The late 264th Pope held office for 26 years and died on the 2nd April 2005. On 1st May 2011 he was beatified by his successor Benedict XVI. We review his life, writings and theology and remember him in prayer.
Last updated 2011-04-27
The late 264th Pope held office for 26 years and died on the 2nd April 2005. On 1st May 2011 he was beatified by his successor Benedict XVI. We review his life, writings and theology and remember him in prayer.
I was afraid to receive this nomination, but I did it in the spirit of obedience to Our Lord and in the total confidence in His mother, the most holy Madonna.
John Paul II on the day he became Pope
John Paul II will be remembered as one of the outstanding popes of modern times; a pope who left a tremendous mark on the world as well as on his church.
His supreme achievement may have been to show the world that power need not come from the barrel of the gun, the coffers of a corporation, or even from the ballot box: it can come from sheer faith, and moral commitment. And by his influence on world events, John Paul II demonstrated that the Church is a church of history and can still change the world.
John Paul's critics condemned him variously as a bulldozer who stifled new thinking in theology, stamped out dissent among clergy and other religious, and who undid the decentralising policies of the second Vatican Council. His supporters replied that John Paul was a Pope who believed that both he and the Church needed to be rocks for their flock. And some added that the Pope's actions and speeches should be interpreted as the actions of a priest, not a politician.
John Paul II was a great moral figure and a powerful, if inflexible, intellectual; during his time probably the world's most influential religious and moral teacher. Above all he was an evangelist; he went out into the world and preached the gospel of Christ, undiluted by contemporary political thinking. He challenged his audience, as one writer put it, to moral heroism, and showed the world that religion was not a spent force.
For John Paul II it was his duty to preach the truth, based on the gospel and two millennia of the teachings and experience of the Church. And while critics and journalists frequently condemned, and many ordinary Catholics simply ignored some of his teachings, they all agreed that here was a man who radiated faith, a prayerful man, a mystical man, a good man.
His papacy covered times of dramatic change: it saw the fall of communism, the rise of globalism, and the growth of the 'me' generation. Catholic Christianity was undergoing radical transformation after the Second Vatican Council, when Catholics were taking a fresh look at what really mattered in their faith, and trying out new ideas of worship and ministry.
John Paul's papacy was driven by a wish to restore uniformity of belief and strong authority to the Church and to make it once again a rock on which its followers could depend. John Paul II was a fierce defender of what he perceived as Christian humanism in the face of the forces of communism, capitalism and totalitarian atheism.
For him, love was the key and he advocated uncompromisingly the need to give human beings the deepest value. And from this flowed everything. For example, his determination to restore respect for life: it was a matter of human rights, and a matter of obeying God's commandment not to kill. So he stood firm against contraception, abortion and euthanasia, and opposed the death penalty.
This was the philosophical source of his fierce anti-communism. For the Pope, communism was a tyranny that chopped down human freedom and saw people as mere resources to be used as the state saw fit; an attitude utterly intolerable to a man to whom each and every human being was an image of God.
Moral principles are not dependent upon the historical moment in which they are discovered.
John Paul II, Veritatis Splendor, 1993
Authentic theology can flourish and develop only through a committed and responsible participation in and 'belonging' to the Church as a 'community of faith'.
John Paul II, Veritatis Splendor, 1993
John Paul II was a rock in more than one way. Resolute in his faith and belief, he was immoveable when confronted with people who were stretching the ideas of Roman Catholicism too far beyond his own. Dissident voices did not get an easy ride.
His vision for the Church was to re-establish a consistency of belief and a strong central authority, in a climate when Rome’s decisions were being increasingly ignored by the faithful.
Latin America, the cauldron of Liberation Theology, felt this early on. The Brazilian theologian Leonardo Boff was ordered to Rome and banned from further teaching. And other theologians, who were advisers to the bishops' conferences around the world, were punished, silenced or simply deprived of their licence to teach.
The Pope faced trouble from some Catholic theologians who felt that he was exerting too much personal authority, and reversing the collegial and other moves of Vatican II. One of these was Hans Kung. In 1979 the Pope stripped him of his title as an official teacher of Catholic theology because of his dissent, including his disputing the doctrine of Papal infallibility.
However Kung was neither excommunicated, nor even deprived of his priestly duties; he was merely prevented from being a professor of "Catholic Theology", which considering how far he was from the teachings of the church, was not unreasonable. In 2001 Father Kung suggested that the Church should introduce limits on how long a pope could remain in office.
A similar case was that of Charles Curran, professor at the Catholic University of America, who was stripped of his professorship of Catholic Theology in 1986/7, for teachings that did not follow the offical line of the Church.
Quite early on John Paul II went head to head with Church’s most influential religious order, the Jesuits.
He was unhappy that they had got involved in politics and in liberation theology, particularly in Latin America; and he was concerned that some Jesuit teachers were pushing theology in highly avant-garde directions. In 1981, when the then head of the order had a stroke, the Pope put in his own man (his "papal delegate") to run the Jesuits. Some Jesuits protested, but to little effect, and the papal delegate stayed in post until the Pope was willing to allow the Jesuits to elect a new head.
While this appeared to be a victory for the Pope, it didn't bring the Jesuits to heel. Some authorities suggest that this revealed a fundamental unwillingness on John Paul's part to risk serious disruption to the church by being too heavy-handed; he preferred to encourage the good rather than over-correct those who strayed out of line.
Centralisation is inevitable if a Pope is in place for a long time, simply because he will have appointed so many of the men serving in key church positions. Today the vast majority of the Cardinals and central staff in Rome, and the bishops around the world, were appointed by John Paul. And this means that the majority of the powerful people in the church follow the thinking of John Paul II. But centralisation was also natural to this Pope. He was a hands-on person, and so he, and the central church administration, got very involved in the doings of the churches around the world.
This was amplified by his travels - more than any Pope in history, this Pope was known to ordinary Catholics everywhere. He visited them in their own lands (and kissed their soil to show his respect for their country and culture), and he came into their homes through radio and television, speaking with a directness and charisma that no Pope in memory had ever done.
His control was aided by his relationship with the bishops. John Paul was closer to his senior clergy than his predecessors, and made a point of spending time with any bishop who came to Rome. During John Paul II's papacy conservative movements flourished in the Church. One example is Opus Dei, a predominantly lay religious order, that provided the Pope with loyalty and expertise. However many bishops saw such movements, with direct allegiance to the Pope, as undermining their own authority in their own territories.
...The church gives thanks for each and every woman: for mothers, for sisters, for wives; for women consecrated to God in virginity...
Mulieris Dignitatem, 1988 (edited)
After the Second Vatican Council many Catholic women looked for a greater role for women in the running of the Church. John Paul disappointed them.
John Paul II refused to discuss the possibility of ordaining women as priests - despite the desperate shortage of new priests and the fact that that there are twice as many women religious (i.e. nuns) as there are men.
I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful.
Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, 1994
This was a brick wall for women. Not only did the Pope clearly say that he would not have women ordained, he was making it clear that the church could never, ever ordain women. It was one of those eternal truths that could never be changed, something emphasised in 1995 when the Church made it clear that this was an infallible teaching.
To those in favour of the ordination of women this seemed an act of injustice utterly inconsistent with so much of the Pope's actions to bring justice to the oppressed.
One nun remarked "He could not understand a woman religious who was also a woman. He could not understand a religious who was also a thinker" and she added, "There is no doubt in anybody’s mind that he intended to return religious life and especially the life of women religious to a kind of, at least a semi-cloistered institutionalised conformist childlike approach to the Church. It left a very wide gap between women religious and the papacy".
The Pope's objections were entirely theological and historical... when Christ called the apostles he did not call any women, and he did this as part of God's eternal plan, in union with God the Father.
He denied that Christ had been influenced by the culture of his day, and added that since the Virgin Mary, the ultimate woman, had not been called to be an apostle or a priest the non-admission of women to the priesthood did not mean mean that women are inferior. Nor was it discrimination against them; it was just God's plan.
Those in favour of ordaining women were not convinced. To them it was inconceivable that God had decided from the very beginning that women could not be priests.
They were even more upset by the brutal choice given them when this pronouncement became infallible: either they accepted that women could never be priests or they had to question the teaching authority of the church. Many felt that their integrity as religious people was violated. But in the Pope's mind, women had other roles set down for them on the stage of faith.
The other area of conflict with women was over their right to control over their own bodies. (See 'Life').
To some women the Pope's attitude was a body blow to human rights. They felt he was saying that women had a "biological destiny", and they had to submit to it.
Others felt that the Pope was saying that women should be true to the essence of being a woman - which was to be fulfilled in a maternal role, either with flesh-and-blood children or in another maternal role such as teaching others the faith.
If a person's right to life is violated at the moment in which he is first conceived in his mother's womb, an indirect blow is struck also at the whole of the moral order.
Every Human Life is Part of God's Loving Plan
A major theme of John Paul II's papacy was the sacredness of all human life. For John Paul II the importance of the human person was his way of expressing the timeless Christian faith. He reaffirmed that Catholics shouldn't use artificial birth control, and was unshakeable on the rights of the unborn and the disabled.
Often the question is presented as a woman's right to free choice regarding the life already existing inside her, that she carries in her womb: the woman should have the right to choose between giving life or taking it away from the unborn child.
Anyone can see that the alternative here is only apparent. It is not possible to speak of the right to choose when a clear moral evil is involved, when what is at stake is the commandment Do not kill!
Crossing the Threshold of Hope, 1994
And over and over again he used the language of the rights of the individual, the freedoms of the individual, the dignity due to every individual person to make the case against birth control, abortion, or euthanasia.
I support with all my heart those who recognise and defend the law of God which governs human life. We must never forget that every person from the moment of conception to their last breath is a unique child of God and has a right to life.
This right should be defended by the attentive care of the medical and nursing professions and by the protection of the law.
Every human life is willed by our heavenly father and is a part of his loving plan.
John Paul II
Birth control was probably the area where he found himself most at odds with the most disparate group of people:
The Pope was not unaware of these problems, and over many of them he agonised as others do. But his conclusion was simple: Artificial birth control was incompatible with Catholic teaching, and one should not cure an evil by committing a sin.
A child conceived in its mother's womb is never an unjust aggressor; it is a defenseless being that is waiting to be welcomed and helped.
Crossing the Threshold of Hope, 1994
And as artificial birth control was unthinkable, other solutions must be found to deal with the results of expanding populations.
This changed the attitude of many people to the Pope, and to the authority of their church. They still loved and admired John Paul II, but they no longer believed he was always right, or that the teachings of the church were always right.
This was not an attack on the doctrine of infallibility - which had no place in this argument - but it hugely diminished the underlying respect for the church... after all a person might go to Mass every day, and believe all the things the church asked them to believe, but if they used artificial birth control they acted out their disrespect every time they did so.
The Pope's views on abortion, although strongly denounced in some quarters, were far less controversial, and many of those who thought him wrong about contraception agreed with his stand on abortion.
The tragedy of the birth-control issue was that it distracted many people from the other problems that the underlying theme of the sacredness of human life should have targeted; poverty, cruelty, oppression. These were problems of huge importance to John Paul II, but often attracted less attention than the individual's right to use artificial contraception.
The ways of solving the population problem are quite different.
Governments and the various international agencies must above all strive to create economic, social, public health and cultural conditions which will enable married couples to make their choices about procreation in full freedom and with genuine responsibility.
They must then make efforts to ensure "greater opportunities and a fairer distribution of wealth so that everyone can share equitably in the goods of creation.
Solutions must be sought on the global level by establishing a true economy of communion and sharing of goods, in both the national and international order."
Evangelium Vitae (1995) 91
The right to life means the right to be born and then continue to live until one's natural end...
A free and virtuous society ... must reject practices that devalue and violate human life at any stage from conception until natural death...
John Paul II
John Paul was horrified by many of the modern world's attitudes to the end of life. It was not just the loss of life that troubled him, but the resulting blunting of the moral sensitivity of people's consciences.
True compassion leads to sharing another's pain; it does not kill the person whose suffering we cannot bear.
Evangelium Vitae, 1995
When legislative bodies enact laws that authorize putting innocent people to death and states allow their resources and structures to be used for these crimes, individual consciences, often poorly formed, are all the more easily led into error.
On Combatting Abortion and Euthanasia, 1991
Not only is the fact of the destruction of so many human lives still to be born or in their final stage extremely grave and disturbing, but no less grave and disturbing is the fact that conscience itself, darkened as it were by such widespread conditioning, is finding it increasingly difficult to distinguish between good and evil in what concerns the basic value of human life.
Life, especially human life, belongs only to God: for this reason whoever attacks human life, in some way attacks God himself.
Evangelium Vitae, 1995
His views on euthanasia, however, were not as extreme as some quotations made them out to be.
Regardless of intentions and circumstances, euthanasia is always an intrinsically evil act, a violation of God's law and an offence against the dignity of the human person.
Letter to the Elderly, 1999
Whether something counted as euthanasia depended on the intention of those involved. John Paul's definition of euthanasia followed the thinking of Pius XXII and he did not object to the use of medicine to relieve pain and suffering even if this did shorten life, since death was not the intention.
Nor did he regard it as euthanasia to abandon aggressive medical treatment. If death was clearly unavoidable, and would come soon, it was acceptable to refuse treatment that would only keep a person alive in a burdensome way.
In 2002, for example, the Pope criticised the use of extreme measures to keep terminally ill people alive.
He said that using medical techniques to preserve a patient's life "at all costs" could be "useless and not fully respectful of the patient". And he added "Certainly one cannot forget that man is a limited and mortal being... It's thus necessary to approach the ill with that healthy realism which avoids generating in those who suffer the illusion of medicine's omnipotence."
However, euthanasia just because a person regarded their life as not worth living was entirely unacceptable, and equivalent to suicide.
The last years of the Pope's life were darkened by serious illness. His courage and faith in the face of increasing ill-health were a powerful statement of his views on the sanctity of life.
Suicide he found as morally objectionable as murder.
In its deepest reality, suicide represents a rejection of God's absolute sovereignty over life and death...
Evangelium Vitae, 1995, 66
The Pope's views on the sacredness of human life made him totally opposed to abortion. And suggestions that the foetus in the womb was not a fully human being cut no ice at all.
The human being is to be respected and treated as a person from the moment of conception; and therefore from that same moment his rights as a person must be recognized, among which in the first place is the inviolable right of every innocent human being to life.
Instruction Donum Vitae
The life of the foetus was to be defended because of its inherent dignity,
... a dignity which belongs to the embryo and is not something conferred or granted by others, whether the genetic parents, the medical personnel or the State.
Foetus as a Patient, 2000
John Paul's teaching on abortion and euthanasia were in the tradition of centuries of Catholic teaching. His views on the death penalty, however, perhaps shaped by the horrors of the war, were hostile to it, where traditionally the church had accepted it both for its deterrent and its retributive effect.
While John Paul was clearly against the death penalty, his opposition was not total. There were certain circumstances "when it would not be possible otherwise to defend society" in which it would be acceptable, but such cases would be "very rare, if not practically non-existent".
The Pope spoke out against executions several times. During his visit to St. Louis in January, 1999, the governor of Missouri spared the life of a condemned man at the Pope's request. And during that visit the Pope said:
I renew the appeal I made ... for a consensus to end the death penalty, which is both cruel and unnecessary...the dignity of human life must never be taken away, even in the case of someone who has done great evil. Modern society has the means of protecting itself, without definitively denying criminals the chance to reform.
Pope John Paul II at St Louis, USA, 1999
And the Pope included the death penalty in the pro-life issues raised at his meeting with President George W Bush in July 2001.
The unity of all divided humanity is the will of God.
Ut Unum Sint, 6
John Paul II made many gestures to bring the Roman Catholic Church closer to the other Christian churches and to other faiths. He did this without any compromise of Roman Catholic doctrine.
When Christians pray together, the goal of unity seems closer.
Ut Unum Sint, 22
In 1986 at Assisi, he organised a day of prayer for world peace which was attended by more than 150 representatives of the world’s major religions including the Dalai Lama, the Archbishop of Canterbury, American Indians smoking a pipe of peace and even African spirit worshippers.
Through his revolutionary encyclical on Christian unity Ut Unum Sint (That They May Be One) in 1995, John Paul invited other Christian leaders to help redefine his ministry as Pope; something that had never been done before.
In a speech in Athens in 2001 John Paul II re-emphasised the importance that he gave to friendship between the churches:
Division between Christians is a sin before God and a scandal before the world. It is a hindrance to the spread of the Gospel, because it makes our proclamation less credible.
The Catholic Church is convinced that she must do all in her power to prepare the way of the Lord and to make straight his paths (Mt 3:3); and she understands that this must be done in company with other Christians – in fraternal dialogue, in cooperation and in prayer.
Address to Holy Synod, Athens, May 4, 2001
But some reconciliations were not achieved: the dialogue on Christian unity between Rome and the Anglican Church, which Archbishop Michael Ramsey and Pope Paul VI had begun in 1968, foundered. The final stumbling block was the Pope’s strong reaffirmation of an exclusively male priesthood after the Anglican Church started to ordain women priests.
The Catholic Church desires nothing less than full communion between East and West.
Ut Unum Sint, 61
Hopes of reunion with the Orthodox churches - estranged from Rome for a thousand years - remained remote, despite papal visits to Romania and Georgia, Greece and Ukraine. In 2001, in Athens, the Pope made the first apology to the Orthodox world for Catholic sins of the past, saying:
For the occasions past and present, when sons and daughters of the Catholic Church have sinned by action or omission against their Orthodox brothers and sisters, may the Lord grant us the forgiveness we beg of him.
Address to Holy Synod, Athens, May 4, 2001
And he particularly mentioned the sacking of the Orthodox city of Constantinople by Catholic Crusaders in 1204, an act still unforgiven. The Pope went on to praise the Greek Orthodox Church:
The universal Church can never forget what Greek Christianity has given her, nor cease to give thanks for the enduring influence of the Greek tradition.
Address to Holy Synod, Athens, May 4, 2001
After this apology the Pope was embraced by Greece's Orthodox leader, Archbishop Christodoulos.
The Pope's 2001 visit to Ukraine was marked by great hostility from the Orthodox. The Pope's success in re-establishing one of the Catholic Eastern rite churches, the Ukrainian Catholic Church, which had been dissolved by Stalin, had not endeared him to the Russian Orthodox church.
The head of that church, Alexy II, complained that the Pope had entered Russian territory to poach for converts and refused to meet him until he expressed regret for alleged violence carried out by his followers against Orthodox communities in Ukraine, including beating Orthodox priests, harassing believers and demolishing churches.
The head of the Orthodox in Ukraine, Metropolitan Volodimyr, failed to attend a meeting of reconciliation in Kiev to which he was invited, preferring to attend the consecration of a new church in another country.
But in 2004 things became more hopeful. The Vatican and the Russian Orthodox Church agreed to set up a joint working group to try to improve relations.
And on a visit to Moscow Cardinal Walter Kasper returned a precious icon to the Russian Orthodox Church as a personal gift from John Paul II.
The image, an 18th-Century copy of one of Russia's most sacred images, the Virgin of Kazan, was bought in the West by Roman Catholics in 1970, and had been hanging above the Pope's desk in the Vatican.
Also that year the Pope returned the relics of two early Christian saints to Bartholomew I, Patriarch of Constantinople and spiritual leader of some 300 million Orthodox Christians. The relics had been kept in St Peter's in Rome for more than 800 years. The Patriarch responded generously, saying, "this brotherly gesture by the church of Ancient Rome confirms that in the church of Christ there are no problems which are insurmountable, when love, justice and peace meet."
We believe in the same God, the one God, the living God, the God who created the world and brings his creatures to their perfection.
Speech to young Muslims, Casablanca (1985)
John Paul II made significant moves towards closer relationships with Muslims. In 1985 he spoke to a gathering of 50,000 young Muslims in Morocco, at the invitation of the King. His visit to the Umayyad mosque in Damascus in 2001 broke new ground as a symbol of harmony between Christianity and Islam. During the visit the Pope said that Muslims and Christians should be in "respectful dialogue, nevermore as communities in conflict". And he added, "for all the times that Muslims and Christians have offended one another, we need to seek forgiveness from the Almighty and offer each other forgiveness".
During the visit to Syria the Pope also called for greater understanding and respect between the followers of the "three Abrahamic religions" (Judaism, Islam, Christianity).
However, one should not take this call for harmony as suggesting anything other than a way of coexisting in the face of profound differences.
In his book On the Threshold of Hope, John Paul showed his conviction that Islam had discarded much that was essential, by making God exist outside of the world: "a God who is only Majesty, never Emmanuel, God-with-us," and by not being "a religion of redemption". John Paul was clear that "not only the theology but also the anthropology of Islam is very distant from Christianity".
We Christians recognize that the Jewish religious heritage is intrinsic to our own faith: you are our elder brothers.
Address at the Rome Synagogue, April 1986
John Paul II had known Jewish people from an early age. He had been brought up as a child playing with Jews in Poland. No other pope had had such a close experience of Jewish culture so it was not surprising that he went further than any other pope to restore friendship between the Vatican and the Jewish people.
I remember...the Wadowice elementary school, where at least a fourth of the pupils in my class were Jewish.
I can vividly remember the Jews who gathered every Saturday at the synagogue behind our school. Both religious groups, Catholics and Jews, were united, I presume, by the awareness that they prayed to the same God.
Despite their different languages, prayers in the church and in the synagogue were based to a considerable degree on the same texts.
Crossing the Threshold of Hope
John Paul lost many people he knew during the Holocaust, so anti-Semitism was a reality that he had experienced. Furthermore he had experienced the anti-semitism of the Church, having heard the viciously anti-Jewish remarks made by an earlier Polish Cardinal.
For more than 20 years John Paul II pursued a consistent policy of moving the Church towards a historic reconciliation with the Jewish people. He was the first Pope to visit a Jewish synagogue and Auschwitz. He made a dramatic apology for a history of Christian anti-Semitism, and throughout his papacy spoke strongly against any form of anti-Jewish sentiment. In spring 2000 he went to Israel as a pilgrim.
Before the Second Vatican Council, the Roman Catholic Church had blamed the Jews for the Crucifixion. There are claims that during the Holocaust Pope Pius XII had been less than proactive in his actions to protect the Jews.
The document Nostra Aetate had gone some way to recognise the vast spiritual heritage that Christians and Jews had in common, and John Paul capitalised on this.
He believed that he should work for a new era of reconciliation and peace between Jews and Christians, and he pledged (March 2000) that the Catholic Church would do everything possible to ensure that it was not just a dream but a reality.
One of John Paul's first acts of reconciliation was to pay a visit to the synagogue in Rome in 1986. (His predecessor, John XXIII had stopped his car outside the synagogue once to bless people leaving the sabbath service.) In 1993, the Vatican gave diplomatic recognition to Israel, and in 1998 he formally apologised for the failure of Catholics to help Jews during the Holocaust.
The apology in March 1998 also acknowledged that Christian anti-semitism might have made Nazi persecution of the Jews easier. The Pope described the Holocaust as "an indelible stain on the 20th century." But many Jewish organisations felt that the apology did not go far enough.
In March 2000 he apologised for wrongs inflicted on Jews down the ages, although he did not explicitly mention the Holocaust.
During his visit to Israel John Paul said:
We hope that the Jewish people will acknowledge that the Church utterly condemns anti-Semitism and every form of racism as being altogether opposed to the principles of Christianity.
We must work together to build a future in which there will be no more anti-Judaism among Christians or anti-Christian sentiment among Jews.
John Paul II during visit to the Chief Rabbis of Israel, March 2000
As Bishop of Rome and Successor of the Apostle Peter, I assure the Jewish people that the Catholic Church, motivated by the Gospel law of truth, and love, and by no political considerations, is deeply saddened by the hatred, acts of persecution and displays of anti-Semitism directed against the Jews by Christians at any time and in any place.
John Paul II during visit to Yad Vashem Holocaust museum, March 2000
But although the Pope called for a new relationship between the Christian and Jewish faiths based on their common roots, he stopped short of the apology many Israelis had sought for the silence of the Catholic Church during the Holocaust. Nor did he condemn explicitly the Nazi persecution of the Jews.
For many, Jew and Catholic alike, the longed-for apology was acted out, even if not spoken, when the Pope walked in the footsteps of uncounted millions of Jews to the Western Wall in Jerusalem, and put a prayer for forgiveness and togetherness into the wall...
God of our fathers, you chose Abraham and his descendants to bring your name to the nations.
We are deeply saddened by the behavior of those who in the course of history have caused these children of yours to suffer.
And asking your forgiveness, we wish to commit ourselves to genuine brotherhood with the people of the covenant.
Pope John Paul II's prayer at the Western Wall
Some of John Paul's actions have brought criticism from Jewish groups.
He did not shun the Austrian president, Kurt Waldheim, despite much public disquiet about his role in war crimes.
Many commentators thought that John Paul's apology in Israel did not go far enough, but any stronger apology would have implied criticism of the wartime Pope, Pius XII, and popes do not criticise other popes.
John Paul was heavily criticised for some of his choices for sainthood.
Pius XII is on the road to sainthood, despite much criticism of his failure to take strong enough action against Nazi anti-semitism.
Nor was Pius XII the only controversial papal candidate for canonisation. Pius IX, pope between 1846 and 1878, was notoriously anti-Semitic: he had forced the Jews of Rome into a ghetto, baptised their children by force, and restricted their rights. He is also accused of kidnapping a Jewish child and raising him as his own son. Some people saw John Paul's apology to the Jews as hypocritical in the context of the Vatican decision to beatify Pius IX.
Another controversial candidate for sainthood whom John Paul II beatified was the Croatian wartime Archbishop, Cardinal Stepinac, whom Jewish groups accuse of collaborating with the Nazi regime in Croatia.
Jews were also offended by the canonisation of Edith Stein, a Jewish convert to Catholicism who became a nun and died in Auschwitz. It was the first occasion since Bible times that a Jewish-born person had been made a saint, but Jewish groups claimed that she had been killed for her Jewish origins, and not as a martyr to her Catholic faith - the reason for her canonisation.
Another controversial saint was Maximilian Kolbe, a Polish Franciscan monk who died at Auschwitz in the place of another prisoner who had been condemned to death. Kolbe had edited an anti-semitic magazine in Poland before the war.
In 2005 the Pope was involved in controversy when his new book controversially compared abortion and the Holocaust. In his fifth book, Memory and Identity, he said both were the result of governments clashing with divine law.
The Pope wrote that both abortion and the mass murder of six million Jews came about as a result of people usurping the "law of God" beneath the guise of democracy.
It was a legally elected parliament which allowed for the election of Hitler in Germany in the 1930s...
We have to question the legal regulations that have been decided in the parliaments of present day democracies. The most direct association which comes to mind is the abortion laws...
Parliaments which create and promulgate such laws must be aware that they are transgressing their powers and remain in open conflict with the law of God and the law of nature.
John Paul II, Memory and Identity, 2005
The president of Germany's Central Council for Jews, Paul Spiegel, linked the remarks to statements by Roman Catholic Cardinal Joachim Meisner in January comparing abortions to the repressions of Hitler and Stalin. "The Catholic Church does not understand or does not want to understand that there is an enormous difference between mass genocide and what women do with their bodies."
But Cardinal Josef Ratzinger - the man who later became Pope Benedict XVI - said John Paul II was not equating abortion with the Holocaust.
"He calls our attention to the permanent temptations for humanity, and on the need to take care not to fall into the pitfalls of evil," the cardinal said at the book launch.
On Sunday 28 September 2003 Pope John Paul II named 31 new cardinals. This added new energy to the ongoing debate about who the next pope might be.
The official ceremony in which the cardinals were given their red hats took place in the same week as the 25th anniversary of John Paul's election as Pope.
The appointments were the Pope's last chance to affect the papal succession. The new cardinals joined the elite group who chose the next Pope.
When a Pope dies, around 120 cardinals travel to the Vatican for his funeral and for the election of his successor. Although there are more than 120 cardinals worldwide, those over the age of 80 are not eligible to vote.
The new batch of cardinals included archbishops from Nigeria, France, Sudan, Spain, Scotland, Brazil, Ghana, India, Australia, Croatia, Vietnam, Guatemala, Hungary, Canada, Italy and the USA.
Observers thought the national mix of the new cardinals made a European pope very likely, since 18 of the new electors came from Europe. Nonetheless there was a strong group hoping for a pope from the Third World, the area where Catholicism is strongest. High quality candidates from Latin America and Nigeria were put forward. However, the election of the German Cardinal Josef Ratzinger - Pope Benedict XVI - in 2005 to be John Paul's successor came as little surprise.
The BBC's correspondent in Rome describes the scenes as mourners arrived to see the Pope's lying-in-state.
Every street was thronged with people - pilgrims and worshippers, all heading in the general direction of St Peter's Square, where the carabinieri marshalled the faithful who had waited patiently for four or five hours to file past the body of Pope John Paul II inside the basilica.
It was almost impossible to get anywhere in a straight line. It was certainly not practical to take a different direction to the great mass of piligrims. Pedestrians just had to go with the flow, tacking and weaving like sailing ships coping with contrary currents and winds in order to reach their destinations.
To make life easier for the pilgrims there were water stations everywhere to help people through the fierce daytime heat, and blanket stations to restore those caught out by the cold Italian night and temporary portable lavatories in many places.
Hotel rooms commanded premium prices. Some travellers complained of having their bookings 'gazumped'. And the Italian authorities, remembering that 2 million people came to Rome for the Pope's 25th anniversary, made sports venues available as camp grounds for the predicted 4 million people attending the funeral.
Broadcasters, including the BBC, laid claim to rooftops and balconies with a good view of the Vatican. A two-tier scaffold mushroomed in St Peter's Square for the cameras. The BBC team, on the Gianicolo Hill overlooking the Vatican with their American and Spanish counterparts, was fresh from covering the Pope's Requiem Mass at Westminster Cathedral.
Being in Rome made one thing abundantly clear - this is not, after all, a secular world.
As the time of the funeral got closer life in Rome got more difficult. Pilgrims continued to pour into the city and the authorities closed the bridges, making journeys even more circuitous.
The 74-year-old British pilgrim Terence Burns arrived in Rome to represent his eight children, ten grandchildren and two great grandchildren. Terence travelled from Widnes to Manchester Airport on his scooter. When he landed in Rome he travelled straight to St Peter's and after seeing the Pope he planned to travel straight back to the UK, as he had nowhere to stay. Terence's last visit to Rome was for the canonisation of Padre Pio.
The BBC team managed to get everything ready in time despite the unexpected hurdle of finding that their studio site had been moved from the planned location and now had a large tree growing in the middle of it. A swift bit of redesign and a quick makeover of the building and all was ready for Huw Edwards and his guests to introduce the Funeral Mass.
Despite the crowds and the exhaustion, everyone agreed that it was an amazing privilege to be in Rome on this occasion - a milestone in everyone's life, to be remembered for ever.
On 1st May 2011 John Paul II was beatified by his successor Benedict XVI in a ceremony in St Peter's. Beatification, or declaring a person "blessed", is the necessary prelude to full sainthood. Just over a quarter of all popes from the time of St Peter onwards have been put on the path to sainthood by their successors.
Be not afraid: because nothing - not even death - can separate us from the love of God.
Pope John Paul II
Denis Nowlan reads a meditation on the Pope's life. He reads some of John Paul II's best loved prayers and remembers his great faith.
Sunday Worship's Service of Thanksgiving for the Life of Pope John Paul II from Liverpool's Metropolitan Cathedral on Sunday 10th April 2005
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