Karol Wojtyla, the Polish priest who became Pope John Paul II and led the Catholic Church for almost 27 years, was an extraordinary man. His death Saturday at age 84 is a loss that, like his impact, will be felt far beyond his 1.1-billion member flock.
Pope John Paul II traveled the world more than any pontiff in history and spoke in person to more people than any individual in history. He toured extensively in the developing world, drawing enormous crowds of the faithful and demonstrating a spiritual power that made some political leaders nervous.
Filipinos will always have a special place for the much loved Pope.In his first visit to the Philippines in 1981, JP2 planted the seeds of a nation free from oppression which ultimately led to the “People Power” revolution which toppled the Marcos regime.
With shouts of “Viva il Papa“, Filipinos and youths around the world once again welcomed him in 1995 for the World Youth Day.
It was also under his term that the first Filipino saint, St. Lorenzo Ruiz, had been canonized.
Known as the “Great Communicator,” the pontiff was fluent in English, French, German, Polish and Spanish. But ultimately, he was fluent in people.
He has preached the Gospel with clarity and extraordinary insight. He has guided the Church wisely and touched the hearts of millions outside the fold. He has faced up to any and all expressions of racism and totalitarianism. He has fought for peace and justice with equal vigor. He has been a missionary traveling the world as no one ever before him, and this he has continued even in the face of extraordinary physical infirmities.
Pope John Paul II made "the worth of the human person" his grand project. Not only did John Paul plead for the lives of the unborn, but also for human rights and social justice for those outside the womb. He deplored the Iraq war, saying that "violence and weapons can never resolve the problems of man."
He was a religious leader who labored tirelessly to be so much more -- peacemaker, bridge builder, healer, even conscience to the world.
Pope John Paul II is by any measure one of the most celebrated and inspiring leaders of the 20th and 21st centuries. He has championed the law of God when others have lost hope and given in to the demands of a fickle world.
His, indeed, was a dignified and full life. Through example, in extraordinary travels, in a pontificate defined by courage, leadership and forgiveness, the Pope has reached to the hearts of his flock. Even for nonbelievers, his certainty in his faith could never be doubted, his place in history forever fixed.