first Polish pontiff -- and at 58, the youngest Pope of
the 20th Century -- he had risen swiftly through the ranks
of Catholic clergy to become Archbishop of Krakow. His career
-- although rapid -- was not spectacular. Although respected,
he was little known outside Vatican circles, and few experts
tipped him as successor to Pope John Paul, who died after
only 33 days in office.
Wojtyla took the name of John Paul II after being elected
in a two-day session of the College of Cardinals sitting
in the Sistine Chapel. Born near Krakow in 1920, the young
Karol Wojtyla devoted his energies to sports including football
and skiing. An avid theatre lover, at one time he also considered
becoming an actor.
the Nazi occupation in World War II he studied theology
-- in hiding for part of the time -- and was eventually
ordained a priest in 1946. He was quickly promoted, becoming
archbishop in 1964 and cardinal in 1967. An outside candidate,
his approach to the papacy was dynamic. John Paul II has
never been a man to remain shrouded behind the walls of
constantly. After his appointment, he quickly established
himself as an instantly recognisable figurehead to the world's
largest Christian community. He visited more than 100 countries
and was estimated to have effectively circled the globe
his desire for closeness with people almost led to his death.
In 1981 he was shot and seriously wounded by Mehmet Ali
Agca, a Turkish fanatic, in St Peter's square. After a long
recovery he visited and forgave his would-be assassin.
the Pope's "progressive, hands-on leadership",
he was not without his critics, particularly over his views
on contentious issues such as divorce, contraception and
abortion. At a Vatican conference in 2001 he spoke out against
laws allowing divorce, abortion, homosexual unions and rights
for unmarried couples.
both inside and outside the church say such views risk alienating
many Catholics and are out of touch with a rapidly changing
world. In recent years, the Pope had been dogged by ill
health and has become increasingly frail. He had a tumour
removed from his colon in 1992, dislocated his shoulder
in 1993, broke his femur in 1994 and had his appendix removed
an orthopaedic surgeon confirmed what had been suspected
for some time -- that the Pope was suffering from Parkinson's
disease. In October 2003, St Peter's square in Rome was
filled with pilgrims from around the world as Pope John
Paul II celebrated his Silver Jubilee.
five months later, on 14 March 2004, the remarkable life
of the pontiff reached another milestone when his papacy
became the third longest in the history of the Catholic
Church. The Pope marked his 84th birthday in May of that
year, but despite deteriorating health refused to let up
his gruelling schedule of appearances and foreign trips.
Pope held a weekly audience on Wednesdays and until his
latest bout of ill health led to the cancellation of his
engagements, had not missed one since September 2003.
He died last Saturday of ill health in Rome.
obituary was first published in BBC Online.
(R) thedailystar.net 2005