Karol Wojytła (1920–2005) is arguably the most famous Pole in history but he also made a major impact on Ukrainian history, especially on the fate of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church. Even before his election to the papacy as John Paul II in October 1978, Wojytła had become a pivotal pubic figure in his homeland where, as Archbishop of Kraków, he held the highest offices in the Church, second only to that of Polish Primate. A few days ago, I discovered a letter written in September 1946, which might represent the first time he was brought to the attention of the Vatican.
Wojytła’s path to leadership was anything but standard, and is perhaps better described by the old Christian proverb “The ways of Providence are infinite.” To be sure, his call to priestly service happened in a period of wartime terror, where millions were slated for destruction by racial hatred and totalitarian dictatorships.
The Nazis not only sought to destroy the body, they also sought to destroy the soul. While the Jewish people were their particular focus, they also targeted others for destruction, and among the first victims of Hitler’s racist plan was Poland. Hypothetically, it would be interesting to observe the reaction of a Holocaust denier faced with the mountain of testimonies in Vatican archives. Combing through the Foreign Affairs section of the Archive of the Secretariat of State, a researcher is overwhelmed by reports from diplomats, military chaplains, church and civic leaders, many of which were eyewitnesses to the genocides and ethnic cleansings being perpetuated in the name of the Third Reich.