Pope John Paul II: a conservative who revolutionized the papacy
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The first non-Italian pope in four-and-a-half centuries, and the first from eastern Europe, the Polish-born Karol Wojtyla was immensely popular, imposing his own style and agenda on the papacy, eschewing the pomp that surrounded his forebears and seeking contact with ordinary people.
He travelled to 129 countries, taking his message directly to his flock of more than one billion believers and displaying public relations skills unknown to his predecessors.
Born in a small town near Krakow, in southern
He became a parish priest and rose steadily through the Church hierarchy until, as bishop of Krakow, he became widely known to Western ecclesiastical authorities during the Second Vatican Council from 1962 to 1965.
When Cardinal Wojtyla was elected pope in October 1978, he was 58, a robust sportsman and a relative outsider amid the vast bureaucracy of the Holy See.
The advent of a Polish pope catalysed the anti-communist working class movement, the birth of the communist bloc's first independent trade union, Solidarity, and the steady thaw of the communist glacier that lay over eastern Europe.
In 1981 the pope nearly died when a rightwing Turkish fanatic, Mehmet Ali Agca, shot him at close range in Saint Peter's Square. The pontiff survived after extensive surgery, but his health was badly affected thereafter.
At the same time, Church reformers, the young, and
Under his leadership, the