Pope John Paul II
The first non-Italian Roman Catholic pope in 456 years, His Holiness Pope John Paul II was born Karol Wojtyla in Wadowice, Poland, in 1920. Ordained a priest in 1946, he became a professor of philosophy at the Catholic University of Lublin and the University of Kraków. In 1978, he began his reign as one of the most active pontiffs in history. After surviving a 1981 assassination attempt by Mehmet Ali Agca, he visited Agca in his cell and forgave him. A conservative on social issues, His Holiness has traveled throughout both the Catholic and non-Catholic world- including in recent years Cuba and the Middle East-as a vocal proponent of human rights and peace.
He died on April 2, 2005 and his funeral is estimated to have been the largest single Christian pilgrimage in history with several million Catholics gathered in the streets of Rome to pay their respects.