Born Karol Wojtyla on May 18, 1920, in Wadowice, Poland, a town near Krakow, John Paul II has been the first pope of the third millennium, and the third-longest serving Pope, having led the Roman Catholic Church for 26 years.
Elected pope in 1978 at the age of 58 (the youngest pontiff in 132 years) John Paul was a man of contrasts, who championed human rights and challenged dictators. At the same time, he was criticized for his conservative vision of theology.
He was the first non-Italian Pope since Adrian VI in 1522, the most traveled pope in history, and the most hospitalized Pope.
Over the years, he underwent nine operations, surviving an assassination attempt in 1981. He developed arthritis and Parkinson's disease and died on April 2, 2005.