All-Embracing Man of Action for a New Era of Papacy

All-Embracing Man of Action for a New Era of Papacy


The New York Times
April 3, 2005


On the night of Oct. 16, 1978, a vast, impatient throng in floodlit St.
Peter’s Square cheered wildly as white smoke curled from a chimney atop
the Sistine Chapel, signaling the election of a new pope. A long wait
had ended, but the enthusiasm was somewhat premature.

Cardinal Pericle Felici emerged minutes later to introduce Cardinal
Karol Wojtyla of Poland, the first non-Italian pope since 1523. But even
he had trouble pronouncing the name – voy-TEE-wah. Hardly anyone, it
seemed, knew who he was. Murmurs and questions rippled through the
predominantly Roman crowd.

Then a powerfully built man with slightly stooped shoulders and a small
smile on his angular face stepped onto the central balcony of St.
Peter’s Basilica. Cheers faded into silence. The crowd waited.

He stood at the balcony rail, looking out, a Polish stranger in the
fresh white robes of the pope. And there were tears in his eyes as he
began to speak.

“I have come,” he said in lightly accented Italian, “from a faraway
country – far away, but always so close in the communion of faith.”

There were scattered cheers, and they grew louder as he went on.

“I do not know whether I can express myself in your – in our – Italian
language,” he said, pausing.

The crowd roared appreciatively, and the laughter swelled into
resounding cheers.

“If I make mistakes,” he added, beaming suddenly, “you will correct me.”

Tumult erupted.

The cheers went on and on, and then grew into rhythmic waves that broke
on the basilica facade and echoed across the square in a thundering

“Viva il Papa!

“Viva il Papa!

“Viva il Papa!”

A Pope of a Different Sort

It was an extraordinary beginning. But almost from the start, it was
evident to many of the world’s Roman Catholics, and to multitudes of
non-Catholics as well, that this was to be an extraordinary papacy, one
that would captivate much of humanity by sheer force of personality and
reshape the church with a heroic vision of a combative, disciplined

It was to be the longest and most luminous pontificate of the 20th
century, the second longest in the history of the church, a 26-year era
that would witness sweeping political changes around the world, the
growth of the Roman Catholic Church to more than a billion baptized
members from 750 million, and the beginning of Christianity’s Third

The man who would call himself John Paul II was not the traditional
papal figure, compassionate and loving but ascetic and remote behind the
high walls and the elaborate ceremony of the Vatican. Here was a
different kind of pope: complex, schooled in confrontation,
theologically intransigent but deftly politic, full of wit and daring,
energy and physically expressive love.

More than outgoing, he was all-embracing – a bear-hugging,
larger-than-life man of action who had climbed mountains, performed in
plays, written books and seen war, and he was determined from the start
to make the world his parish and go out and minister to its troubles and
see to its spiritual needs.

Compared with other popes, he did not create many new programs and he
sought to clarify and enforce Catholic ideas rather than to reshape or
expand them. He was, if anything, more traditional than his namesake
predecessors, John XXIII, Paul VI and John Paul I.

But he saw himself primarily as a spiritual figure who transcended
geographical and ideological boundaries, and he saw it as his mission to
deliver a clear set of Catholic ideas and to foster peace and human
dignity through the power of faith and the practical efforts of
well-meaning nations.

At the dawn of the millennium and in the twilight of his papacy, he also
saw it as his duty to issue a daring, unprecedented apology for the
errors of his church and individual Catholics over the last 2,000 years,
a catalog of sins that included episodes of religious and cultural
intolerance and of historic injustices against Jews, women, indigenous
peoples, immigrants and the poor.

While he did not cite specific misdeeds, his apology set out a framework
that theologians said appeared to encompass the Crusades, the
Inquisition, the burning of heretics and forced conversions of American
Indians, Africans and others. The church’s response to the Holocaust was
not specified, but the apology was dedicated to a “confession of sins
against the people of Israel.”

And there were other acknowledgements – notably one in 1998 for the
failure of many Catholics to help Jews in the Holocaust, and another in
2002 to the victims of sexual abuse by priests in a scandal that
engulfed the church in America with cases of pedophilia and accusations
of cover-ups by bishops and other members of the church hierarchy.

The traumatic scandal, in which scores of priests were accused of
molesting children, some repeatedly over many years, led to criminal
charges, the removal of many priests and avalanches of lawsuits and
multimillion-dollar settlements. It also challenged the moral authority
of the church in America and threatened to taint the final years of a
papacy whose signet had been human dignity.

John Paul’s extraordinary effort to cleanse his church’s conscience,
along with his global travels, his challenges to human rights violations
around the world, his attacks on the economic injustices of capitalism
and his steadfast resistance to changes in church teachings on birth
control, priestly celibacy, the ordination of women and other issues
were among the fundamental traits of his pontificate.

But they were not the only legacies by which history would judge John
Paul. Along with the Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev, the pope played
a major role in the collapse of Soviet and European Communism,
instilling the adversaries of Communist governments in Poland and other
parts of Eastern Europe with confidence that their cause would outlast
the repression of their rulers.

His very election boosted the spirit of believers in Eastern Europe, for
whom the appeal “Be not afraid!” – repeated three times during the
sermon he preached at his installation on Oct. 22, 1978 – had a special

In June 1979, millions turned out for the pope’s first visit to his
native Poland, masses of people acting independently of the Communist
government and gaining a liberating sense of their own autonomy. In
retrospect, the visit was widely seen as a detonator of the Solidarity
labor movement’s challenge to Poland’s Communist government in 1980 and
ultimately of the changes that swept the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe
a decade later.

Traveling widely – through Europe, Africa, the Americas and Asia – the
pope electrified vast crowds with a populist blend of showmanship,
evangelism and impassioned appeals for human rights, peace, disarmament
and justice for the poor and the oppressed.

On that first papal visit to Poland, he scolded the officially atheistic
Communist government for treating people “merely as a means of production.”

He went to Brazil and chastised the military junta in power. “Violence,”
he said, “kills what it intends to create.”

He went to Ireland and confronted zealots of the Irish Republican Army
and their Protestant foes: “On my knees I beg you to turn away from the
path of violence and to return to the ways of peace.”

He went to Japan and mourned: “To remember Hiroshima is to abhor nuclear
war. To remember Hiroshima is to commit oneself to peace.”

He went to Auschwitz and asked, “How far can cruelty go?”

And he went to the United Nations in New York and spoke to world leaders
of peace for “all the men and women living on this planet.”

An Intensely Physical Presence

People everywhere found the pope’s presence intensely physical. Not
content to wave from a passing limousine, this man with the ruddy face
and glowing eyes would jump out and plunge into the crowds, hugging,
kissing, grasping and talking to people; singing, smiling, winking and
reaching out with his quarry-worker hands to touch and bless them.

Chiefs of protocol winced. Security men were horrified, fearing the kind
of attack in which he was shot in St. Peter’s Square in 1981. Aides of
all kinds grew exhausted trying to keep up with him. But he was
determined to take his message from St. Peter’s around the globe.

Over the quarter century of his papacy, the pope traveled to 129
countries on 104 trips abroad. He visited and revisited Poland and made
many trips through other European lands. Again and again he journeyed to
Asia, South America, Central America and Africa. He made five papal
visits to the mainland United States: triumphant multicity tours in 1979
and 1987, a meeting with President Bill Clinton in Denver in 1993, a
tour in October 1995 that took him to New York, New Jersey and
Baltimore, and a final visit, in 1999, to St. Louis.

He did not go to China or Russia, though he expressed a wish to visit
both, and he met President Boris N. Yeltsin of Russia at the Vatican in
February 1998, shortly after journeying to Cuba. In 1993, he went to the
former Soviet Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, and
visited Albania, Europe’s poorest land, where he urged the newly
non-Communist nation to nurture its long-suppressed religious freedom.
He also visited several former Soviet republics – Kazakhstan and Armenia
after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on America, and Azerbaijan in 2002.

China’s Communist leaders, seeing religion as a means of political
dissent, never agreed to legalize Roman Catholicism, and let Catholics
worship only in an official Patriotic Church. The Vatican made overtures
to Beijing in the 1990’s, but did not thaw a relationship frozen over
many issues, including the Vatican’s recognition of Taiwan, which China
considers a renegade province.

Throughout his papacy, John Paul expressed a hope of journeying to the
Holy Land, to visit the sites where Jesus lived and died and to lend his
moral authority to the quest for peace in one of the world’s most
troubled regions. The political and logistical problems seemed
insuperable until the millennium.

Then in March 2000, he made one of his most dramatic trips, a six-day
valedictory journey to Jordan, Israel and Palestinian-held territories
that saw the 79-year-old pope, frail with infirmities, step nimbly
through the political and religious minefields of the Middle East, a
capstone of his papal travels.

Respectful dissent was voiced by some who greeted the pope on his trips.
Occasionally there were demonstrations, even some protests that turned
violent. But many Vatican officials and Catholic leaders who at first
had been skeptical of his travels came to see them as valuable and

Others believed the trips were not the best way to reach people in a
world saturated with electronic stimuli and entertainment extravaganzas.
Spectacular trips, some theologians argued, left no lasting results;
they chided the pope, calling his travels the religious equivalent of
rock concerts that failed to offer something transcendent.

And while many Catholic leaders said the trips had lifted the church
spiritually and financially, there were complaints about the costs. The
1987 trip to the United States, for example, cost $20 million – all but
$2 million of it raised by nine dioceses he visited – and some critics
said the money could be better used to aid the homeless or hard-pressed
parochial schools.

Yet as the journeys mounted, it became clear to many Catholic thinkers
that the travels were not mere visits to a sprawling flock, but had
become a central feature of his papacy: the forceful, global reassertion
of Roman Catholic orthodoxy through a new sacramental exercise using jet
planes, television and a remarkable stage presence.

In the last year, the pope was forced to curtail his travels as the
burdens of age and illness – the trembling hands and slurred speech, the
inability to walk or hold his head up, and other manifest frailties of
Parkinson’s disease – grew increasingly heavy. He took two relatively
short trips abroad last year, to Switzerland in June and to the shrine
of Lourdes in France in August.

He continued to meet world leaders and to address major issues. He
received Vice President Dick Cheney in January 2004 and met President
Bush in June, using the occasions to reiterate his unhappiness over the
American-led invasion of Iraq and the continuing fighting there, and he
appealed for a speedy restoration of sovereignty to the Iraqi people.

The pope was also touched last year by a controversy over whether he had
endorsed Mel Gibson’s film “The Passion of the Christ.” The movie’s
promoters claimed that the pope, after a preview, had said, “It is as it
was.” But his secretary denied there had been any appraisal. It seemed
likely that the pope had been drawn into the unwitting service of a film
many Jewish and Christian leaders feared could rekindle claims that Jews
were collectively responsible for the Crucifixion.

Besides the pope’s limited time away from the Vatican, there were
increasing signs recently that his papacy was drawing to a close. He was
hospitalized for nine days in early February for treatment of breathing
difficulties and influenza, and for the first time as pope he was unable
to preside over Ash Wednesday services marking the start of Lent. He was
hospitalized again after suffering a respiratory relapse, and underwent
a tracheotomy to allow him to breathe.

There were voices of concern that the pope’s illness might create a
vacuum of leadership for the church, and talk of a possible resignation.
While four popes had resigned, the last was St. Celestine V, who
abdicated five months after his election in 1294 at the age of 79.
Vatican officials said John Paul was unlikely to step down, especially
because one of his strongest messages – respect for human dignity at all
stages of life, from the womb to the frailties of old age – had at last
come full circle to encompass him.

In addition to his global travels, the pope asserted his mission in
traditional ways as well, by appointments of like-minded cardinals and
bishops around the world – in September 2003 he elevated 31 new
cardinals, bringing to about 120 the number at that time who would be
eligible to vote in the election of the next pope – and by papal
teachings that upheld the church’s condemnation of birth control, its
exclusion of women from the priesthood, its requirement of celibacy for
priests in the Latin rite and its suspicion of revolutionary social

A Pope’s Instructions

Over the span of his papacy – and serving in many ways to define it –
John Paul issued 14 encyclicals, or papal instructions, dealing with a
wide range of topics: social and economic issues, war, the meaning of
morality, doctrinal questions, faith and reason and other matters.

In 1979, his first encyclical, the 24,000-word “Redemptor Hominis,” or
“Redeemer of Man,” expressed the core of his conviction: that caring for
human life springs from the love of Christ. It also warned that mankind
was living in an era of growing fear and weapons of war that raised the
specter of “unimaginable self-destruction.”

Other encyclicals included three statements on economic justice. In
1981, “Laborem Exercens” (“On Human Work”) emphasized the social
character of labor and the active role of the laborer in completing the
task of divine creation; it opposed government control over economies,
but seemed to favor collective ownership and management by workers, a
kind of democratic socialism.

“Sollicitudo Rei Socialis” (“On Social Concerns”), in 1988, drew an
unsparing picture of desperation in poor nations and pockets of
deprivation in affluent societies. It blamed the East-West conflict for
distorting economic development, criticizing “liberal capitalism” and
“Marxist collectivism.” And it introduced a “right of economic
initiative.” The church had upheld private property rights in the 19th
century, then had gradually acknowledged society’s right to regulate
property. But the pope’s phrase appeared to signal a new respect for
innovative, entrepreneurial forces.

“Centesimus Annus” (“The Hundredth Year”), issued in 1991 to mark the
centenary of the first major papal statement on social and economic
conflicts, analyzed Communism’s fall and the economic issues it posed
for Eastern Europe. It recognized superior dynamism in market economies
over statist ones, but said Communism’s failure should not blind
capitalist societies to “quasi-servitude” in poor nations or the
“idolatry of the market” in rich ones.

A 1993 encyclical, “Veritatis Splendor” (“The Splendor of Truth”), was a
statement of moral theory intended to encourage reflection and
discussion. It did not list rights and wrongs, but discussed conscience,
reason and freedom, and argued that morality rested on basic truths
about human nature and the world, not on individual choice or social

In 1995, “Evangelium Vitae” (“Gospel of Life”) denounced abortion and
euthanasia as “crimes which no human law can claim to legitimize.” The
pope also urged Catholics to oppose secular laws that violate what he
called the fundamental right to life, and he reaffirmed the church’s
condemnation of contraception, experiments with human embryos and the
death penalty.

John Paul’s 13th encyclical, “Fides et Ratio” (“Faith and Reason”),
perhaps his most personal, marked his 20th anniversary as pope in 1998.
Crystallizing a lifetime of philosophical and theological thought, it
amplified upon the historic church position that faith and reason are
both requisite in the search for truth, and it rejected various modern
philosophical trends, including post-Enlightenment rationalism, Marxism
and nihilism.

His 14th and last encyclical, in 2003, was a stern reminder that
divorced Catholics who remarry cannot receive communion.

The pope’s conservative views were not hard to trace. Coming as he had
from a country where the church was under siege by a totalitarian
government, he had found it necessary to reassert tenets of his faith
and aggressively confront secular creeds competing with the church for
the loyalties of the people.

To many Catholic leaders, particularly in the Vatican, the church at
large was under similar siege when he became pope. The reforms of the
Second Vatican Council in the early 1960’s, which revolutionized the
church by taking a more accepting attitude toward modernization after
centuries of isolation from, and even hostility to, contemporary
thought, had not halted the tide of secularization in the church’s
traditional heartland, Western Europe.

Indeed, the cultural tumult of the 60’s had only reinforced the appeal
of revolutionary Marxism, the sexual revolution and other challenges to
Catholic tradition. Many theologians, who viewed Pope Paul VI’s tenure
as a period of drift and uncertainty, regarded the moral authority of
the church, and of the papacy, as being in decline.

John Paul agreed that much of the church was in disarray, its long
stability shaken by secularization and permissiveness. In principle, he
supported the reforms of Vatican II, and often emphasized the
“collegial” principle under which the church is governed jointly by the
pope and its bishops. But he was convinced that his personal authority
was the key, that through his own highly visible, international
leadership, he could clarify the principles and invoke the discipline he
regarded as necessary to unify and reinvigorate the church.

But he did not rely on personal charisma alone to carry out what some
called his “restoration.” In 1983, he approved a revised Code of Canon
Law to replace the code promulgated in 1917 and rendered out of date by
many of Vatican II’s reforms. In 1992, he also approved a new “universal
catechism” to guide church leaders around the world in presentations of
Catholic beliefs. Both documents set firm limits on what were seen as
ambiguities and invitations to further change in the documents of
Vatican II.

To remove what he called lingering doubts, in May 1994 he reaffirmed
church doctrine that women could not be ordained as priests and said the
matter was not even open to debate. The Vatican’s Congregation for the
Doctrine of the Faith, which oversees church teaching, went further in
1995 by declaring that the doctrine of ordaining only men as priests was
“infallibly” taught – a designation reserved for teaching on faith and
morals that is considered irreversible, free from error and requiring
full assent from the faithful.

The pope carried these church views onto the world’s stage. In 1994, as
180 countries planned a United Nations conference in Cairo on the
potentially catastrophic population explosion projected for the 21st
century, he orchestrated a campaign against draft proposals favoring
abortion rights, contraception and other measures endorsed by feminists
and population experts.

The campaign – the Vatican’s most concerted in years on international
policy and the pope’s most heartfelt since his crusade against Communism
– put a heavy strain on his relationship with President Clinton, who
favored safe legalized abortion and efforts to stabilize a global
population that experts said could grow to 8.5 billion from 5.7 billion
in 35 years.

The Cairo conference adopted a strong declaration endorsing family
planning and giving women more control over their lives to help
stabilize populations. But the Vatican shaped the language so that it
did not enshrine any universal right to abortion and excluded abortion
as a means of family planning.

In 1995, the pope appeared to be at pains to stress his support for
women’s rights. He credited the women’s movement with positive
achievements and offered an apology for injustices against women in the
name of the church. But Vatican comments on the Fourth World Conference
on Women, held in Beijing, signaled no major changes in church teaching
that portrayed women as mothers, educators and mainstays of the family.

In a key appointment, John Paul placed Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger at the
head of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. A
theologian who had campaigned for the openness introduced by Vatican II,
Cardinal Ratzinger shared the fear that the church was fragmenting and
the belief that the innovations of Vatican II had to be channeled and

With Cardinal Ratzinger giving a new luster and militancy to papal
authority and to the conservative theology that had long prevailed in
Vatican offices, John Paul’s administration took a form that some
regarded as a throwback to the monarchical papacies of the 19th century.

Dissident Catholic theologians were dismissed or excommunicated. Liberal
cardinals and bishops were replaced. And in 1998, the pope changed canon
law to put many passionately discussed issues, including euthanasia and
the ordination of women, beyond the realm of debate for the faithful. He
also made it almost impossible for groups like the National Conference
of Catholic Bishops of the United States to make statements of doctrine
or public policy that diverged from the Vatican. In the same vein, in
2003, under the pope’s orders, the Vatican admonished all Roman Catholic
lawmakers to oppose legalization of same-sex marriage and adoptions by
gays and lesbians. In January this year, the pope unequivocally
condemned gay marriage.

Over the years, there were protests, petitions and other acts of
dissent, especially in America and Europe, in response to the hard-line
stances of the pope. In some countries, church attendance declined, and
there were defections by priests. Predominantly Catholic Ireland voted
to remove its constitutional ban on divorce, and 1.5 million Catholics
in Germany signed petitions calling for the ordination of women. Italy,
84 percent Catholic, was a living protest in the 1990’s: it had Europe’s
lowest birthrate, a sign of popular disdain for prohibitions on
artificial birth control.

Crisis and Change

No one doubted the power of John Paul’s voice or the depth of the
feelings he evoked. But his personal popularity aside, many Catholics –
especially in America and Western Europe – were distressed by his
unswerving opposition to change, even in the face of crisis. The depth
of distress was never more profound than in the priest-pedophile
scandals in America, which broke in 2002 after decades of predatory
abuse and suffering hidden by out-of-court settlements with victims and
a revolving door of treatment and new assignments for offending priests.

The scandals exploded in January after disclosures that Cardinal Bernard
F. Law of Boston had for years sent the Rev. John J. Geoghan Jr. from
parish to parish, despite accusations of serial pedophilia. He was
eventually accused of molesting 130 children and sentenced in one case
to 9 to 10 years in prison. In August 2003, the defrocked Mr. Geoghan
was strangled by an inmate at a Massachusetts prison.

Cardinal Law, under pressure, gave prosecutors the names of 80 priests
accused of sexual abuse over the decades, although the Massachusetts
attorney general eventually reported that at least 789 children and
probably more than 1,000 had been sexually abused by 250 priests and
other church workers in the Boston Archdiocese since 1940.

Within weeks of the disclosures, bishops across the country began a
purge, removing scores of accused priests and turning names, dates and
details over to prosecutors. Emboldened, hundreds of victims made
accusations, many of them decades old and unprosecutable under statutes
of limitations. But some criminal cases were prosecuted and hundreds of
civil suits were filed. Facing enormous settlements and financial
crises, some dioceses had to sell property.

Polls showed growing disaffection among Catholics, and for months the
pope and the Vatican remained aloof. But in April 2002, after the
American bishops asked for guidance, the pope summoned America’s
cardinals to Rome for a conference on the scandals. It produced no
sweeping changes.

The pope acknowledged the suffering and offered an expression of concern
that was taken by many to be an apology. Calling the abuse criminal and
“an appalling sin in the eyes of God,” he said, “To the victims and
their families wherever they may be, I express my profound sense of
solidarity and concern.”

But he sent conflicting signals on a proposed zero-tolerance policy,
saying there was no place in the priesthood for those who abused minors,
but then suggesting that some offenders might warrant a second chance.

“We cannot forget the power of Christian conversion, that radical
decision to turn away from sin and back to God, which reaches to the
depths of a person’s soul and can work extraordinary change,” he said.

American cardinals proposed removing some priests who abused minors, but
drew a distinction between serial predators and those who were “not
notorious.” The ambiguity was unresolved, even after American bishops,
meeting in Dallas in June, voted overwhelmingly for a policy that called
for the removal of any priest who had ever sexually abused a minor, and
for increased cooperation with law-enforcement and a national lay board
to monitor progress.

Instead of approving the policies, however, the Vatican voiced
reservations, saying the bishops had gone too far in eschewing a statute
of limitations, in broadly defining child sexual abuse and in requiring
that all sex abuse claims be reported to the police. The Vatican said
some of the remedies might violate canon laws that protect the rights of
priests, and it recommended further “reflection” by a commission partly
controlled by Vatican emissaries.

Cardinal Law, after nearly a year of protests and abuse lawsuits with
$100 million in claims that threatened his archdiocese with bankruptcy,
resigned as archbishop of Boston in December 2002. He was succeeded in
July 2003 by Bishop Sean P. O’Malley, a Franciscan friar who swiftly met
with some abuse victims and began trying to heal the wounds with
financial settlements and a new tone of open dialogue. Last year, the
pope chose Cardinal Law to head St. Mary Major Basilica in Rome.

Aside from the sex scandals, many American Catholics said the church and
the pope were out of touch. Women, blacks, Hispanics, homosexuals, and
even some priests and nuns urged him to be more sensitive to their
needs. He usually voiced sympathy, but urged the supplicants to remain
faithful to church teachings, which were not altered.

The result was a restoration of strong centralized authority in the
pope. While that strength endeared him and the church to many, it
repelled others who believed that the future of Roman Catholicism lay in
greater diversity and flexibility, dispersal of power and adaptability
in a swiftly changing world.

Jews and Palestinians

The pope’s relations with Jews were both troubled and pathbreaking. More
than any modern pope, John Paul moved boldly to end the estrangement
between Catholics and Jews. He was the first pope to pray in a
synagogue, the first to acknowledge the failure of individual Catholics
to act against the Holocaust, the first to call anti-Semitism a sin
“against God and man,” and the first to make an official papal visit to
the Holy Land.

Jews were often dismayed with his decisions and pronouncements. But he
established diplomatic relations between the Vatican and Israel and set
the course of Catholic-Jewish relations on a high plane of engagement
and warmth, in contrast to the distance and frigidity of earlier eras.

His 1982 meeting at the Vatican with Yasir Arafat, leader of the
Palestine Liberation Organization, was met with blistering criticism
from the government of Israel and from Jews around the world. The pope
said afterward that he only wanted to foster peace in the Middle East.
And he would not be deterred: he met Mr. Arafat eight more times.

The Vatican supported peace accords between Israel and the Palestinians,
but debate over the status of Jerusalem was a continuous sore point:
Israel saw the city as its “united and eternal” capital, while the
Vatican pressed for its recognition as a city holy to Christians,
Muslims and Jews alike.

Long troubled by the failure of Pope Pius XII to condemn publicly the
killing of millions of Jews by the Nazis in World War II, leaders of
Jewish groups were outraged at John Paul’s Vatican meeting in 1987 with
President Kurt Waldheim of Austria, who had served in a German Army unit
implicated in the deportation of Jews in Greece.

The pope wrote an apostolic letter in 1989 evoking Christian sorrow over
the Holocaust, and in 1998 – a decade after promising to do so – issued
a historic document, “We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah,” which
apologized for the failure of many Catholics to protect Jews in the

While the Vatican viewed the document as groundbreaking, many Jewish
groups rejected it because it praised Pius XII’s “quiet diplomacy” and
did not cite his failure to speak out against the Holocaust. The church
held that Pius had personally helped to save thousands of Jews, but did
not publicly criticize the Nazis for fear that even more Jews as well as
Catholics might be killed.

Even after John Paul delivered the most sweeping apology ever made by a
pope – a public act of repentance for the errors and misdeeds of
Catholics over the last 2,000 years that was woven into the liturgy of a
Sunday Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica on March 12, 2000 – Jewish critics
were quick to note that he had not specifically mentioned the church’s
behavior during the Holocaust.

Leading Jews constantly scrutinized papal statements and often decried
phrases in which they detected rebukes of Jews for rejecting
Christianity or suggestions that Judaism’s validity was exhausted with
the coming of Jesus.

Papal aides said the criticisms had stung the pope, who spoke often of a
common Christian-Jewish biblical heritage and made other overtures to
Jews. In 1985, he met Prime Minister Shimon Peres of Israel at the
Vatican, and in 1986 made the first recorded visit by a pope to a
synagogue, entering Rome’s Central Synagogue and, to ringing applause,
hailing Jews as “our elder brothers.”

The wounds were reopened from time to time. Jews were outraged when nuns
set up a Carmelite convent at Auschwitz in 1984. Polish Catholic leaders
said it would be relocated by 1989. But the deadline passed, Jewish
protesters entered the grounds, and Cardinal Josef Glemp of Warsaw
denounced them in a way that sounded anti-Semitic. The convent was
finally closed in 1993 by a papal order.

In 1990, Jewish and Catholic leaders met in Prague and pledged to combat
outbreaks of anti-Semitism in post-Communist Eastern Europe. The pope
endorsed a call for Christian “repentance” for anti-Semitism made by
Archbishop Edward I. Cassidy, head of the Vatican office for relations
with Jews, and John Paul’s standing with many Jews had been restored by
1992, when a group was formed to study diplomatic relations.

Ties With Israel

After 17 months of talks, the Vatican and Israel formally recognized one
another with diplomatic accords in December 1993, and six months later,
in June 1994, the Holy See and Jerusalem established full diplomatic
relations with an exchange of ambassadors. It was a political and
religious milestone.

But within months, the relationship was troubled anew. In August 1994,
John Paul conferred a papal knighthood on Mr. Waldheim, citing his peace
efforts as United Nations secretary general from 1972 to 1980. Israeli
and other Jewish leaders were outraged that the pope had honored a man
who had served with Nazi units that massacred civilians, executed
prisoners and deported Jews in the Balkans. Mr. Waldheim disavowed any
war crimes, but the Justice Department called his denials unconvincing
and after 1987 barred him from the United States.

Another painful issue for Jews – a cross erected at Auschwitz to
commemorate the pope’s 1979 visit – arose on a trip to his homeland in
1999, when Poland’s chief rabbi, Pinchas Menachem Joskowicz, approached
him on a receiving line and introduced himself as a survivor of the
death camp. “I have a favor to ask Mr. Pope,” the rabbi said. “I ask Mr.
Pope to give a call to his people to also take this cross away from the

If the pope was offended, he gave no sign, listening patiently and
replying quietly. But a papal spokesman later called the cross a “local
issue” and not a Vatican concern.

Jewish criticism of the pope was vociferous again when he beatified –
and in 1998 canonized – a German convert from Judaism, Edith Stein, who
became a Carmelite nun and was gassed by the Nazis at Auschwitz in 1942.
While she was declared a saint as a Christian martyr, many Jews,
including her relatives, insisted that she had been killed because of
her Jewish background.

The pope acknowledged as much, but failed to mollify critics, who were
also incensed by his beatification of Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac, the
archbishop of Zagreb during World War II, when a Nazi puppet regime
ruled Croatia and 700,000 Serbs, Jews and others were sent to death camps.

When John Paul finally made a six-day journey to the Holy Land in March
2000, it was widely seen as a personal triumph and high point of his
reign – a poignant blend of sacred and secular gestures delicately
balanced in a land revered by all the Abrahamic faiths: Judaism, Islam
and Christianity.

There had never been an official papal visit to the Holy Land, though
Paul VI had made an informal trip there in 1964, staying only 12 hours
and pointedly never referring to Israel. (John Paul, as Karol Wojtyla,
the archbishop of Krakow, had visited Jerusalem in 1963.)

John Paul made his long-awaited pilgrimage amid heavy security,
traveling first to Mount Nebo in Jordan, where the Bible says Moses
first looked out over the Promised Land, and on to Amman and the Jordan
River site where Jesus is said to have been baptized.

In Tel Aviv, President Ezer Weizman and Prime Minister Ehud Barak
received the pope as one of the most important visitors in Israel’s
history, and his presence in Jerusalem later was hailed by Israeli
leaders as nothing less than a Christian affirmation of the Jewish right
to a homeland.

For Palestinian leaders, his presence was also a symbolic triumph. He
went to Mr. Arafat’s home in Bethlehem and to a squalid Palestinian
refugee camp. Mr. Arafat called his visit a ringing endorsement of
Palestinian nationalist aspirations and a recognition of Palestinian
suffering under Israeli rule.

In gestures to Israel’s tiny Christian populations that were also moving
personal experiences, the pope visited sites venerated as those of
Jesus’ birth, Last Supper, Crucifixion, burial and Resurrection. He also
met the Greek Orthodox patriarch and leaders of the Maronite Christians,
Armenian Catholics, Melchites and Chaldeans.

In Jerusalem, he saw the Ashkenazic and Sephardic chief rabbis, and went
to Al Aksa Mosque to meet Sheik Ikrima Sabri, the city’s chief Islamic
cleric. He went to the Western Wall, Judaism’s most sacred site, and,
following the custom of Jewish visitors, placed a note in a crevice, a
plea for reconciliation that was the theme of his pilgrimage. At Yad
Vashem, the Holocaust memorial, he paid homage to the six million
victims of Nazi persecution.

Politics and Religion

Closer to home, the pope often found himself at odds with Italians. Many
were harshly critical of him for leading a campaign in 1981 to repeal
Italy’s liberal abortion law. The voters upheld abortion rights, and
many resented what they called his interference.

In 1985, the Italian government and the Vatican signed an historic
concordat disestablishing Roman Catholicism as the state religion; the
pope said it showed church respect for Italy’s independence, although he
reserved the right to speak out on national issues. In 2002, John Paul
became the first pope to visit the Italian Parliament, and used the
occasion to call for the enactment of policies to encourage and support
larger Italian families.

He was also criticized inside and outside the church for his opposition
to “liberation theology,” a school of thought originating in Latin
America but influential elsewhere too. Blending biblical themes with
Marxist and sometimes Leninist economic analyses, it was an underlying
justification for the Catholic clergy’s involvement in political
struggles for justice for the poor in Latin America and other parts of
the third world.

For years, John Paul tried to draw a delicate boundary between religious
and political involvement, saying that concern for social justice was
the rightful function of the Catholic clergy but that outright political
action violated the calling of nuns and priests. Class struggle, he
said, could not be the church’s solution to social injustice.

In Latin America particularly, the clergy’s resistance to the
noninvolvement doctrine was strong. The Rev. Leonardo Boff of Brazil, a
movement leader, was silenced by Rome for a year; in 1992 he resigned
from the priesthood to protest Vatican restrictions on writings by the
clergy and members of religious orders.

Another champion of liberation theology, the Rev. Jean-Bertrand
Aristide, the first democratically elected president of Haiti, denounced
the Vatican in 1992 for recognizing military leaders who had deposed him
in 1991. Since 1982, when he became a priest, Father Aristide had
excoriated the Haitian church for what he called its complicity with
brutal dictatorships. He left the priesthood after being returned to
power by United States forces in 1994, and was overthrown last year amid
violent protests and charges of corruption.

Even some members of the Curia, the Vatican’s central administration,
were disenchanted with the pope. Speaking behind cloaks of anonymity,
some contended that he was a poor administrator, neglected necessary
paperwork, spent too much time traveling and was too much the showman.
Some Vatican prelates said that in private he was somber, serious,
enigmatic, sometimes quixotic, a man who hid his feelings and did not
say much.

Critics said he devoted too much attention to Poland and Eastern Europe
and not enough to Western Europe early in his papacy. But his refusal to
accept the Iron Curtain contributed forcefully to Communism’s fall, and
in later years he generally supported European political and cultural
unification. He also made religious reconciliation a major concern.

There were grand ecumenical gestures. Besides his visit to the synagogue
in Rome, he embraced the archbishop of Canterbury at Canterbury
Cathedral in England in 1982 and prayed with another archbishop of
Canterbury at the Vatican in 1996. In 2003, he met another Anglican
archbishop, Rowan Williams, at the Vatican, and warned him against the
ordination of gay priests, a matter that had deeply divided Anglicans.
The Church of Rome and the Church of England studied ways to end a
450-year rift, but nothing came of it.

The pope also made overtures to Eastern Orthodoxy. In May 1999, he
visited Bucharest, Romania, and prayed with Patriarch Teoctist; it was
the first papal trip to a predominantly Orthodox country in nearly a
thousand years. The schism that had kept Roman Catholic and Orthodox
Christians apart since 1054 was not ended, but the visit was an
ecumenical waymark.

Six months later, the pope visited Georgia, in the Caucasus, another
mainly Orthodox country. He was greeted warmly by President Eduard
Shevardnadze, the former Soviet foreign minister who also helped prod
Communism’s fall, but his reception by Georgian Orthodox Church leaders
was guarded.

On the same trip, his last of the millennium, the pope went to India,
where Christians, a tiny fraction of the population, had been the target
of beatings, killings and other persecution. He met Hindu, Muslim, Sikh
and other religious leaders, but won no support for his plea for
toleration of his church’s hope to evangelize Asia.

He undertook other interfaith dialogues. In 1983, he joined a Lutheran
service and praised Martin Luther on the 500th birthday of the
Reformation’s leader. But no major agreements or ecclesiastical changes
emerged from those contacts, and most theologians said John Paul, for
all his good will toward other faiths, had not substantially advanced
the ecumenical cause.

An Astonishing Succession

He was a poet, a playwright, the author of many books and hundreds of
articles, a philosopher, a formidable debater, an actor, an athlete with
a passion for skiing, swimming and mountain climbing, a professor of
social ethics and a linguist fluent in seven languages and skilled in a
dozen. But at the time of his election as 264th bishop of Rome, the pope
was almost unknown outside the church hierarchy and his native Poland,
where he had been a priest since 1946, the archbishop of Krakow since
1964 and a cardinal since 1967.

There had never been a Slavic pope. The last pontificate of a
non-Italian – that of Adrian VI, a Dutchman from Utrecht – had ended 455
years earlier, in the era of Luther’s rebellion in Germany. There had
been 45 Italians on the throne of St. Peter since then.

After the death of Pope Paul VI on Aug. 6, 1978, a majority of the
College of Cardinals – the body that elects the pope – agreed that his
successor should be an Italian but not connected with the Curia. On Aug.
26, the college elected Cardinal Albino Luciani, patriarch of Venice,
who assumed the name John Paul I, combining those of his immediate
predecessors, John XXIII and Paul VI, an expression of continuity he
intended to preserve.

But John Paul I died a month later, on Sept. 28, and the cardinals
returned for a new conclave starting Oct. 14. Predictions were that the
successor would again be an Italian. But a rift developed among Italian
cardinals, the largest national group in the college, and forced a

Conservatives had rallied to Cardinal Giuseppe Siri, archbishop of
Genoa, a champion of orthodoxy and a candidate in every conclave since
the death of Pius XII in 1958. Most moderates wanted Cardinal Giovanni
Benelli, archbishop of Florence and an aide to Paul VI. In early
balloting, neither came close to the required two-thirds plus one – 75
of 111 participants – and a search for a compromise candidate ensued.

The name of Cardinal Karol Wojtyla of Poland was raised by Cardinal John
Krol, the Polish-American archbishop of Philadelphia, and by Cardinal
Franz König, archbishop of Vienna, and prelates from West Germany.

Cardinal Wojtyla was an attractive candidate, theologically orthodox yet
a man of personal dynamism and proven political skills who could reach
out to Eastern Europe and the peoples of Communist nations and the third
world, one who could be a spokesman for peace, disarmament and justice
in the world.

He had been a tough opponent of the Nazis, the Marxists and the
Stalinists in Poland and was emerging as a bold voice within the church.
He was also physically vigorous and only 58, 10 years younger than most
popes elected in this century, and he could be expected to have a long

His election, on the eighth ballot, met with almost universal
astonishment outside the Sistine Chapel. But among Poland’s 31 million
Catholics, 92 percent of the population, and among millions of Americans
of Polish descent, it was an occasion for pride and celebration that
went on for days.

The new pope quickly set to work to put his stamp on the papacy. There
were clues to its character in his earliest pronouncements. Addressing
crowds on the night of his election, he twice invoked the name of the
Virgin Mary and vowed total trust in her, a signal of doctrinal
conservatism that would be a hallmark of his reign.

His greeting, “Praised be Jesus Christ” – an ancient earthy phrase used
by Polish peasants and others in deeply Catholic rural areas of Europe,
but one having an archaic ring in cosmopolitan Rome – was a sign that
whatever lofty locutions were to come, his papacy would be rooted in his
own humble origins.

Accordingly, he put decorum aside and stripped daily life in the Vatican
of many of its ceremonial frills. He eschewed the papal pronoun “we” in
favor of “I” and did away with the pomp of a traditional triple-crown
investiture, substituting an outdoor inaugural Mass in St. Peter’s
Square that was attended by 100,000 people and seen on television around
the world.

Ignoring the usual papal preoccupation with the Curia’s bureaucracy, he
made it known that not all Vatican administrators would keep their jobs.
In an early move to pre-empt opposition, he received the intransigent
traditionalist French prelate, Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, who had been
suspended two years earlier. The archbishop was excommunicated before he

The pope also received Andrei A. Gromyko, the Soviet foreign minister,
and asserted that dialogue with the Communist nations was the “only way
to ease” mutual problems. And he met the leaders of various world Jewish
organizations and called for “a fraternal dialogue and fruitful

Outdoorsman and Athlete

The new pope had been an athlete and outdoorsman all his life, a soccer
player, backpacker, camper, boater and long-distance runner, and he
looked it. He was solidly built and vigorous, with a bullish neck and
strong, stooped shoulders that hinted of his youth as a laborer and
factory worker. He moved with a deliberate, confident step, a graceful
man for his size.

He was 5 feet 10 inches tall and weighed 175 pounds. His graying, once
blondish hair was close-cropped, and his eyes were dark and deeply
expressive, sometimes wide with mirth, sometimes narrowed to slits of
concentration. His hands were fascinating: big, creased, workman’s hands
that swept the air in gestures of mildness or came together, poised to pray.

He did not smoke, but he liked a glass of wine with meals. He wrote many
of his own speeches and other pronouncements longhand. While for some it
shattered an old-fashioned papal image, he liked to chat, to joke and to
laugh heartily. He loved to swim and refused to give it up, so he had a
pool built at the summer palace at Castel Gandolfo. Word that the pope
was taking daily dips caused no little stir and delighted cartoonists,
who pictured him in the water with a miter on his head. When a
high-ranking prelate suggested that the pool must have been expensive,
the pope quipped, “Holding another conclave to elect a new pope would
cost even more.”

He had traveled widely as a cardinal, visiting the United States in 1969
and 1976, Australia and Polynesia in 1973 and most of the countries of
Europe on regular pilgrimages from Poland to Rome, and he resolved early
to continue his sojourns as pope. His command of languages – including
Polish, Latin, Italian, French, German, Spanish and English – was an
enormous advantage, allowing him to speak directly to people nearly
everywhere, from podiums and in the streets. In January 1979, his first
trip outside Italy as pope was to the Dominican Republic and Mexico,
where millions heard him voice concern for the oppressed. He also
rejected notions of Christ as a political or revolutionary figure,
called the church’s mission religious and not social or political, and
added, “The church wishes to stay free with regard to the competing

A Fateful Visit

His first journey to Poland, in June 1979, proved to be one of his most
important trips. There was no way to know at the time, but the visit
was, many historians say, the beginning of the end for Communism in the
Soviet sphere – proof for all that the raw power of government could not
overcome the power of faith.

It began just after the 900th anniversary of the martyrdom of St.
Stanislaus, Poland’s patron saint, and it exposed weaknesses in the
Polish Communist government, which had long sought to extinguish fires
of Catholicism.

The government first rejected a visit. Then, trying to limit the impact,
it restricted his itinerary, muted advance publicity and refused to let
workers take time off. But all that made no difference. From the moment
he arrived and knelt to kiss the Polish earth until his tearful
departure nine days later, his homecoming was a succession of thundering

From Warsaw to Auschwitz to Krakow, in 36 public appearances, he
clasped old friends in headlocks, sang hymns and folk songs with his
people, offered Masses for throngs that stretched across hillsides, and
without directly attacking the government repeatedly challenged its
authority. “Christ cannot be kept out of the history of man in any part
of the globe,” he told vast crowds in Warsaw. “The exclusion of Christ
from the history of man is an act against man.”

Coal miners, housewives, university students, young people in blue jeans
– 13 million people of every age and description – turned out to see
him. They strewed his way with flowers, they sobbed joyously, and they
broke into chants like football fans: “We want God! We want God! We want

In Gniezno after an open-air Mass for 100,000 young people, the pope
joined in singing popular songs. In Czestochowa, 500,000 pilgrims fell
to their knees when he reconsecrated the nation to Mary, “queen of
Poland.” At Auschwitz, where a million people, mostly Jews, had been
killed by the Nazis, he spoke of this place “built on hatred and
contempt for man in the name of an insane ideology.” Referring to a
dedication in Hebrew for victims, he declared: “It is not permissible
for anyone to pass by this inscription with indifference.”

Months later, the pope’s role as a moral leader was reinforced by a
journey to Ireland and the United States. He was eager to confront
sectarian strife in Ulster, the erosion of the Irish church to
secularization, and in the United States a church caught in turbulent
debate over birth control, abortion, the role of women in the ministry
and other issues.

His outdoor Mass in Dublin drew 1.2 million people. In Drogheda, near
the border of Northern Ireland, he begged Catholics, Protestants and
especially the militant Irish Republican Army to “turn away from the
path of violence.”

In the United States, with 50 million Roman Catholics, he was a dramatic
new figure in a world that seemed to lack outstanding leaders. Visiting
six cities and rural Iowa in seven days, he captured national attention
continuously, his every word and gesture televised and chronicled in the
press. Vast crowds lined his routes, attended his masses, heard his
homilies and joined the spectacles. At each stop – in Boston, New York,
Philadelphia, Des Moines, Chicago and Washington – virtual holidays were
declared, and public officials outdid each other with receptions of
staggering magnitude.

For two whirlwind days, he dominated life in New York City. He addressed
the United Nations, visited St. Patrick’s Cathedral, offered Mass at
Yankee Stadium and engaged in a playful dialogue with young people
rallying at Madison Square Garden. He visited a church in Harlem, rode
in a rain-soaked ticker-tape parade on lower Broadway and addressed
crowds at Battery Park and Shea Stadium.

He often waded into enormous, friendly crowds, hugging and kissing
people, saluting neighborhoods and church groups. At the Battery in a
pouring rain, he said: “I address a special word to the leaders of the
Jewish community, whose presence here honors me greatly. Shalom! Peace
be with you.”

There were protests. In Washington, Sister Theresa Kane, president of
the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, surprised the pope in
introducing him to an audience of nuns by saying, “The church must
regard the possibility of women being included in all the ministries of
the church.”

And when he had gone, questions remained: Was the pope inflexible? Did
he recognize deep frustrations of Catholics who disagreed with church
teaching on sexual matters, the roles of women and the clergy? Was there
even room for discussion?

An Assassination Attempt

John Paul’s life as a robust, traveling teacher-pope appeared to have
been altered on May 13, 1981, when a 23-year-old Turk, Mehmet Ali Agca,
shot him as he rode in an open car before 10,000 people in St. Peter’s
Square. Bystanders seized the gunman as the pope’s car sped away to
Gemelli Hospital. Shot in the abdomen, right arm and left hand, he
underwent five hours of surgery, and part of an intestine was removed.

Investigators searching Mr. Agca’s past learned that he was a murderer
who had escaped from a Turkish prison in 1979 and had ties to a neo-Nazi
group, the Gray Wolves. But no evidence of a conspiracy to kill the pope
was found. Mr. Agca was tried by the Italian authorities and sentenced
to life in prison.

The assailant later said the shooting was a Soviet-inspired plot
involving Bulgarian and Turkish agents, and investigators uncovered
tantalizing details that seemed to support some of his assertions. But
an Italian court in 1986 found the evidence ambiguous and acquitted
three Bulgarians and three Turks of conspiracy in the case. A link
between the attack and the Bulgarian government was often asserted, but
never proved.

The pope publicly forgave Mr. Agca, and in 1999 the Vatican endorsed
clemency. In 2000, the Italian government pardoned Mr. Agca, who was
extradited to Turkey and began serving a 10-year term for the murder of
a newspaper editor in 1979.

On May 13, 2000, exactly 19 years after the shooting, the Vatican
disclosed that a vision of the attempt on the pope’s life was the
so-called third secret of Fátima, the last of three prophecies revealed
to three Portuguese shepherd children by an apparition of the Virgin on
May 13, 1917, at Fátima, Portugal.

Fatima historians say the first secret prophesied the end of World War I
and the coming of World War II, while the second supposedly predicted
the spread and collapse of Communism and the resurgence of Christianity
in Russia. The third, written and sent to Rome by one of the three
recipients, Lucia de Jesus dos Santos, who became a Carmelite nun, was
kept secret by five popes.

Fascination over the secret spawned conspiracy theories and doomsday
cults, with conjectures ranging from a Catholic schism with rival
papacies to nuclear annihilation. Devotees of apocalypse were deflated
by the Vatican explanation. The pope did not comment, though he always
credited the Virgin of Fátima with sparing his life in the shooting.

Health, Good and Bad

Despite the seriousness of his wounds, the pope recovered, and in the
years that followed, his old vigor returned, his health was strikingly
good, and he was laid low by nothing worse than influenza until July
1992, when was hospitalized for a stomach problem. It turned out to be
serious. Doctors excised a tumor the size of an orange from his colon
and removed his gallbladder. The tumor was in an early stage of
malignancy, but no chemotherapy or other treatment was deemed necessary,
and he was traveling again within three months.

In November 1993, there was another flutter of concern when the pope
tripped on the hem of his robe and fell as he descended three steps from
his throne to greet visitors at the Vatican. He suffered a fractured and
dislocated right shoulder, which had to be encased in a soft cast.

Five months later, in April 1994, he fell as he climbed from a bathtub
in his Vatican apartment, fracturing and dislocating his right
thighbone. Surgeons replaced part of the bone near the hip socket with
metal alloys.

The pope fell again in 1999 on a trip to Poland, suffering a head cut
that required three stitches. By then, he had grown frail and had
difficulty walking, even with a cane. There were other symptoms:
trembling in his left hand and slurred speech that made it hard to
understand his words. Privately, officials said he had Parkinson’s
disease and crippling arthritis; the Vatican did not confirm the
diagnoses, but there was no doubt about them.

By 2002, the symptoms had profoundly worsened: he could not walk without
aid, his hands shook so much he could not hold his speeches, and his
speech was so slurred he was almost impossible to understand. In 2003,
he traveled to Spain, Croatia, Bosnia, Poland and Slovakia, but
sometimes garbled words and let aides finish his speeches.

During his convalescences – from the shooting, the tumor operation and
the falls – some Vatican officials privately expressed hope that he
would be forced to settle down, travel less and get more involved in the
problems of running the church. But John Paul, who hated to be coddled
and sometimes brushed off aides who tried to help him, was determined to
continue his busy life.

A Traveling Papacy

Six months after the 1981 shooting, he ventured to Umbria, in central
Italy, and was soon planning new travels. In 1982 he visited 12
countries in Africa, Europe and South America, and by 1983 was traveling
as widely as ever. Over the next few years he went back to Africa,
Europe, South America, the Caribbean and the Far East, often to
third-world countries, where the church was flourishing.

While he went to Africa a dozen times, he refused for years to visit
South Africa because of its apartheid racial policies. But after
Pretoria’s peaceful transition to a non-racial Democracy, he went to
Johannesburg in 1995, met President Nelson Mandela and praised the

In 1986, the pope took a particularly long and exotic journey: two weeks
and 30,000 miles to Bangladesh, Singapore, Fiji, New Zealand and
Australia. He was greeted by women in saris dancing to the rhythms of
sitars, aborigines in loincloths and painted faces, spear-toting
tribesmen who rubbed noses with him, and bare-breasted Papuan women
fluttering in traditional grass skirts.

Later that year in Calcutta, India, where countless thousands slept in
streets or mud huts, he went to Mother Teresa’s hospice; four people
died on the day of his visit. The pope was at a loss for words as he
carried food among the wasted bodies. After nine days in India, he spoke
of birth control guardedly and did not criticize India’s government,
which advocated contraception in the face of a growing population and
widespread poverty.

The pope’s second trip to the United States, in September 1987, included
stops in Miami, Columbia, S.C., New Orleans, San Antonio, Phoenix, Los
Angeles, Monterey, Calif., San Francisco and Detroit. He met the
nation’s 300 Catholic bishops in Los Angeles, and was asked to
understand the attitudes of Americans.

In June 1993, he addressed for the first time what many American
Catholics regarded as a crisis in the making: reports of sexual abuse by
priests of children and teen-agers. In a letter to American bishops, he
expressed sorrow for the victims and over demoralization inflicted on
the church.

He returned to the United States in August 1993, stopping first in
Jamaica and Mexico. In four days in Denver, he met President Clinton,
joined 150,000 Catholics from 70 nations at a World Youth Day festival
and denounced abortion and violence. But it was the enthusiasm for the
pope – the chanting, roaring stuff of football games or rock concerts –
that made the headlines.

A month later, the pope made his first trip to the Baltic states,
Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, which had been Soviet republics from 1940
to 1991. The collapse of the Soviet yoke had exposed again the tangle of
nationalistic, ethnic and religious rivalries from the Baltic to the
Black Sea. And while the pope called for reconciliation, his visit
seemed to underscore the harsh reality that mere good will could not
resolve ancient bitter enmities.

In 1994, he canceled a visit to Sarajevo; Radovan Karadzic, the leader
of Bosnia’s Serbs, said his safety could not be guaranteed. But he took
his call for an end to fratricidal war to Zagreb, Croatia. The pope in
1995 seemed ubiquitous: in Asia and Oceania in January (four million
people attended his outdoor Mass in Manila), in the Czech Republic and
Poland in May, in Belgium in June, in Slovakia in July, in Africa in
September and the United States in October.

His fourth journey to America, a five-day trip, took him back to New
York, and for the first time to New Jersey and Maryland. As if making up
for a canceled 1994 visit with an exhausting schedule, he saw Mr.
Clinton, recited vespers in Newark, addressed the United Nations on its
50th anniversary and celebrated Masses at Giants Stadium in the New
Jersey Meadowlands, Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens, Central Park in
Manhattan and Camden Yards in Baltimore.

Despite his growing frailty – the slow step, the stooped shoulders, the
persistent shaking hand – the pope, always a workaholic, continued his
travels: in 1996 to Venezuela, Nicaragua, Guatemala, El Salvador,
Tunisia, Germany, Hungary and France; in 1997 to Bosnia and Herzegovina,
the Czech Republic, Lebanon, Poland, France and Brazil; and in 1998 to
Cuba, Nigeria and Austria.

In Cuba, with President Fidel Castro at his side, the pope appealed for
human rights, urged the release of political prisoners and, without
citing America’s 37-year economic embargo, said such sanctions hurt the
needy. Months later, Cuba freed 300 political prisoners and Mr. Clinton
eased restrictions on aid, direct flights to Cuba and money sent to
relatives by Cuban-Americans.

The pope made his fifth and last trip to the United States in January
1999. After four days in Mexico, where he challenged entrenched
corruption and voiced support for the poor, he went to St. Louis, his
only stop, and met briefly again with Mr. Clinton, who was facing
impeachment at the time, and with Rosa Parks, the heroine of the 1955
Montgomery, Ala., bus boycott. To 100,000 people, he decried the death
penalty, which was favored by many American Catholics, and homelessness
and the spread of gangs, drugs and sexual abuse.

In 1999, he went back to a liberated Poland for 13 nostalgic days.
Greeted everywhere by huge, ecstatic crowds acutely aware of his place
in national and world history, he prayed at the graves of his parents
near Krakow, visited his hometown, Wadowice, and beatified 108 Poles
killed by the Nazis. He made his final trip to his homeland in August
2002, an emotional farewell in which he asked people to pray for him.

Challenges and Controversy

While the pope’s travels were the most visible aspects of his papacy,
his less spectacular pronouncements and actions were no less important
and often much more controversial.

In 1980, he caused a stir by ordering the Rev. Robert F. Drinan, a
Jesuit priest who represented a Massachusetts district in Congress, not
to seek re-election. Father Drinan complied, but ambiguity clouded the
episode. The pope had often called politics and the priesthood
incompatible, but it was not clear why Father Drinan had been singled
out. Some suggested he had been made an example because many Jesuits
were involved in third-world political struggles.

At a Synod of Bishops in Rome that year, many Western prelates openly
chafed at what they saw as the pope’s inflexiblity on divorce, abortion
and artificial birth control. Archbishop John R. Quinn of San Francisco
cited studies showing that 76.5 percent of American Catholic women used
contraceptives and that only 29 percent of American priests believed it
was immoral. Other prelates argued that Catholics who used
contraceptives could not be dismissed as “obdurate, ignorant” people.
But the ripples of unrest produced no doctrinal changes.

Indeed, stronger challenges were met with sterner measures. In 1986, the
Rev. Charles E. Curran, a theologian who had dissented on birth control
and other sexual questions, was stripped by the Vatican of his right to
teach at the Catholic University of America after he refused to retract
his views.

On other ethical questions, he warned of dangers he said were posed by
organ transplants, genetic experiments, artificial insemination, birth
and fertility controls, and new drugs. On another matter, he conceded –
350 years after the fact – that the church had been wrong to persecute
Galileo for saying the earth circles the sun, not the other way around.
Seeking to rectify an infamous case of dogma over reason, the pope in
1992 said the astronomer-physicist should not have been forced in 1633,
under threat of death, to recant his discoveries.

In 1996, the pope also acknowledged that the human body might not have
been the immediate creation of God, but was the product of evolution,
which he called “more than just a hypothesis.” The church had never
condemned Darwin, but had warned that his ideas played into the hands of
materialists and atheists.

While confronting external church problems, John Paul also moved within
by changing its hierarchy. His appointments of John J. O’Connor and his
successor, Edward M. Egan, as archbishop in New York; Bernard F. Law as
archbishop in Boston; and Francis E. George to replace Cardinal Joseph
Bernardin as archbishop in Chicago drew the liberal American church back
to more conservative ground.

He further internationalized the Sacred College of Cardinals, which for
centuries had a disproportionate number of Italians, by appointing many
new cardinals from the third world. In 1994, he appointed 30 cardinals
from 24 nations, bringing to 62 the number of nations represented; he
appointed 22 more cardinals in 1998, 42 more in 2001 and 31 more in 2003.

The pope had a good relationship with the administration of President
Ronald Reagan, which opened an embassy to the Holy See in 1984. But he
rebuffed its claim that he backed its Central America policies,
including aid to the rebels known as contras who fought the leftist
Sandinista government in Nicaragua. The pope held that Central American
nations should work out their own problems.

His posture toward the two Bush administrations and the Clinton
administration was cordial, but strained by the pope’s opposition to the
Persian Gulf war in 1991, Mr. Clinton’s support of abortion rights and
the American-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Similarly, the pope often urged peace in the Middle East and said he
looked with sympathy on Israelis and Palestinians, whose traditions, he
said, “should be granted equal respect.” But his appeals never proposed
concrete solutions to their age-old problems.

Poland was an exception to his balanced, above-the-fray pronouncements.
In 1980, he sang a Polish patriotic hymn in St. Peter’s Square and
vowed, “We in Rome are united with our countrymen in Poland.” He often
voiced support for the outlawed Solidarity union, calling it a model for
human rights struggles.

To laymen who opposed autocratic regimes, the pope usually urged
restraint, and to warring rebels he pleaded for a farewell to arms. In
Peru, he urged the guerrillas of the Maoist Shining Path movement to
follow “the roads of dialogue and not those of violence.”

The pope also issued emotional appeals to President Saddam Hussein of
Iraq and President George H. W. Bush before the 1991 attack on Iraqi
forces in Kuwait. In 2003, he urged that the United Nations take the
lead in countering Mr. Hussein. While papal statements often sounded
antiwar, he denied that he favored a pacifist rejection of all warfare,
noting that states had a right to defend themselves.

With the collapse of Soviet Communism, John Paul’s long crusade against
its political and economic tyrannies seemed to be over. But he was still
troubled by what he saw as its unpalatable successors – unbridled
Western capitalism and Communism returning by stealth in Eastern Europe.
And he seemed to have no special perspective on the friction between
Islam and the West that followed the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

A Promising Early Life

Spiritually, Karol Jozef Wojtyla was never far from the land of his
birth. He was born on May 18, 1920, in Wadowice, 30 miles southwest of
Krakow, the second of two children in a strict Catholic family. His
mother, Emilia Kaczorowska Wojtyla, of Lithuanian descent, died when he
was 9. His father, Karol Wojtyla, was a sergeant in the Polish Army’s
quartermaster corps.

Young Karol was a good student in elementary and secondary schools, with
a talent for languages and an interest in poetry, drama and literature.
He also excelled in athletics, playing goalkeeper on his school soccer
team, and in dramatics. He was popular with teachers and classmates, who
called him Karolek (Little Charles) or Lolek.

His family was not well off. An old school employee recalled that
“Karolek always wore blue trousers that had clearly been cut from his
father’s discarded uniforms.” When he was 18, his father, who had
retired with a small pension, moved the family from Wadowice to Krakow.
Karol’s brother, Edmund, a doctor, died before the outbreak of World War II.

After high school, Karol enrolled at Jagiellonian University in Krakow.
But in 1939, the invading Nazis closed the university. His studies
interrupted, he took a job in a stone quarry to help his ailing father
make ends meet. Later, he found a laborer’s job at the Solvay Chemical
Works, where he helped organize a plant cafeteria.

The factory job provided him with a work card that protected him from
deportation to a labor camp in German-occupied Poland. His fellow
workers remembered him as already deeply religious: he could often be
seen praying during rest periods.

Outside work, he fell in with other young intellectuals and, with a
friend, founded an underground drama group, the Rhapsodic Theater. Its
productions were staged in homes, with Karol playing leads before small
audiences of students and artists. Some early friends said that acting
was his first love and that they had been surprised to see him turn to
the priesthood.

He had a rich baritone voice and liked to sing popular songs at parties,
accompanying himself on the guitar. He also wrote plays and poetry. One
of his dramas, a morality play called “The Goldsmith’s Shop” written
under the pen name Andrzej Jawien, was translated into Italian and
broadcast over Italian radio after the playwright became pope; it was
also made into a 1987 film.

His father’s death in 1941 deeply distressed the young man. A close
friend at the time was Jan Tyranowski, a tailor and a mystic who
introduced him to the works of St. John of the Cross, a Spanish
Carmelite mystical monk. Later, the future pope would write a
postgraduate thesis on St. John.

There were reports that Karol Wojtyla was a member of the Polish
resistance in World War II. Mieczyslaw Malinski, a friend who became a
priest, scoffed at the accounts. He said that members of the underground
had asked them both to join the fight against the Nazis, but that the
two had declined. But Joseph L. Lichten, of the Anti-Defamation League
of B’nai B’rith in Rome, said that a Karol Wojtyla was active in a
clandestine group that worked with the Christian Democratic movement
Unia, which had a record of helping Jews, and that he had been put on a
blacklist by the Germans.

Whatever the case, there is no proof that the future pope did any
fighting after leaving his factory job in 1942. What is known is that he
studied for the priesthood clandestinely, taking underground
Jagiellonian University courses and attending others at the Spiritual
Seminary directed by Krakow’s archbishop, Adam Stefan Sapieha, who
became his patron. For the rest of the war, he lived in the basement of
his patron’s fortress-like palace.

In that period, he had two serious injuries. Knocked down by a streetcar
on Tyniecka Street, he suffered a fractured skull. Later, he was almost
crushed by a runaway truck, an accident that left him stoop-shouldered.

A Priest and Prelate

He was ordained a priest on Nov. 1, 1946. As the Communists took power
in postwar Poland, Archbishop Sapieha urged his protégé to continue
postgraduate studies abroad. Father Wojtyla was sent to Rome, where he
enrolled at the Angelicum, a college operated by the Dominican order.

In two years he had earned a doctorate in philosophy, writing his thesis
on “Problems of the Faith According to St. John of the Cross.” After
traveling in France and Belgium, he returned home and was assigned by
the archbishop as assistant pastor in a village parish in Niegowic, in
southern Poland.

A year later, he was sent back to Krakow as an assistant at St.
Florian’s Church and to continue his theological studies. In 1953, he
earned a second doctorate, in moral theology, and qualified as an
instructor. He first lectured on social ethics at the Spiritual Seminary
in Krakow; a year later he won a chair in social ethics at Catholic
University in Lublin. It was a post he would retain until he became pope.

His reputation as a church intellectual grew rapidly, and in 1958 he was
consecrated auxiliary bishop of Krakow under Archbishop Eugeniusz
Baziak. At 38, he was the youngest member of the Polish church
hierarchy. After the death of Archbishop Baziak in 1962, he was
designated the acting archbishop, and on Jan. 13, 1964, Pope Paul VI
made him archbishop of Krakow.

During Vatican II, Archbishop Wojtyla addressed council fathers in Rome
on eight occasions, was instrumental in the adoption of a declaration on
religious liberty and was active in committee work. In his most notable
council speech, he contended that the church could not lay claim to
religious liberty without conceding it to others.

“It is not the church’s task to teach unbelievers,” he said. He warned
against moralizing and authoritarian postures, saying the church should
not “cry over the lamentable state of the world” or pretend that it had
“all the answers to all the problems in it.” He impressed the cardinals
as a practical philosopher and drew the attention of the pope.

On June 26, 1967, Pope Paul VI elevated Archbishop Wojtyla to the
College of Cardinals. At that time, Poland’s Communist government
regarded him as moderate and flexible, in contrast to Cardinal Stefan
Wyszynski, the longtime patriarch of Warsaw, a hard-line anti-Communist.

In later years, that perception was reversed. While Cardinal Wyszynski
remained viscerally anti-Marxist, he began cooperating with the
government on nonideological social and economic programs advantageous
to the church and the Polish people. Cardinal Wojtyla, meantime, became
a tough, vocal and eloquent opponent of the government, demanding
increased freedoms in education, mass media and human rights and
preaching Christian alternatives to Marxism.

In 1969, Cardinal Wojtyla made his first trip to the United States,
visiting Polish-American communities in 15 cities. “Almost everywhere we
went,” said a priest who accompanied him, “he laid aside his prepared
remarks and spoke from the heart.”

Cardinal Wojtyla returned to America in 1976, visiting 16 cities,
including Cambridge, Mass., where Thomas E. Crooks, director of
Harvard’s summer school, recalled being “floored by the sheer physical
presence” of the man. As Mr. Crooks remembered: “He exuded such a
combination of power and acceptance. He had this smile on his face and a
look in his eye that said, ‘You’re wonderful. And I’m wonderful, too.’
We had dinner with him later, and late that evening I told myself, ‘This
man ought to be pope.’ ”

A Literary Presence

John Paul’s literary output was prodigious. Besides his encyclicals, he
was the author of at least seven books – some bibliographies, counting
his published commentaries, list as many as 11 – and more than 300
articles and essays, most of them in scholarly journals.

In the study of his archdiocesan residence on Franciszkanska Street in
Krakow, a visitor in 1978 found 1,500 books on the shelves, including
the works of ancient and modern philosophers, leaders of the church in
Greek and Latin, and 20th-century avant-garde theologians, as well as
volumes on many subjects in various languages. One of the few novels was
“The Shoes of the Fisherman,” Morris West’s 1963 tale of a pope from the
Soviet Union.

Books by the future pope included “The Foundations of Renewal,” a 1957
work on philosophical and moral subjects; “Love and Responsibility,”
originally lectures on sex, marriage and birth control, which was
published in 1962; and “The Acting Person,” a 1969 phenomenological
treatise. His output as pope included “Sign of Contradiction,” a 1979
spiritual testament, and “The Future of the Church,” a study of Vatican
II directives, which appeared in English in 1979.

A collection of essays, “Crossing the Threshold of Hope,” was published
in October 1994 in 21 languages in 35 countries – in English by Alfred
A. Knopf. Knopf’s parent, Random House, paid a $9 million advance, and
the book was on the best-seller lists in America for months. The pope
donated the revenue to charity. A commercially published book by a
sitting pope was unheard of in modern times. Experts say the last such
publication, other than speeches, teaching documents and other official
communications, was a 1748 work on diocesan synods by Pope Benedict XIV.

John Paul’s last book, “Memory and Identity,” published this year,
discussed freedom, patriotism and European integration. Last year, 25
European countries signed a constitution that does not mention the
continent’s Christian roots, despite the Vatican’s repeated calls that
it do so.

He also wrote a great deal of poetry. A collection of his free verse was
published by Random House in 1979 as “Easter Vigil and Other Poems,” and
“Roman Triptych – Meditations,” appeared in 2003.

One poem published in Krakow under the pen name Andrzej Jawien was
titled “The Rock.” Written after a stroll in St. Peter’s Square, it
reads in translation:

In this place our feet meet with earth from which so many walls and columns spring.
If you don’t get lost among them
But go on finding oneness and meaning,
It’s because that very earth leads you.
Here she not only bridges
The spaces of a Renaissance building
But also vaults interiors within ourselves
Who grow so very conscious of our weaknesses and failures.
It’s you, Peter. You want to serve as the substratum here for those who stagger
Toward some unknown goal, to make them go where you would lead their feet
So that spaces can be bridged through sight that helps thought to be born.
You want to be the one to serve the feet, just as a rock serves the hoofs of sheep:
The rock is also the substratum of this gigantic temple.
The pasture is the cross.

In his homeland, he also left a major monument to his faith and
perseverance: the starkly modern Church of Our Lady, Queen of Poland,
which rises at Nowa Huta, the new iron and steel center east of Krakow.
While the authorities had long opposed the project in the Communist era,
voluntary contributions were raised, and scarce building materials were
scraped together. Somehow construction permits were obtained and
volunteer workers took turns at the building site.

It took more than a decade, but the project was dedicated in 1977. In a
homily at the time, the future pope declared that men had a right to
more than a job and a living wage.

“There are more profound rights of the human spirit that cannot be
violated,” he said. “These are the rights of freedom of the human
spirit, freedom of human conscience, freedom of belief and freedom of