Blessed Pope John Paul II, born Karol Józef Wojtyła (18 May 1920, Wadowice, Republic of Poland – 2 April 2005, Vatican City), reigned as Pope of the Catholic Church from 1978 until his death in 2005. He was the second-longest serving Pope in history and the first non-Italian since 1523.
He is the pope who brought down Communism; the pope who worked ceaselessly towards Christian reconciliation with the Jews; the pope who raised his voice against the contemporary evil in our "culture of death." He has never consulted pollsters, but marched to a stern, unyielding drummer.
The Vatican estimates that 17,647,800 people have taken part in John Paul II's weekly general audiences in St. Peter's Square.
His love for young people brought him to establish the World Youth Days. The 19 WYDs celebrated during his pontificate brought together millions of young people from all over the world. At the same time his care for the family was expressed in the World Meetings of Families, which he initiated in 1994.
John Paul used his influence to bring about political change and is credited with the fall of communism in his native Poland. He was not without critics, however. Some have stated that he could be harsh with those who disagreed with him
US President George W Bush said the world had lost a champion of freedom.
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said he was deeply saddened by the death of a Pope whom he described as a tireless advocate of peace.
The Cardinals elected him Pope at the Conclave of 16 October 1978, and he took the name of John Paul II. On 22 October, the Lord's Day, he solemnly inaugurated his Petrine ministry as the 263rd successor to the Apostle. His pontificate, one of the longest in the history of the Church, lasted nearly 27 years.
John Paul, knowing he wouldn't get all of it, got far more than anyone expected when he took the risk, "did something of what is too much," and helped the world change for the better -- peacefully.
It is widely held that he was instrumental in ending communism in his native Poland and eventually all of Europe as well as significantly improving the Catholic Church's relations with Judaism, the Eastern Orthodox Church, and the Anglican Communion.
He visited 116 countries, promoting church teaching on personal behavior and public morality and condemning what he said was a decline of spiritual values brought about by the rising materialism of the twentieth century.
A brilliant student and athlete -- he excelled at skiing, swimming, kayaking and soccer -- his earliest passions were religion, poetry and the theater.
Following the German invasion of Poland in 1939 he worked first as a stonecutter, then in a chemical plant, while at the same time studying at an underground seminary in Krakow.
Wanting to become a priest, John Paul began studying at a secret seminary run by the archbishop of Krakow. After World War II ended, he finished his religious studies at a Krakow seminary and was ordained in 1946.
In one special moment, the Pope told an audience of Jews that he regarded them as ''our brothers and sisters in the Lord." Surely this was part of his vision of a ''civilization of love."
"For the role that each one of us has had, with his behavior, in these evils, contributing to a disfigurement of the face of the Church, we humbly ask forgiveness," said the pontiff on the altar at St. Peter's five years ago
As TIME magazine noted when naming him Man of the Year in 1994, he generated an electricity "unmatched by anyone else on earth."
In 1981, an assassin shot John Paul twice in St. Peter's Square in Vatican City. Fortunately, he was able to recover from his injuries and later forgave his attacker.