POPE JOHN PAUL II 1920-2005: First Non-Italian to Rule Vatican for 450 Years

Article excerpt

POPE JOHN PAUL II will be remembered as one of the greatest communicators and influential figures of modern times.

Born Karol Jozef Wojtyla, he was a Pole who became the first nonItalian to rule the Vatican for 450 years.

In March 14, 2004, he became the third-longestserving pontiff in history, having served 25 years and five months in office. Dubbed 'God's athlete' at the beginning of his reign in 1978, in recognition of his sporting prowess, and blessed with striking looks, he often received a reception associated more with a pop star.

In later years, the ravages of Parkinson's disease and crippling hip and knee ailments were to reduce him to a physically frail figure.

The Pope's views on abortion and his championing of human rights, were expressed with vigour and he likened modern debates on euthanasia and abortion to the US's historic battles against racism and slavery and spoke out against embryonic stem-cell research and the death penalty.

He was opposed to the use of birth control and ruled out the ordination of women priests for all time. He also reiterated the Church's uncompromising approach to homosexuality and divorce.

He fervently opposed Nazism, Communism and the failings of capitalism and through his support for the trade union Solidarity in Poland, he placed a high value on work and workers' rights.

He also questioned the morality of sanctions on Iraq, equated consumerism with fascism and criticised the American squeeze on Cuba.

John Paul II, perhaps more than the secular figures of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, was credited with helping to bring down the Iron Curtain with his anticommunist stance.

Mikhail Gorbachev, the former Soviet leader, wrote later: 'Everything that happened in eastern Europe would have been impossible without the presence of this Pope.'

His ability to mesmerise a crowd of hundreds of thousands, and humble leaders from Fidel Castro to Ferdinand Marcos, were legendary.

He visited Argentina just days before the end of the conflict, lecturing the dictator General Leopoldo Galtieri on the 'absurd and always unfair phenomenon of war'.

He was desperate to promote his crusade to seek common ground between the three great monotheistic faiths of Christianity Islam and Judaism as he saw the Church into the Third Millennium THE Pope's tell-tale signs of Parkinson's such as hand tremor and slurred speech became increasingly apparent. …