of Pope John Paul II on April 2, 2005 ended one of the longest
tenures of any pontiff in the history of the Catholic Church.
A major international figure, John Paul also advocated a strict
Church stance on issues such as birth control and divorce despite
changing social times, and sent an unswerving message of peace
to the world's conflict zones.
was one of the most widely traveled popes, visiting more than
100 countries in his more than 25 years as pontiff. Millions came
to see him celebrate Mass. His evangelical nature and ability
to reach out to people -- he knew eight different languages --
were credited with helping the Catholic faith spread in much of
the developing world.
Wojtyla on May 18, 1920 to a retired army officer and a schoolteacher
in Wadowice (near Krakow), Poland, he soon demonstrated abilities
in sports such as soccer, skiing and kayaking, and an affinity
for religion and the theater.
He also faced
the tests of faith at an early age. A month before his ninth birthday,
his mother, Emilia Kaczorowska, died from heart and kidney problems.
His brother Edmund passed away at age 26 from scarlet fever when
Karol was only 12. Eight years later, his 61-year-old father,
Karol Wojtyla Sr., would also die.
As a boy,
Wojtyla had his own close calls; on one occasion, a streetcar
struck him, and on another occasion he was hit by a truck.
from Marcin Wadowita High School in Wadowice, he attended Jagiellonian
University in Krakow, studying philosophy and literature and participating
in Eucharistic and charity student groups. His interest in acting
led him to become involved in experimental and underground theater
troupes. He participated in poetry readings and literary discussion
He worked as a stonecutter, thereby avoiding deportation when
Germany invaded Poland in late 1940, and later gained employment
at a chemical plant.
1942, Wojtyla began studying for the priesthood in Krakow's underground
seminary, and registered in the theology school at Jagiellonian
University. He was transferred with other clandestine seminarians
to the archbishop's residence, where he stayed until the end of
World War II, according to the Vatican's Web site.
On Nov. 1,
1946, Wojtyla was ordained a priest and continued his studies
in Rome, earning a licentiate in theology and later a doctorate
in philosophy. Back in Poland, he earned a master's in theology
and doctorate in sacred study at Jagellonian University. He taught
at the university level and became a published author.
named auxiliary bishop of Krakow in 1958. In the early 1960s,
he participated in the Second Vatican Council that would revolutionize
the church. When the archbishop of Krakow died, Wojtyla was named
to take his place. In 1967, he became a cardinal under Pope Paul
within the secular constraints of Communism, securing permits
to build churches and ordaining priests to work underground in
Czechoslovakia, according to CNN. But as the first Slavic pope
in 1978, some say he helped lay the groundwork for the downfall
of Communism by returning home to Poland, where he was greeted
by adoring crowds, and reminding his countrymen of their human
secretary told me that was the great moment," CNN quoted
Robert Moynihan, editor and publisher of the magazine Inside the
Vatican, as saying. "There was a crowd of 1 million people,
and he told them 'You are men. You have dignity. Don't crawl on
your bellies.' It was the beginning of the end of the Soviet Union."
became the 264th pope on Oct. 16, 1978. He was the first non-Italian
pope in 455 years, and at 58, one of the youngest. He chose the
same name as his predecessor, John Paul I, who died 34 days into
his reign from a heart attack.
afraid to receive this nomination, but I did it in the spirit
of obedience to Our Lord and in the total confidence in His mother,
the most holy Madonna," he said at the balcony of St. Peter's
Square in Rome.
In May of
that year, a young Turkish man named Mehmet Ali Agca shot the
pope twice, injuring him in the abdomen, right arm and left hand,
while he was circling St. Peter's Square. John Paul II spent 22
days in the hospital, telling others, "Pray for the brother
who shot me, whom I have sincerely forgiven."
attempt reportedly intensified the pope's devotion to the Virgin
Mary, whom he credited with helping him survive, according to
a profile published in Time magazine.
His many trips
abroad drew throngs of people, Catholic and non-Catholic alike.
Upon the pope's visit to Cuba in January 1998 humbled even the
outspoken Cuban leader Fidel Castro, who donned a suit rather
than his usual military fatigues.
II brought a sense of stability when the church was reeling after
Vatican II, under which many of the ancient rituals of Catholicism
were abandoned. Some have criticized the pope for his unyielding
stances on abortion, contraception and gay marriage, and his dictatorial
style of leading the Church.
a mistake to apply American democratic procedures to the faith
and truth. You cannot take a vote on the truth," he has said.
cornerstone of John Paul II's papacy was his message of tolerance
for other faiths. He sought reconciliation with Jews and traveled
to Islamic countries. According to the BBC, he was the first pope
to enter a mosque.
He also was
concerned for young people, and in 1985 established World Youth
Day, an annual event aimed at conveying a message of reconciliation,
peace and hope for the future.
failing health -- the pope's doctors confirmed in 2001 that he
suffered from Parkinson's disease -- John Paul II declared that
he would not retire. True to his word, he remained a public figure,
celebrating mass and presiding over ceremonies as long as his
In fact, only
one other pope in modern history served longer than John Paul
II: Pope Pius IX served 31 years. The first pope, Saint Peter,
completed the longest term of any pope; it is believed he reigned
for at least 34 years just after the death of Jesus Christ 2,000
Paul II's personal style cannot be replicated, the next pope will
probably be someone of like mind, since he has appointed all but
five of the 194 cardinals, most of whom -- those under age 80
-- will choose his successor.
Compiled for the Online NewsHour by Larisa Epatko