From USA Today :
"Be not afraid," Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, the brilliant Polish theologian, said on the October 1978 day when he became Pope John Paul II.
And it seemed he never was - spiritually, morally, politically or physically - until his death April 2 from heart and kidney failure while thousands prayed in St. Peter's Square.
During his historic 26-year papacy, John Paul II carried his radiant faith and fierce convictions to the ends of the earth as Roman Catholicism's unmovable defender.
By last spring, however, the once-robust pope, who skied in his youth and hiked the Italian hills, was physically ravaged by injury and illness. He had withstood six surgeries and borne uncomplainingly the symptoms of Parkinson's disease.
Yet, even in his last decade, as his back froze in a stoop, his voice slurred and his hands shook, John Paul II kept his laser-sharp gaze on his flock.
And they on him. "John Paul the Great!" they cried as they choked the streets for his funeral Mass, televised in places where no pope before him had ever been.
By his death at age 84, John Paul II had journeyed more than 700,000 miles, about 1½ round-trips to the moon. He saw the map of the world transformed by political and social revolution and the landscape of the spirit quake with cultural upheaval.
Since St. Peter established the papacy, only Pope Pius IX served longer as the Vicar of Christ. John Paul outlived the Nazis, outwitted the Communists of the USSR and survived a 1981 assassination attempt.
He challenged communism, socialism, materialism and relativism, inspiring 1.1 billion Catholics and countless admirers worldwide. He also changed the map of personal faith, with his deep devotion to the Virgin Mary and his addition to the rosary prayers of new meditations on Jesus' life.
He created more cardinals, named more bishops than ever in history, recognized more saints than the previous 17 popes combined. And he made an unprecedented plea for pardon for 2,000 years of grave errors by sons and daughters of the Church.
Yet not all was well for the Church on his watch. Catholicism expanded in Africa and held ground against vigorous Protestant proselytizing in South America, but Mass attendance plummeted in Europe and slid in the USA. He was admired but hardly obeyed by many of the USA's 67 million Catholics. His opposition to the 1991 Gulf War and the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq was politely ignored in Washington.
The Vatican took years to respond to a global crisis of sexual abuse by clergy. By the time the U.S. scandal exploded in 2002, more than 5,000 priests had abused thousands of children and teens over half a century, said a study by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. The news outraged the faithful, costing the U.S. church $1 billion at last count.
But in the Church, John Paul could, and did, enforce his vision.
He reeled in Catholic institutions to toe the doctrinal lines in teaching, booted dissident theologians and muted the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which once issued powerful letters on war and economics. Women were told that the male-only priesthood was settled doctrine that no pope couldchange. Meanwhile, he praised celibacy for priests - a tradition he had the authority to change but never did.
He flatly denounced dissent from official Church stands denouncing abortion, birth control, homosexual behavior, euthanasia and the death penalty.
"Freedom," John Paul II often said, "consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought."