If John Paul was a traditionalist in matters of personal morality, he was a radical innovator in how he chose to communicate his teachings. Although a critic of the mass consumer culture, the pope skillfully mastered the tools of mass communication and marketing to bring his message to unprecedented numbers of people. Filling baseball stadiums like a rock star, possessed of a remarkable flair for imagery and dramatic gesture, he used the media as shrewdly as any modern politician. He installed an enormous television screen inside St. Peter's Basilica and armed the Vatican with advanced satellite broadcasting technology. But unlike most politicians, he refused to follow opinion polls or tailor his words to please his audience. With remarkable success, he found a way of delivering an ancient message through the language and imagery of the information age.
Our photo gallery spans the pope's youth to his last days at the vatican.
"He realizes the power of television," U.S. Archbishop John Foley, in charge of the Vatican's council for communications, told U.S. News in 1994. "He has a marvelous communications personality, he has a marvelous face and a beautiful rich voice, and he has that gift for languages and that knowledge of the importance of the symbolic gesture, which is very good from a media point of view."
For the opening of the Marian year he had proclaimed, the pope recited the rosary in Rome's Basilica of St. Mary. Sixteen Marian shrines around the world in turn broadcast their rosary responses back to Rome"more than a million people in those actual shrines and tens of millions linked by television," Foley recalled. "The program was even telecast into churches, and people came to watch the live telecast and pray along with the people. So it was people united in prayer for peace through television, a marvelous example of how the medium can be used to bring together people from many different languages, many different cultures, in a common experience."
Especially symbolism. In 1987, during a stop in Los Angeles, John Paul embraced the legs of a young man without arms who had just played the guitar with his toes and then kissed the pope's heada moment that came to symbolize his trip. When Foley asked John Paul about the episode, the pope responded: "I don't plan those things; they're spontaneous. But I realize the importance of symbols, of symbolic actions." The pope told Foley that the word symbol came from the Greek symballein, to bring together, the opposite of the Greek word, diaballein, to break apart, which is the root of the word for devil. "And he said that a symbolic action which is really authentic can bring people together and it can counteract the forces of evil."
Using every means, from satellite communications to jet air travel, to promote spiritual values, economic justice, and peace, Pope John Paul II's charismatic presence changed the whole relationship between the Vatican and the world. "He has personalized the papacy," noted the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, then archbishop of Chicago, during John Paul's final years. "He has brought the papacy to the people. He has not stayed behind the walls of the Vatican... I don't think that any pope in the future is going to be able to isolate himself or to stay here in Rome, in the Vatican, and let people come to him. I think that it's now expected that...the pastor of the universal church...must go to where the people are."