Pope John Paul II

Pope John Paul II, born Karol Jozef Wojtyla (May 18, 1920 – April 2, 2005), was Pope, Prince of the Apostles and Bishop of Rome for almost 27 years, from 16 October 1978 until his death, ruling Vatican City and leading the Roman Catholic Church and Eastern Churches in communion with the Holy See. By virtue of his office, he was formally addressed by Catholics and many non-Catholics as His Holiness. He served the third longest papacy following Saint Peter and Pope Pius IX. He was the first non-Italian to serve in office since the Dutch-German Pope Adrian VI assumed the papacy in 1522. His reign experienced a rapid decline of Catholicism in industrialized nations and expansion in the third world.

Pope John Paul II emphasized what he called the universal call to holiness and attempted to define the Catholic Church’s role in the modern world. He was a strident supporter of Papal infallibility and opposed the concept of collegiality. He spoke out against communism, imperialism, materialism, Nazism, racism, oppression, secularism, feminism, poverty, and unrestrained capitalism. Although he was on friendly terms with many Western heads of state and leading citizens, he reserved a special opprobrium for what he believed to be the corrosive spiritual effects of moderm Western consumerism and the concomitant widespread secular/hedonistic orientation of Western populations.

He defined Catholic teachings on human life by opposing abortion, contraception, capital punishment, stem-cell research, human cloning, euthanasia and war. He also defended traditional teachings on marriage, sexuality, and gender roles by opposing divorce, same-sex unions and ordination of women. He opposed the full separation of church and state by calling upon Catholics to vote according to their religion.

Pope John Paul II became known as the "Pilgrim Pope" for having travelled greater distances than all his predecessors have combined. According to John Paul II, the trips symbolized bridge-building efforts between nations and religions, attempting to remove divisions created through history. He allegedly canonized more people than all his predecessors combined, from many different cultures.

Pope John Paul II died on 2 April 2005 after a long fight against Parkinson’s disease and other illnesses. The public viewing of his body in St. Peter’s Basilica drew over four million people to Vatican City and is most likely the largest single pilgrimage in the history of Christendom.