John Paul II (Vatican City State)
Karol Józef Wojtyła, a Pole, was elected by the College of Cardinals to succeed Pope John Paul I in 1978. The 264th pope, he was the first from outside Italy since the Dutch Hadrian VI in 1523. Wojtyła played an important role in dismantling East European communism and had sought to build bridges with other major world religions, particularly Judaism. He had also sought closer relations with the Orthodox Eastern Church. Socially conservative, he re-enforced Vatican opposition to homosexual practices, abortion, contraception and the ordination of women. He also undertook many trips abroad, preaching to millions.
Wojtyła was born in Wadowice, near Kraków, in Poland on 18 May 1920. His father served with the Polish army. His mother died when he was eight and his elder brother died 4 years later. Wojtyła enrolled at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków from 1938 but his studies were interrupted by the German invasion of Poland the following year. After a brief...