Vatican City - Leadership

As the head of the Roman Catholic Church, the pope has an international constituency. Given the ever greater complexity of society, however, religious authorities can no longer assume that believers will automatically accept all, or perhaps even most, of the tenets of their religion. This is especially true when church dogma conflicts with personal beliefs, an especially common phenomenon today in industrialized countries. John Paul II has addressed this issue directly by reinforcing church teachings through numerous public addresses and visits to foreign countries. His message continues to be a call for greater reliance on spiritual faith and condemnation of what he sees as an overemphasis on material goods. In this regard, he is considered a conservative on Catholic doctrine.

In many ways, John Paul II is seen as one who has revolutionized the office of the modern pope. He has traveled more than any of his predecessors, logging in hundreds of meetings with world leaders and earning the nickname of "Pilgrim Pope." With his outgoing nature he has encountered more individuals than any other pope. He is on record as having celebrated the largest Mass ever, when an estimated 1.2 million people attended his Mass in Dublin, Ireland on 30 September 1979. His weekly audiences, or public appearances, at the Vatican attract such huge crowds that the meetings have had to be moved from Saint Peter's Church to the square outside. During one such appearance there in May 1981, John Paul II was shot and seriously wounded by Mehmet Ali Agca, a Turkish terrorist. Pope John Paul II completely recovered from the attack.

As Bishop of Rome he has visited 301 of the 334 parishes of that city. He has presided at 131 beatification ceremonies, through which 1,282 "blesseds" were proclaimed, and 43 canonization ceremonies, through which 456 new saints were proclaimed. Besides being an accomplished philosopher well-versed in Marxist theory, he has also written a number of books, including: The Place Within: The Poetry of John Paul II (1982); Crossing the Threshold of Hope (October 1994); Gift and Mystery: On the 50th Anniversary of My Priestly Ordination (November 1996); My Dear Young Friends: Pope John Paul II Speaks to Teens (2001); and Every Child a Light (2002), as well as several treatises dealing with religion, literary poems, and plays. He has recorded an album of religious hymns and once enjoyed staying physically fit through both swimming, jogging, and even skiing. In 2001 his physician acknowledged that John Paul II suffered from Parkinson's disease.

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