Pope John Paul II (Latin: Ioannes Paulus PP. II ), born Karol Józef WojtyĆa (May 18, 1920 - April 2, 2005) reigned as pope of the Roman Catholic Church for almost 27 years, from October 16, 1978 until his death, making his the second-longest pontificate. On May 9, 2005, Pope Benedict XVI, John Paul II's successor, waived the five year waiting period for a cause for beatification to be opened. He was the first (and, currently, is the only) Polish pope and the first non-Italian pope since the 16th century. His early reign was marked by his opposition to Communism, and he is often credited as one of the forces which brought about its fall. In the later part of his pontificate, he was notable for speaking against consumerism, unrestrained capitalism, abortion, cultural relativism and what he deemed as the "culture of death".
He was concerned for the poor, the weak and those who suffer, his firm stances against warfare, violence, and capital punishment. He moderated the Church's views of evolution and supported world debt forgiveness. Unlike earlier Popes, he frequently visited socialist nations and maintained his strong relationships with leaders of non-Catholic Churches and non-Christian faiths, in the theological practice of ecumenism.
Theological and liturgical innovations were allowed under his pontificate, though at the end of it a certain liturgical conservatism re-appeared.
He also affirmed the long-standing Catholic doctrine that abortion and contraception are immoral, continued the tradition of ordaining only men to the priesthood, teaching that divorced persons could not remarry without a declaration of nullity, and that valid sacramental marriage exists between one man and one woman, and emphasizing the benefits of retaining the discipline of mandatory priestly celibacy.
During his reign, the pope travelled extensively, visiting over 100 countries, more than any of his predecessors. He was said to have canonized more people than all popes before him put together (though early records are incomplete). He was Pope during a period in which Catholicism's influence declined in developed countries but expanded in the Third World.
Pope John Paul II was extremely popular worldwide, attracting the largest crowds in history (at times attracting crowds of over one million people in a single venue and over four million people at the World Youth Day in Manila), and being respected by many even outside of the Catholic Church, despite strident criticism from some quarters. John Paul II was fluent in numerous languages: his native Polish, Italian, French, German, English, Spanish, Russian, Portuguese and Latin.
In 1992, he was diagnosed as having Parkinson's disease. On 2 April 2005 at 9:37 pm local time, Pope John Paul II died in the Papal Apartments while a vast crowd kept vigil in St Peter's Square below. Millions of people flocked to Rome to pay their respects to the body and for his funeral. The last years of his reign had been marked by his fight against the various diseases ailing him, provoking some concerns that he should abdicate, but in retrospect his determination was widely seen as an exemplary display of courage.
Pope John Paul II
Servant of God