He Knew How to Pope
A Protestant onlooker at one of Karol Wojtyla's 104 road trips once cracked, "You got a Pope who knows how to pope." And then some. Before his 26-year papacy's illness-plagued dénouement, John Paul II expanded his role to include media star, mega-evangelist and (after meeting a would-be assassin) model of forgiveness. Yet his deeds, rooted in personal history, outstripped his image. The childhood playmate of subsequent Holocaust victims later cemented his church's new stance as a friend to Jews. The cleric from communist Poland became co-architect of the Soviet Empire's peaceful fall. The product of both a rigorous university education and the conservative Polish hierarchy decisively and eloquently turned the Roman Catholic Church rightward, embittering liberation theologians, women aspiring to the priesthood and those Western Catholics who had come to see freedom of conscience as a sometime counterweight to obedience. Thus some will never subscribe to the posthumous movement dubbing him "John Paul the Great." But John Paul the Significant would be understatement.