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Excerpted from Gift and Mystery by His Holiness John Paul II. Copyright 1996 by Libreria Editrice Vaticana. Excerpted by permission of Doubleday Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.  HTML and web pages copyright by SpiritSite.com.

"Ultimately, the mystery of language brings us back to the inscrutable mystery of God himself."

Pope John Paul II, Gift and Mystery, Part 3

Studies at the Jagiellonian University

In May 1938 I passed the secondary school examination and entered the University to study Polish language and letters. My father and I moved from Wadowice to Cracow and set up house at 10 Tyniecka Street, in the Debniki district. The house belonged to relatives of my mother. I began my studies in the Faulty of Philosophy at the Jagiellonian University, taking courses in Polish language and letters, but I was able to complete only the first year, since the Second World War broke out on 1 September 1939.

As for my studies, I would like to point out that my choice of Polish language and letters was determined by a clear inclination towards literature. Right from the beginning of the first year, however, I found myself attracted to the study of the language itself. We studied the descriptive grammar of modern Polish as well as the historical evolution of the language, with a special interest in its ancient Slavic roots. This opened up completely new horizons for me; it introduced me to the mystery of language itself.

The word, before it is ever spoken on the stage, is already present in human history as a fundamental dimension of man's spiritual experience. Ultimately, the mystery of language brings us back to the inscrutable mystery of God himself. As I came to appreciate the power of the word in my literary and linguistic studies, I inevitably drew closer to the mystery of the Word - that Word of which we speak every day in the Angelus: "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us" (Jn 1:14). Later I came to realize that my study of Polish language and letters had prepared the ground for a different kind of interest and study. It had prepared me for an encounter with philosophy and theology.

The Outbreak of the Second World War

But let us go back to 1 September 1939. The outbreak of the war radically changed the course of my life. True, the professors of the Jagiellonian University tried to start the new academic year in the usual way, but lectures lasted only until 6 November 1939. On that day the German authorities assembled all the teachers in a meeting which ended with the deportation of those distinguished scholars to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. The period of my life devoted to the study of Polish language and letters thus came to an end, and the period of the German occupation began. During that time I tried at first to do a lot of reading and writing. My first literary works date back to that period.

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