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Pope John Paul II

| April 6, 2005 12:00 AM

The world lost an extraordinary individual last weekend with the death of the Pope John Paul II.

His appointment started with much hype because he was Polish and the first non-Italian in 455 years to be elected Pope by the cardinals of the Catholic Church. He was seen as young (58) robust, strong-willed and an activist.

He surpassed all those expectations.

Pope John Paul II is being described as perhaps one of the most visible individuals to have ever lived having visited so many different nations where he attracted enormous crowds. A Pope of the people.

He is often credited with igniting the sparks that led to the downfall of the communist regimes in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union itself. During a visit to his native Poland in 1979 he denounced the communist leadership and Soviet Union. It is said his visit and comments led to the Solidarity movement, which ended the communistic stranglehold on the country.

John Paul met with controversial leaders Fidel Castro of Cuba and the terrorist Yassar Arafat before he returned to Palestine to take a leadership role.

And he traveled and he traveled. He preached peace and he preached about the sanctity of life, and not just from the abortion angle. He spoke out against capital punishment, against war, and he admonished the United Nations during a speech less than a year after being named Pope about the sin and crime against humanity that people were starving.

He was consistent. Conservative but consistent. That was his strength for the 26 years he served.

His influence on the world extended far beyond the Catholic religion. It touched everybody on the planet. He was the planet's outspoken conscience for his entire life - he made the Nazi's special list of enemies during World War II.

And he made it a point to reach out to young people wherever he went. They responded to him by the thousands wherever he traveled.

He healed a lot of wounds such as his apology for "the behavior of those" who caused the Jews to suffer, establishment of ties to Israel and his admonishment to cardinals concerning the child molestation cases against priests, primarily in the United States, apologies to the Muslims and a visit to a Mosque, and an apology to women for not opening up a more active role (priesthood) in the church.

His critics point to his refusal to break with the traditional church doctrine on social issues such as abortion, contraceptives, women in the priesthood, married clergy and more.

Pope John Paul II is certainly one of the most extraordinary individuals of the past 55 years and perhaps much longer. He was more than the leader of the Catholic faith, he was an active player in world leadership issues.

Beyond the pageantry of his death and funeral, and the conclave of cardinals to select the next pope, it will be interesting to see who that will be. The Italians have a saying that a "Fat pope is followed by a thin pope." It can be interpreted as saying follow a conservative pope with a liberal or more centrist pope. The New York Times reports that John Paul II, in his longevity, appointed all but three of the cardinals who will be electing the next pope. Again his influence will be felt.

Pope John Paul II was an extraordinary individual who had a hand in extraordinary times. - Roger Morris