Georgia Bulletin

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Pilgrim Pontiff Was World’s Apostle, Conscience

By JOHN THAVIS, CNS | Published April 7, 2005

Pope John Paul II, who died April 2 at age 84, was a voice of conscience for the world and a modern-day apostle for his church.

To both roles he brought a philosopher’s intellect, a pilgrim’s spiritual intensity and an actor’s flair for the dramatic. That combination made him one of the most forceful moral leaders of the modern age.

As head of the church for more than 26 years, he held a hard line on doctrinal issues and drew sharp limits on dissent—in particular regarding abortion, birth control and other contested church teachings on human life.

But when it came to the Vatican and the church hierarchy, he was never a micro-manager. He spent relatively little time on administrative issues, and his response to problems like the priestly sex abuse crisis was less direct than some would have preferred.

Especially in later years, his pontificate reflected personal trial and suffering. An athletic and energetic 58-year-old when elected, he gradually lost his ability to walk, to stand and to express himself clearly—the result of a nervous system disorder believed to be Parkinson’s disease. By the time he celebrated his silver jubilee as pope in October 2003, aides were routinely wheeling him on a chair and reading his speeches for him.

Yet he rejected suggestions of retirement and pushed himself to the limits of his declining physical capabilities, convinced that such suffering was a form of spiritual leadership.

The first non-Italian pope in 455 years, Pope John Paul became a spiritual protagonist in two global transitions: the fall of European communism, which began in his native Poland in 1989, and the passage to the third millennium of Christianity.

The start of the new millennium brought a surge in global terrorism, which the pope saw as a threat to interfaith harmony. He invited world religions to renounce violence and the logic of “religious warfare.” He condemned the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks as “inhuman” but urged the United States to react with restraint, and he sharply criticized the U.S.-led war against Iraq in 2003.

As pastor of the universal church, he jetted around the world, taking his message to 129 countries in 104 trips outside Italy, including seven to the United States. A linguist by training, he surprised and pleased millions by communicating with them in their own languages—which made it all the more poignant when his speaking abilities declined in later years.

At times, he used the world as a pulpit: in Africa, to decry hunger; in Hiroshima, Japan, to denounce the arms race; in Calcutta, India, to praise the generosity of Mother Teresa. Whether at home or on the road, he aimed to be the church’s most active evangelizer, trying to open every corner of human society to Christian values.

Within the church, the pope was just as vigorous and no less controversial. He disciplined dissenting theologians, excommunicated self-styled “traditionalists” and upheld unpopular church positions like the pronouncement against birth control. At the same time, he pushed Catholic social teaching into relatively new areas such as bioethics, international economics, racism and ecology.

He looked frail but determined as he led the church through a heavy program of soul-searching events during the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, fulfilling a dream of his pontificate. His long-awaited pilgrimage to the Holy Land that year took him to the roots of the faith and dramatically illustrated the church’s improved relations with Jews. He also presided over an unprecedented public apology for the sins of Christians during darker chapters of church history, such as the Inquisition and the Crusades.

In a landmark document in 2001, the pope laid out his vision of the church’s future. The apostolic letter, “Novo Millennio Ineunte” (“At the Beginning of the New Millennium”), called for a “new sense of mission” to take Gospel values into every area of social and economic life.

Over the years, public reaction to the pope’s message and his decisions was mixed. He was hailed as a daring social critic, chided as the “last socialist,” cheered by millions and caricatured as an inquisitor. The pope never paid much attention to his popularity ratings.

Pope John Paul’s personality was powerful and complicated. In his prime, he could work a crowd and banter with young and old, but spontaneity was not his specialty. As a manager, he set directions but often left policy details to top aides.

His reaction to the mushrooming clerical sex abuse scandal in the United States in 2001-02 underscored his governing style: He suffered deeply, prayed at length and made brief but forceful statements emphasizing the gravity of such a sin by priests. He convened a Vatican-U.S. summit to address the problem, but let his Vatican advisers and U.S. church leaders work out the answers. In the end, he approved changes that made it easier to defrock abusive priests.

The pope was essentially a private person, with a deep spiritual life—something not easily translated by the media. Yet in earlier years, this pope seemed made for modern media, and his pontificate was captured in some lasting images. Who can forget the pope wagging his finger sternly at a Sandinista priest in Nicaragua, hugging a young AIDS victim in California or huddling in a prison-cell conversation with his would-be assassin, Mehmet Ali Agca?

Early Years

Pope John Paul’s early life was marked by personal hardship and by Poland’s suffering during World War II.

Karol Jozef Wojtyla was born May 18, 1920, in Wadowice, a small town near Krakow, in southern Poland. His mother died when he was 9, and three years later he lost his only brother to scarlet fever. When he was 20, his father died, and friends said Wojtyla knelt for 12 hours in prayer and sorrow at his bedside.

Remembered in high school as a bright, athletic youth with a contemplative side, Wojtyla excelled in religion, philosophy and languages. In 1938, he began working toward a philosophy degree at the University of Krakow, joining speech and drama clubs and writing his own poetry.

The Nazi blitzkrieg of Poland Sept. 1, 1939, left the country in ruins and opened a new chapter in Wojtyla’s life. During the German occupation he helped set up an underground university and the clandestine “Rhapsodic Theater.” At the same time he found work in a stone quarry and a chemical factory—experiences he later analyzed in poems and papal writings. Walking home one day after working a double shift at the Solvay chemical plant, he was struck by a truck and hospitalized for 12 days—the first in a lifelong series of physical hardships.

Wojtyla continued work after he entered Krakow’s clandestine theological seminary in 1942. He had tried to join the Carmelite order but reportedly was turned away with the comment: “You are destined for greater things.” He was ordained four years later, just as the new communist regime was taking aim at the Polish church. He soon left for two years of study at Rome’s Angelicum University, where he earned a doctorate in ethics, writing his thesis on the 16th-century mystic, St. John of the Cross.

When he returned to Poland in 1948, Father Wojtyla spent a year in a rural parish, then was assigned to a Krakow church, where he devoted most of his time to young people—teaching religion, playing soccer and leading philosophical discussions. He earned another doctorate in moral theology and began lecturing at Lublin University in 1953. He wrote numerous articles and several books on ethics, but still found time for hiking and camping in the nearby Carpathian Mountains.

His appointment as auxiliary of Krakow—Poland’s youngest bishop—in 1958 caught him canoeing with friends. He traveled to Warsaw to formally hear the news, but was back on the water the same day.

Krakow And Rome

The future pope rose quickly through the ranks in Krakow, becoming archbishop in 1964. During the Second Vatican Council, he helped draft documents on religious liberty and the church in the modern world, and in 1967 Pope Paul VI named him a cardinal—the second-youngest in the church. He traveled widely, preached Pope Paul’s Lenten retreat in 1976 and took a leading role in the world Synod of Bishops.

But despite his rapid ecclesiastical ascent, Cardinal Wojtyla remained a virtual unknown to many in the church—until the evening of Oct. 16, 1978, when his election as pope was announced to some 200,000 people gathered in St. Peter’s Square and to the world at large.

Pope John Paul set his papal style on that first night. Instead of merely blessing the crowd, he broke the “rules” and gave a heartfelt talk from the central balcony of St. Peter’s. To the consternation of aides, he told the world that he felt “afraid to take on this appointment,” but had done so in “a spirit of obedience” to Christ and Christ’s mother.

He described himself as a pope “from a faraway nation”—but won over the mostly Italian throng in the square by speaking their language. He left them cheering loudly. After the final years of Pope Paul and the brief, fragile term of Pope John Paul I, this pope seemed to promise new energy for the church.

A Fast Pace

The pope’s reign began like a cyclone. He set off for Mexico and the Dominican Republic three months after his election and waded into a crucial debate about the church’s social and political role in Latin America. On the way, he held the first of many papal press conferences—aboard his chartered jumbo jet.

That same year, 1979, he met with the Soviet foreign minister; published an encyclical on redemption; strongly reaffirmed celibacy for priests; visited his Polish homeland; named 14 new cardinals; made a major ecumenical visit to the Orthodox in Turkey; and had a Swiss-born theologian, Father Hans Kung, disciplined for questioning papal authority.

It was the start of a remarkably personal papacy. The pope regularly drew crowds of more than a million people, and his popularity was satirically compared to that of a rock star.

But on May 13, 1981, an assailant’s bullets put his pontificate on hold. The pope, who was circling St. Peter’s Square in an open jeep during a weekly audience, suffered serious intestinal wounds. He was rushed to surgery at a Rome hospital; his recovery took several months, with a second hospitalization for a blood infection.

Agca, a Turk who had threatened the pope in 1979, was arrested in St. Peter’s Square and sentenced to life in prison for the shooting. He later claimed that Bulgarian agents had helped plan and carry out the attack, but his alleged accomplices were acquitted in a second trial. The pope publicly forgave his assailant, and in 1983 he visited Agca in a Rome prison cell for a quiet meeting of reconciliation. In 2000, with the pope’s support, Italy pardoned Agca and returned him to Turkey.

Pope John Paul credited Mary for having protected him, and on the first anniversary of the shooting he made a thanksgiving pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima in Portugal. There, he escaped injury when a knife-wielding, illicitly ordained priest lunged at him.

Later in his pontificate, the pope published the “third secret” of Fatima, which instead of predicting the end of the world, as many had believed, described a period of suffering for the church and the shooting of a bishop in white—a figure the pope believed was linked to the attempt on his life.

Soon after the shooting, the pope dispelled worries that it would slow him down for long. He went on the road about four times a year, eventually logging more than 700,000 miles.

In Catholic countries, the trips were his way of strengthening ties between the local church and Rome. His 14 visits to Africa were part of a successful strategy of church expansion in the Third World—in numbers of Catholics and indigenous clergy, the African church doubled during Pope John Paul’s term—and in 1994 the pope called an African synod to celebrate the progress and map out new pastoral strategies. In predominantly non-Christian places like Asia and North Africa, he evangelized gently, stressing the common values shared by Christianity and other faiths, yet insisting that Jesus Christ alone can be seen as savior.

The pope’s U.S. trips provided some historic and emotional moments. In 1979 he became the first pope to be received at the White House. During the same visit, U.S. Mercy Sister Theresa Kane gave a speech to the pontiff asking that women be allowed to participate in “all ministries of the church.” Throughout his papacy, however, the pope insisted that the all-male priesthood was part of God’s plan, and he formalized that position in a 1994 apostolic letter.

His trips to Denver in 1993 and Toronto in 2002 for World Youth Day sparked massive pilgrimages of young people in North America. In 1995, addressing the U.N. General Assembly, he urged the organization to give new moral meaning to the phrase “family of nations.”

Church Tensions

The issue of dissent brought out the determined side of Pope John Paul—especially when it involved theologians.

During the 1980s the Vatican’s doctrinal congregation, headed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, cracked down on several theologians whose teachings were deemed incompatible with church positions. U.S. Father Charles Curran, for one, was stripped of his permission to teach at The Catholic University of America in 1986 because of his views on sexual morality and divorce.

Advocates of liberation theology, like Brazil’s Franciscan Father Leonardo Boff, also found their writings closely monitored. In 1984, the Vatican warned theologians against adopting Marxist concepts such as “class struggle.” Pope John Paul had seen how Marxism worked in Poland and did not trust it; moreover, he was wary of any ideological contamination of the Gospel. The pope also kept a keen eye on the social activity of religious orders, a concern that led him to take the unprecedented step of naming his own delegate to govern the Jesuit order from 1981 to 1983.

These and other policies led 163 European theologians to denounce in 1989 what they called “exaggerated hierarchical control” and “autocratic methods” in the church. The Vatican accused the theologians of forming a pressure group and setting themselves up as a parallel teaching authority. In the 1990s, similar challenges were posed in petition drives by dissenting Catholics in Europe and North America.

To counter doctrinal confusion, the pope was continually drawing—or highlighting—the line on difficult moral questions. In a lengthy series of audience talks in 1984 he bolstered church arguments against artificial birth control.

In the 1990s he urged the world’s bishops to step up their fight against abortion and euthanasia, saying the practices amounted to a modern-day “slaughter of the innocents.” Not everyone agreed, but his sharpened critique of these and other “anti-family” policies helped make him Time magazine’s choice for Man of the Year in 1994.

In 1986, a Vatican document reiterated moral opposition to homosexual acts and said homosexuality was an “objective disorder.” It drew strong criticism, especially in the United States. In 1987, a wide-ranging Vatican document on bioethics said in vitro fertilization, surrogate motherhood and embryo manipulation were morally wrong.

Clearly, the pope expected Catholics to take these rules to heart. During his 1987 U.S. trip, the pope said it was a “grave error” to think dissent from church teachings is “totally compatible with being a ‘good Catholic’ and poses no obstacles to the reception of sacraments.”

In one of the most ambitious projects of his pontificate, he presided over publication of a new universal catechism in 1992, aimed at restoring clarity in church teaching. It became a best seller in many countries, including the United States.

In his landmark encyclical the next year, “Veritatis Splendor” (“The Splendor of Truth”), the pope delivered a wake-up call that went beyond church membership. In exploring the fundamentals of moral theology, the pope said the church’s teachings were urgently needed in a society that he described as absorbed in self-gratification and drifting away from universal moral norms. Soon afterward, he began a public crusade against parts of a U.N. draft document on population and development, saying it promoted abortion, contraception and a mistaken view of sexuality and the family. This use of the papal pulpit deeply affected international debate on the issues.

His 1995 encyclical, “Evangelium Vitae,” (“The Gospel of Life”) not only condemned the growing acceptance of abortion and euthanasia, but also carried a strongly worded argument against capital punishment. In 1998 the encyclical “Fides et Ratio” (“Faith and Reason”) warned of a growing separation between theology and philosophy, with dire consequences for society and the church.

Vatican II

If many inside the church saw the pope as a hard-liner, he saw himself as a reconciler between the liberal and conservative wings of the church. Part of his job, he said in 1989, was to introduce “an element of balance” in the implementation of Vatican II reforms. He convened a 1985 Synod of Bishops, which strongly endorsed the council’s decisions but also said some “abuses” should be corrected.

The pope zeroed in on liturgy in a 1989 apostolic letter, saying the period of major liturgical changes was over. He urged bishops to root out “outlandish innovations” such as profane readings in place of Scriptural texts, invented rites and inappropriate songs. He said the roles of priests and lay people must not be confused—even with the dramatic shortage of priests in some areas. And he repeated his long-standing warning against replacing individual confession with general absolution. In 1994, after years of study, the pope approved local use of altar girls.

Self-styled traditionalists like the late French Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre thought the pope was too liberal. When Archbishop Lefebvre ordained bishops against papal orders in 1988, thus provoking a schism, the pope excommunicated him. At the same time, he brought some of the archbishop’s followers back to the fold with special concessions, including use of the pre-conciliar Tridentine-rite Mass.

The pope insisted on priestly and religious identity, in things big and small. Early in his term, he made clear that religious and clergy should wear their habits and collars while in Rome. “Catholic identity” became a rallying cry. In 1990, the pope issued norms to guarantee orthodoxy and a Catholic perspective in church-run universities.

Collegiality, a main thrust of Vatican II, was a thorny issue for Pope John Paul. He tended to listen to the advice of his fellow bishops, then make his own decisions. He brought bishops together frequently in synods that shored up traditional church teaching—on the family, penance, priests and laity. Disappointment with the synod format led some, like Italian Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini of Milan in 1999, to suggest that a church-wide council was needed to deal with lingering controversies in the church.

In Rome and on the road, the pope constantly encouraged lay Catholics to live the faith in their everyday lives. He favored zealous lay movements such as Opus Dei and in 2002 canonized its founder, Msgr. Josemaria Escriva, in the face of some criticism. The pope also found new models of Catholic virtue in nearly every part of the globe, declaring more saints than all his predecessors combined.

Pope John Paul’s pronouncements on women were deeply affected by his devotion to Mary. His apostolic letter on women in 1988, using Mary as an example, affirmed their equal social and cultural dignity with men, but restated the ban on women priests. He asked for economic equality between men and women, but also for programs that would allow women to stay at home and care for children rather than seek jobs.

Pleas For Social Justice

Those who pegged Pope John Paul as a conservative often were surprised at his repeated appeals for social and economic justice and his warnings about globalization. His social teaching was distilled in three major encyclicals:

– “Laborem Exercens” (“On Human Work”) in 1981 criticized the abuses of a “rigid capitalism” that values profit over the well-being of workers, but said Marxism’s class struggle was not the answer.

– “Sollicitudo Rei Socialis” (“On Social Concerns”) in 1987 warned of a widening gap between rich and poor countries and condemned the transfer of the East-West conflict to the Third World.

– “Centesimus Annus” (“The 100th Year”) in 1991 called for reform of the free-market system in the wake of communism’s collapse, denouncing massive poverty in the Third World and consumerism in the West.

The pope underlined these texts on his trips, taking a detour into a local shantytown in Latin America or chiding the world for neglecting Africa’s drought-stricken Sahel region. He founded papal development foundations to show that the Vatican practiced what it preached.

While insisting that priests steer clear of partisan political activities, the pope did not expect church leaders to be mute on social questions. In 1980, for example, he endorsed the Brazilian bishops’ call for radical social reforms, saying that if changes were not made, the door to violent revolution would be opened.

Pope John Paul was a constant critic of war and an advocate of disarmament. His aides successfully headed off a shooting war between Chile and Argentina in 1978, the one example of direct papal mediation. The pope’s countless pleas for negotiation went largely unheeded, however, in places like central Africa, the Persian Gulf and the Balkans.

He was also a tireless defender of human rights and, first among them, religious rights. During a trip to Cuba in 1998, he appealed for a wider church role in society, and he stood up publicly for Catholics in places like China, Vietnam and Sudan.

On the pope’s initiative, in 2004 the Vatican published a 523-page compendium of Catholic social teachings.

Religious Freedom And Ecumenical Trials

The pope kept up the Vatican’s “Ostpolitik” of negotiating with communist countries, winning gradual concessions on church freedom. But the pope was not always so diplomatic, especially during trips to his homeland, where he hammered the human rights theme and embarrassed the regime. Many in Poland said the papal visit in 1979 was the spiritual spark that lit the fire of reform: The Polish labor movement Solidarity was formed in 1980, was forced underground and later emerged to lead the first non-communist government in 1989. The rest of Eastern Europe soon followed suit.

The pope found a major ally in Mikhail Gorbachev, the first Soviet president to make serious concessions to the church, and the two men made history when they met at the Vatican in 1989. The Vatican later moved to establish hierarchies and diplomatic ties throughout the former Soviet empire.

In his 2005 autobiographical book, “Memory and Identity: Conversations Between Millenniums,” the pope described the ideological struggles of the 20th century as a battle between good and evil fought on a global stage, offering valuable lessons for the new millennium. He said he was worried, however, that the hopes kindled by the collapse of communism—for a Europe that could “rediscover its soul” and reunite around “human and Christian values”—were being frustrated by anti-religious trends across the continent. The pope was particularly upset that the new European Constitution signed in late 2004 made no mention of Christianity’s cultural, historical and spiritual role.

Ecumenical tensions also clouded the horizon in post-communist Europe. Disputes over property and evangelizing methods arose among local Catholic and Orthodox churches in the former Soviet bloc. The pope’s decision to create four new dioceses in Russia in 2002 brought Catholic-Orthodox dialogue to a standstill and ended realistic hopes of traveling to Moscow for a meeting with Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexy II. Still, the pope pressed on with a series of historic visits to predominantly Orthodox countries, including Romania, Georgia, Greece, Bulgaria and Ukraine, where he urged mutual forgiveness over past wrongs between Christian churches.

Pope John Paul’s ecumenical and interreligious legacy was built largely on his personal gestures. In 1979 he traveled to Turkey to meet Ecumenical Orthodox Patriarch Dimitrios I and jointly announce the establishment of an international dialogue commission. He became the first pontiff to visit a Lutheran church, in 1983, on the 500th anniversary of the birth of Martin Luther. Later he hosted 150 world religious leaders in Assisi, Italy, at a “prayer summit” for peace. Visiting a mosque in Damascus, Syria, in 2001, he became the first pontiff to enter a Muslim place of worship.

In early 2002, determined to offer a united spiritual response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks against the United States, the pope led a “peace train” of more than 200 religious leaders back to Assisi, where participants condemned all violence in the name of religion.

While continually promoting areas of interreligious cooperation, including pro-life issues, the pope insisted that dialogue cannot interfere with the church’s duty to evangelize. That was a main point of the controversial Vatican document, “Dominus Iesus,” which said the church must announce to all people “the necessity of conversion to Jesus Christ.” Issued during the Holy Year 2000, it said non-Christians can be saved but warned against attributing a divine origin or saving quality to other religions.

The pope’s unprecedented visit in 1986 to a Rome synagogue—when he called Jews Catholics’ “elder brothers” in faith—marked a breakthrough in Catholic-Jewish relations. In 1994, he approved Vatican diplomatic relations with the state of Israel. During his Holy Land pilgrimage in 2000, his historic prayer at the Western Wall, Judaism’s most sacred spot, touched Jews all over the world.

At the pope’s request, in 1998 the Vatican issued an unprecedented document on the Holocaust, expressing repentance for centuries of anti-Jewish discrimination but defending the wartime Pope Pius XII; it drew mixed reaction from Jews. Pope John Paul’s insistence on beatifying Pope Pius IX, who raised a Jewish boy Catholic because he was “baptized” by a maid, also drew Jewish consternation.

Other official dialogues proceeded slowly. In his 1995 encyclical, “Ut Unum Sint” (“That All May Be One”), the pope asked theologians and leaders of other churches to help him find a way of exercising papal primacy that could make it a ministry of unity to all Christians. An Anglican-Catholic document in 1999 outlined a “collegial” model of papal authority as potentially acceptable to both churches. But the Vatican’s doctrinal congregation issued its own paper, saying that, in the end, only the pope has the authority to make changes in his universal ministry.

In 1999, Catholics and Lutherans approved an agreement on the doctrine of justification, resolving the main doctrinal dispute that led to the Protestant Reformation. But the Vatican insisted that it was still too early for shared Eucharist.

Mark On The Church

Pope John Paul changed the face of the Catholic hierarchy, naming most of the active bishops in the world and more than 97 percent of voting-age cardinals. In a few places, his appointees were unpopular, but the pope did not back down; as he told Catholics in the Netherlands in 1985, “In the final analysis, the pope has to make the decisions.”

The pope gave the College of Cardinals a more active role in church government, asking their collective advice on major administrative issues and on pastoral topics like abortion, and convening them in 2001 for a far-reaching look at the church’s future. He internationalized the Roman Curia, replacing many Italians as department heads but keeping them in most middle-management positions. He approved new codes of canon law for the Eastern and Western churches.

Pope John Paul’s term was dogged by money matters. The Vatican went in the red under his pontificate, managed to cover operating expenses through cutbacks and appeals to the worldwide church, and finally began turning small surpluses in the mid-1990s. The pope repeatedly stressed that the “riches of the Vatican” was a popular myth. The fund-raising efforts were hurt by the Vatican bank’s involvement in the collapse of Italy’s Banco Ambrosiano in 1982. While denying any wrongdoing, the Vatican made a goodwill payment of about $240 million to creditors of the failed bank. An Italian attempt to indict Vatican bank officials, including its former president, U.S. Archbishop Paul Marcinkus, was ruled unconstitutional.

While Pope John Paul conducted a highly personal papacy, his own personality was not a simple one to understand. Those closest to him said the key was a deep spiritual life, from which he drew his energy. He prayed everywhere he went—morning, noon and night—and recommended prayer as the first and basic Christian response to problems.

In the later years of his pontificate, the pope gave two book-length interviews and published two volumes of autobiographical reflections that offered a glimpse into the personal decisions he made along his spiritual path. He recalled how his priestly vocation cut him off from friends but opened up a whole new source of inner strength.

In 2002, in a typical blend of the traditional and the innovative, he added five new “Mysteries of Light” to the rosary and proclaimed a year dedicated to its recital. He also gave universal church recognition to the Divine Mercy prayer movement and canonized the Polish nun who founded it. In his continuing effort to revitalize the roots of the faith, he declared a “year of the Eucharist” from October 2004 to October 2005.

The pope accepted suffering as an opportunity for spiritual growth and wrote a deeply philosophical letter on the subject in 1984. His own hospital stays—including operations for an intestinal tumor in 1992, a separated shoulder in 1993, a broken thigh bone in 1994, an appendectomy in 1996, and flu and a tracheotomy in February—reinforced his sympathy for the suffering of others. Wherever he went, he made sure the front row was reserved for the sick and disabled in his audience.

Unlike his predecessors, he aged in public and made no attempt to hide his infirmities, taking on what his aides called a ministry of suffering. Writing to the world’s elderly in 1999, the pope spoke movingly about the limitations he experienced in old age, but said: “At the same time, I find great peace in thinking of the time when the Lord will call me: from life to life!”

Young people always seemed to heighten the pope’s energy and good humor, even as his health and stamina failed in later years. In Bern, Switzerland, in 2004, he delighted some 13,000 cheering youths when he struggled successfully to pronounce his speech—after chasing away an aide who wanted to read it for him.

Beyond the mark he leaves on the institutional church, Pope John Paul will no doubt be remembered by many as a very human pontiff: one who hiked in the mountains in his early years and who had to be wheeled to the altar in later years, who traveled the globe to meet the people and tend his flock, and who lived each chapter of his papacy before the eyes of the world.