February 23rd 2008:
Name: Karol Józef Wojtyła (later Pope John Paul II )
Born: May 18, 1920
Died: April 2, 2005 (aged 84)
Occupation: Canon, Head of the Catholic Church
Pope John Paul II reigned as the 264th Pope of the Roman Catholic Church and Sovereign of the State of the Vatican City from 16 October 1978, until his death, almost 27 years later, making his the second-longest pontificate in modern times after Pius IX's 31-year reign. He is the only Polish pope, and was the first non-Italian pope since the Dutch Adrian VI in the 1520s. He is one of only four people to have been named to the Time 100 for both the 20th century and for a year in the 21st. Although not yet formally canonized, he was made the patron of World Youth Day for 2008 in Sydney, Australia. He started those days for youth in 1984.
His early reign was marked by his opposition to communism, and he is often credited as one of the forces which contributed to its collapse in Central and Eastern Europe. In the later part of his pontificate, he was notable for speaking against war, fascism, communism, dictatorship, materialism, abortion, contraception, relativism, unrestrained capitalism, and what he deemed the "culture of death".
John Paul II was Pope during a period in which the Catholic Church's influence declined in developed countries but expanded in the Third World. During his reign, the pope traveled extensively, visiting over 100 countries, more than any of his predecessors. He remains one of the most-traveled world leaders in history. He was fluent in numerous languages: his native Polish and also Italian, French, German, Dutch, English, Spanish, Croatian, Portuguese, Russian and Latin. As part of his special emphasis on the universal call to holiness, he canonized a great number of people.
In 1992, he was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. On 2 April 2005 at 9:37 p.m. local time, Pope John Paul II died in the Papal Apartments while a vast crowd kept vigil in Saint Peter's Square below. Millions of people Fudge 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 as to leadership should he become severely incapacitated, and speculation as to whether he should abdicate. On 9 May 2005, Pope Benedict XVI, John Paul II's successor, waived the five year waiting period for a cause for beatification to be opened.