Pope John Paul II was born Karol Joseph Wojtyla in Wadowice, Poland, on May 18th, 1920.
John Paul was the son of a foundry worker and a former school teacher.
He became the first non-Italian to become pope in nearly five centuries with his election on October 16th, 1978. He followed Pope John Paul I, who died after only 33 days as leader of the Catholic Church. When John Paul II became pontiff at the age of 58, he was the youngest in more than a century. And in many ways, he was the first modern pope -- presiding not just over Masses, but also over pop concerts.
John Paul survived Nazism, Communism and an assassin's bullet in 1981, and left a mark on the Church that will be felt well into the next century. He appointed most of the Cardinals who will select his successor.
During his tenure as leader of the world's 950 million Roman Catholics he did his utmost to see all of them -- visiting more than 100 countries.
His outdoor Masses before tens of thousands -- sometimes millions of people -- became a hallmark of his foreign travels.
Wherever he went -- as well as in his writings -- John Paul waged a moral crusade against what he saw as the corruption of modern life -- especially abortion.
He reaffirmed the church's ban on artificial birth control and denounced divorce, sex outside marriage and homosexuality.
He demanded celibacy of priests and reaffirmed the church's ban on women priests.
In recent years, health problems had slowed John Paul. In July 1992, doctors removed a benign tumor from his colon. In November 1993, he dislocated his right shoulder in a fall. And in April 1994, he broke his leg in another fall and had hip replacement surgery.