In a series of important actions, he sought to improve relations with Jews. In 1986, he became the first pope to visit the synagogue of Romewhere Jews once lived in a ghetto established by the Vatican. In his speech that day, he called Jews "our elder brothers" and stated that "with Judaism...we have a relationship which we do not have with any other religion." In 1993, the Vatican established normal diplomatic relations with Israel. And in 2000, the pope lit a candle at the Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem.
Our photo gallery spans the pope's youth to his last days at the vatican.
John Paul believed he had a divine mission to lead the church into the third millennium and a central part of that mission was to restore unity among Christianity's many denominations. With that in mind, he met repeatedly with the archbishop of Canterbury to try to heal the four-century rift between the Vatican and the Church of England created by the divorce of King Henry VIII. But relations became strained when the Anglican Church decided in 1993 to allow the ordination of female priests. With evident sadness, John Paul declared, "Christianity emerges from the second millennium, unlike the first, divided." In 2001, he met with the head of the Greek Orthodox Church in Athens, resulting in a slight thaw in the centuries-old east-west schism.
Perhaps more than any other issue, the role of women in the church remained one of John Paul's greatest unresolved problems. "The pope attacks biblical fundamentalism, but his approach to women's ministry is absurdly fundamentalist," wrote the Catholic author Garry Wills in a review of John Paul's 1994 book Crossing the Threshold of Hope. "Jesus chose only men apostles...so there is something essentially male about priesthood. Yet he also chose only Jews, who spoke Aramaic, who were married...and those requirements are not imposed in modern conditions."
In similar fashion, John Paul defended the celibate priesthood, saying that it helps promote marital fidelity. "By this standard," Wills wrote, "Jews or Protestants, lacking a celibate priesthood, would be incapable of marital fidelity." How, Wills asked, "can the pope be so intellectually probing and honest, yet so closed and simplistic on certain matters (all having to do with sex)? This is a conundrum his biographers will have a hard time reading... The great mysteries of faith have become, for many inside the church as well as outside, the 'doctrines' on contraception and abortion. These are hardly great concerns in the Gospels and the letters of St. Paul, which never mention them. But they crowd out most other talk of Catholic beliefs in modern conversation. For this, the current pope must bear some of the blame."
The Vatican's rigidity on the issues of women, birth control, and priestly celibacy could continue to cost the church support around the world. "If the revolt keeps spreading, however, he may leave behind at the end of his pontificate a much reduced but hard-core, highly militant, and fully obedient church," wrote Szulc, who rightly predicted that John Paul, "a fighter," would "prefer to take losses than to compromise."