. You are blessed with a family full of warmth, love and generous smilies. Pope John Paul touched the hearts of many. I remembered how the Phlippines celebrated when he visited my country in the 1980’s. It’s like being touched by an angel.

    1. Faith I don’t have in great quantity, IT. Wishing doesn’t make it so. I just try to spread a few smiles and hugs, but I am in awe of a man who can dedicate his life to others like John Paul. Touched by an angel is a wonderful description. Thank you 🙂

  3. I’m Catholic and half Polish, so you can imagine the affection I feel toward the late great Pope John Paul II. It’s interesting how events from his younger days shaped the Pope he was to become. A beautiful tribute, and I enjoyed how you were able to weave your extended family into the tale!

    1. I must have asked you before, Elisa, but my memory is atrocious- Mum or Dad and do you still have contact with any Polish family? I don’t think so, from what I can dimly remember. If there was such a things as glasses for the memory, I’d invest! Thanks, hon 🙂

  4. An enjoyable read about the life of Pope Paul II. He was a very holy man. He was one of the greatest popes. I understand he is now going to be canonized into sainthood. I knew some things about him but have learned a few more from this post. Thanks for all that you’ve written about him.
    I enjoyed reading about your family, too. The names seem a bit hard to pronounce. I wish I could hear how they are supposed to be properly said.
    Great entry for Frizz’s challenge. ~~~~ : – )

    1. Polish pronunciation is tricky, Isadora and I’ll be shot down in flames by the family if I attempt it phonetically (but I do sometimes- like with the ł that is pronounced ‘w’).
      Pee-o-trek is much as it looks. Prsh-emek is the best I can do for the other 🙂

      I hope to pick up an autobiography of the Pope. He really had the most fascinating life. So holy, yes, but also someone you feel you would love to have known.

  5. Wonderful post …. some very special men. Pope John, I think he was the most popular pope ever and he was a very modern thinking one too .. even if I didn’t agree on all his decisions. I can remember that he was pope for that many years. A beautiful post, Jo – well done and so interesting too.

  6. A lovely tribute to ‘The Blessed John Paul’. He will always be remembered as a great advocate for human rights. Thanks for telling me more about his early life, Jo. What a lovely family you have, and little Piotrek is so cute……..and fearless. 🙂

  7. Jo, it was fascinating to read about the life of the Pope. It’s nice you have so many Polish relatives to write about too! I’m amazed you can always come up with so much for your A-Z posts! 🙂

    1. I plan to grab his autobiography next time I’m in the library, Cathy. He had some extraordinary “adventures” with the Nazis and the Communists. And he’s a guy we both would have really liked if we’d met him. 🙂 Thanks, Cathy.

      1. I think that’s a great idea, to read his autobiography. He sounds like he was a fascinating man. I’d love to read about those “adventures” with the Nazis and Communists.

  8. Beautiful post, Jo. I learned much about this beloved Pope. Being there on the second anniversary of his death is like being a part of history. You have a lovely family and yes, it sounds like a wedding in the near future.

  9. è arrivato come un Papa giusto al momento giusto, grande comunicatore amatissimo da tutto il popolo dei cattolici, ero a Roma nella notte della sua morte, e lo spettacolo della folla che pregava e cantava per Lui in Piazza San Pietro rimarrà sempre nella mia memoria come sintesi tutti i grandi misteri che circondano il vivere e le religioni, è ben comprensibile la venerazione della Polonia per questo suo straordinario figlio
    Grazie del bellissimo ricordo a Lui dedicato
    buonanotte Giovanna

    It arrived as a Pope right at the right time, great Communicator beloved by all the people of the Catholic, was in Rome on the night of his death, and the spectacle of crowds who prayed and sang for him in St. Peter’s square will always remain in my memory as a synthesis of all the great mysteries surrounding the life and religions, it is understandable the veneration of Poland for his extraordinary son
    Thanks for your wonderful memory dedicated to him
    Goodnight Giovanna

    1. That must have been an amazing night, Ventis. I’m not a Catholic myself, nor even a firm believer, but I was moved by the depth of feeling for him.
      Have a good day, cara. 🙂

  10. Thank you Jo. I didn’t know a lot about the life of Pope John Paul II or “Wujek” as the Polish liked t call him, until I read your post. Thank you. I feel as though I’ve learnt a lot from reading it.

      1. Well it was just enough for me. If there’s too much information all at once I just go into overload these days. So thank you.

  11. I’m teary whenever I read about Pope John Paul II. We were so honored to see him when we visited Vatican in the late 90s. Great post, Jo! Thank you so much.

      1. Exciting, but also I was very nervous! I wasn’t sure we were allowed to take photos of him… When I decided to he passed us, so the pic didn’t show his face. I’ll try to scan and email to you if you like to see.

  12. Great post, Jo. He did seem exceptional to me as well.
    I have a good friend from Gdansk, and we are thinking of making a trip to Poland next summer, a first time for all of us, so I am especially interested in learning all that I can about Poland.

    1. You’ll have a fine time, Naomi. I would love to see Gdansk myself too someday. The history and the architecture are fascinating throughout Poland. Thanks for your nice comment. 🙂

  13. Another super post Jo. I felt so sorry for Pope John Paul towards the end of his life, he should have been allowed to retire. His health was failing rapidly and he still made a supreme effort to do his duty. He was a Saint before he died, a wonderful human being. Poland have every right to feel so proud. Hope they don’t beat England tonight though 🙂

    1. I did think my timing might be a little off with this post, David. I’ll lie low if it all goes wrong 😦 Thank you! He was a genuinely wonderful human being.

  14. 🙂 🙂 I wish I could give you 10 stars for this post. Woyjtyla was so much more than just a pope and my people love him dearly and he loved my nation too. Thank you for showing us your family again Jo. It feels good to be proud of ones roots, and I applaude you for your stories and presentation. The name Przemek sounds so funny – is there an English equivalent for that one?

    1. It took me a little while to get my English teeth around Przemek, Paula 🙂 And no, I don’t know of an equivalent. Thank you for your lovely words. I was quite emotional by the time I finished this post. He truly was a formidable man (in the French sense 🙂 )

    1. I was always full of admiration for him, even before our Polish connection, Jill. That was a night not to forget. We’d been with family in Central Poland and raced back to be in Krakow in time for the Pope’s broadcast. I could not believe the atmosphere!

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