John Paul IIPope / Religious Figure
Born: 18 May 1920
Died: 2 April 2005
Birthplace: Wadowice, Poland
Best known as: History's first Polish pope
Karol Wojtyla was elected pope on 16 October 1978, becoming the Catholic Church's first non-Italian pontiff in over 450 years. He took the name John Paul II as a nod to his predecessor, John Paul I, whose term lasted only one month. John Paul II became known particularly for his globetrotting ways; as pope he visited more than 100 countries worldwide. He was also known as a champion of human rights and for his conservative positions on social issues like abortion, homosexuality and contraception. He survived an assassination attempt in 1981 when a Turk named Mehmet Ali Agca shot him in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican. John Paul II was hit four times and nearly died while being rushed to surgery, but he lived and publicly forgave Agca. John Paul II marked his 20th year as pope in 1998, making him the longest-serving pontiff of the 20th century. By then he was struggling with increasingly poor health, visibly suffering from the slurred speech and trembling hands of Parkinson's Disease. He received the last rites of the church on 31 March 2005, after suffering what church officials called "septic shock and a cardio-circulatory collapse" brought on by a urinary tract infection. John Paul II died in his apartments at the Vatican on 2 April 2005 and was succeeded by his friend and aide, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who became Pope Benedict XVI on 19 April 2005. John Paul II was beatified by Benedict XVI on 1 May 2011, putting the late pope one step from sainthood. The beatification came more quickly than is normally possible: soon after Benedict XVI took office, he waived the usual five-year waiting period so that the Vatican's Congregation for the Causes of Saints could begin considering John Paul II immediately.
Extra credit: In Italian, the pope's name was Giovanni Paolo II; in Latin, Ioannes Paulus II... Pius IX had the longest term as pope in modern history; he served more than 31 years from 1846-78... John Paul II died just four days before another longtime European head of state, Rainier III of Monaco... The pope's funeral on 8 April 2005 forced the rescheduling of the marriage of Britain's Prince Charles to Camilla Parker-Bowles, which had been planned for that same day... Mehmet Ali Agca, the man who shot John Paul II in 1981, was pardoned in 2000 at the pope's request. He then spent several years in a Turkish prison before his release in 2010.
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