POPE JOHN PAUL II; an Historic Figure

Article excerpt

Pope John Paul II, who died at 84 yesterday, was more than the leader of one of the world's major religions. He was a world figure.

As the first non-Italian pope in centuries, John Paul was involved in the collapse of atheist Communism and was able to witness the free exercise of religion in his native Poland.

But John Paul II was far more than the pope who battled Communism.

Though his church can be slow to change, John Paul was not slow to act. As the most-traveled pope in history, John Paul logged about 742,000 miles to about 130 nations, estimated the Vatican Information Service. He has brought the church to millions in the Third World.

He was an athletic man who was able to survive an assassination attempt in 1981. Just a few days later, he announced, "Pray for the brother who shot me, whom I have sincerely forgiven." The pope later met with his assailant.

He had an indirect influence on Jacksonville. In 2000, he canonized Katherine Drexel as a saint. She was a Philadelphia heiress who founded the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament. Their mission was to work with Native Americans and African-Americans. Her order founded St. Pius V Catholic School in Jacksonville.

John Paul had a softer side. Bernie Sans, director of liturgical music at Christ the King Catholic Church in Arlington, met the pope twice in the 1980s. Sans brought church choirs to the Vatican when he lived in Milwaukee. During the first visit in 1982, he stood next to the pope on the steps of St. Peter's Basilica, kissed the pope's ring, shook the pope's hand and chatted with him. …