Showing posts with label Pope Benedict XVI. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Pope Benedict XVI. Show all posts

15 February 2024

Carlo Maria Martini – Cardinal

Liberal leanings prevented scholar’s elevation to the papacy

Carlo Maria Martini, a liberal within the Catholic Church, lost out to papal rival Joseph Ratzinger
Carlo Maria Martini, a liberal within the Catholic
Church, lost out to papal rival Joseph Ratzinger 
Carlo Maria Martini, who was once a candidate to become pope, was born on this day in 1927 in Orbassano in the province of Turin.

As Cardinal Martini, he was known to be tolerant in areas of sexuality and strong on ecumenism, and he was the leader of the liberal opposition to Pope John Paul II. He published more than 50 books, which sold millions of copies worldwide.

Martini, who expressed views in his lifetime on the need for the Catholic Church to update itself, was a contender for the papacy in the 2005 conclave and, according to Vatican sources at the time, he received more votes than Joseph Ratzinger in the first round. 

But Ratzinger, who was considered the more conservative of the candidates, ended up with a higher number of votes in subsequent rounds and was elected Pope Benedict XVI.

Martini had entered the Jesuit order in 1944 when he was 17 and he was ordained at the age of 25, which was considered unusually early.

His doctoral theses, in theology at the Gregorian University and in scripture at the Pontifical Biblical Institute, were thought to be so brilliant that they were immediately published.

After completing his studies, Martini had a successful academic career. He edited scholarly works and became active in the scientific field, publishing articles and books. He had the honour of being the only Catholic member of the ecumenical committee that prepared the new Greek edition of the New Testament. He became dean of the faculty of scripture at the Biblical Institute, was rector from 1969 to 1978, and then rector of the Gregorian University. 

In his later years, suffering from Parkinson's disease, Martini moved to Jerusalem
In his later years, suffering from Parkinson's
disease, Martini moved to Jerusalem
In 1979, he was appointed Archbishop of Milan, which was considered unusual, as Jesuits are not normally named bishops. He was made a cardinal in 1983. 

He started the so-called ‘cathedra of non-believers’ in 1987, an idea he conceived with philosopher Massimo Cacciari. He held a series of public dialogues in Milan with agnostic, or atheist, scientists, and intellectuals about the reasons to believe in God.

He was presented with an honorary doctorate from the Russian Academy of Sciences in 1996 and an award for Social Sciences in 2000. In the same year, Martini was admitted as a member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences.

In 2012, Pope Benedict XVI was considering retirement, but was being urged against it by some of his confidants. By then, Martini was himself suffering from Parkinson’s disease and he encouraged the Pope to go ahead with his decision to retire.

After his own retirement, Martini moved to Jerusalem to continue his work as a biblical scholar. 

He died in Gallarate in the province of Varese in 2012. More than 150,000 people passed before his casket in the Duomo di Milano. The Italian Government was represented by Prime Minister Mario Monti and his wife. Martini was buried in a tomb on the left side of the cathedral facing the main altar.

Piazza Umberto I in Orbassano, overlooked by the parish church of San Giovanni Battista
Piazza Umberto I in Orbassano, overlooked by
the parish church of San Giovanni Battista
Travel tip:

Orbassano, the comune (municipality) where Martini was born, is about 13km (8 miles) southwest of Turin, falling within the Piedmont capital's municipal area. It can trace its history back to the Roman conquest of Cisalpine Gaul because two imperial era tombstones were found there in the 19th century. The Indian politician, Sonia Gandi, was brought up in Orbassano, although she was born near Vicenza. While studying at Cambridge, Sonia met Rajiv Gandi, who she married in 1968. The couple settled in India and had a family but he was assassinated in his home country in 1991.  Orbassano has a pleasant central square, the Piazza Umberto I, the site of the town's two main churches, the parish church of San Giovanni Battista and the Baroque church of the Confraternita dello Spirito Santo, in which the artworks include a Pentecost by Giovanni Andrea Casella from 1647 and a Madonna and saints by Michele Antonio Milocco from 1754.

Book your stay in Orbassano with

Liberty-style villas built by architect Carlo Moroni and his partner, Filippo Tenconi, abound in Gallarate
Liberty-style villas built by architect Carlo Moroni
and his partner, Filippo Tenconi, abound in Gallarate 
Travel tip:

Gallarate, where Martini died after he spent his final years living in a Jesuit house, is a small city in the province of Varese, about 42km (26 miles) northwest of Milan. It has a Romanesque church, San Pietro, which dates from the 11th century. In Piazza Garibaldi, where there is a statue of Giuseppe Garibaldi, there is an historic pharmacy, Dahò, where members of the Carbonari used to hide out during the 19th century.  Founded by the Gauls and later conquered by the Romans, Gallarate enjoyed prosperity under Visconti control in the 14th and 15th centuries, when the area's textile industry began to develop and grow. By the 19th and 20th centuries, it was an important industrial city, where thousands of workers were employed in Liberty-style factory buildings. The heavy industry has largely gone now, with high-tech businesses a features of the city's modern economy, but the architectural echoes remain. Piazza Garibaldi also features Casa Bellora, a Stile Liberty mansion commissioned by the local captain of industry, Carlo Bellora, who had factories in Gallarate, Somma, Albizzate, and in the Bergamo area, who hired the architect Carlo Moroni to build a house for his family.  Moroni and the engineer Filippo Tenconi combined to build numerous villas in what is known as the 'Liberty district' between Corso Sempione and the railway. 

Find accommodation in Gallarate with

More reading:

How the first railway line in northern Italy sparked 19th century boom

Karol Wojtyla - the first non-Italian pope for 455 years

Carlo Maria Viganò, the controversial archbishop who shocked Catholic Church

Also on this day:

1564: The birth of astronomer and physicist Galileo Galilei

1898: The birth of comic actor Totò

1910: The birth of circus clown Charlie Cairoli

1944: Monte Cassino Abbey destroyed in WW2 bombing raid

(Picture credits: Main picture by Mafon1959; older Carlo Martini by RaminusFalcon; Piazza Umberto I by Simoneislanda; via Wikimedia Commons)



16 January 2020

Carlo Maria Viganò - controversial archbishop

Former papal ambassador who shocked Catholic Church

Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò was papal ambassador in the United States
Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò was papal
ambassador in the United States
Carlo Maria Viganò, the controversial former Apostolic Nuncio to the United States who was twice at the centre of serious corruption allegations against the Vatican, was born on this day in 1941 in Varese, northern Italy.

Viganò, who had occupied one of the most senior positions in the Vatican before Pope Benedict XVI sent him to be his ambassador in Washington in 2011, was a key figure in the so-called Vatileaks scandal in 2012 when the Italian journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi published leaked documents that included letters from Viganò to Pope Benedict and to the Vatican secretary of state Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone complaining of corruption in the awarding of contracts.

The subsequent scandal resulted in the conviction of Benedict’s former butler, Paolo Gabriele, who was found guilty of theft by a Vatican court and handed an 18-month prison sentence.

Viganò’s 2011 allegations pale, however, alongside the extraordinary 11-page document he published seven years later, in which he claimed that high-ranking church officials were implicated in a cover-up surrounding sexual abuse allegations against the American former Cardinal, Theodore McCarrick.

He also called on Pope Francis, who succeeded Pope Benedict when the latter unexpectedly stepped down in February 2013, to resign on the grounds that he had ignored warnings about McCarrick, who was forced to quit in disgrace when his behaviour became public knowledge, and removed sanctions placed on him by Benedict.

Pope Benedict XVI appointed Viganò
to his US role in 2011
The letter prompted Pope Francis to order a “thorough study” of all documents in Holy See offices concerning McCarrick.  Interviewed about Viganò’s allegations, Pope Francis said he could not recall being warned about McCarrick, the former Archbishop of Washington.

The decision to appoint Viganò as Apostolic Nuncio - the official title of papal ambassador - in the United States came at a time when some believed he might be in line to become President of the Vatican City State.

Born into a wealthy family in Varese, Viganò was ordained a priest in 1968. For a period he worked in the Vatican's diplomatic corps, where he held positions at embassies in Great Britain and Iraq, and while he had other overseas postings in Kosovo and Nigeria, he spent much of his career in various roles within the Vatican secretariat of state.  He was made an archbishop in 1992 by Pope John Paul II.

In 2009 he was appointed to the high-ranking position of secretary-general of the governorate of the Vatican City State. There he earned a reputation for financial acumen. He turned  a 10.5 million dollar deficit into a surplus of 44 million dollars in one year.

Viganò called on Pope Francis to resign over sex abuse scandal
Viganò called on Pope Francis to
resign over sex abuse scandal
However, in 2011, he was informed by Cardinal Bertone that Pope Benedict was appointing him Nuncio to the United States, a move that was seen to end Viganò’s hopes of himself being made a Cardinal and attaining the position of President.

In a further controversy in 2018, a court in Milan ordered Viganò to pay his brother, Father Lorenzo Viganò, who suffered a stroke in 1996, a sum equivalent to $2 million plus interest after finding him to have failed to share profits made from a $23 million property portfolio they had jointly inherited from their father, a steel industrialist in Milan.

Carlo Maria Viganò had resigned from his position in the United States in 2016, as he was required to on reaching 75 years old.  Since publishing his 2018 allegations, Viganò has been living in self-imposed exile in a location he keeps secret, although he continues to be critical of Pope Francis.

UPDATE: Carlo Maria Viganò was excommunicated by the Vatican in July 2024 after being accused of creating a schism in the Church, having reportedly denounced Pope Francis as a “servant of Satan” over his liberal stance on homosexuality and migration.

The Basilica San Vittore in the city of Varese in Lombardy, between Milan and the lakes
The Basilica San Vittore in the city of Varese in
Lombardy, between Milan and the lakes
Travel tip:

The city of Varese, in an area in the foothills of the Alps that owes its terrain to the activities of ancient glaciers that created 10 lakes in the immediate vicinity, including Lago di Varese, which this elegant provincial capital overlooks.  Most visitors to the city arrive there because of the Sacro Monte di Varese (the Sacred Hill of Varese), which features a picturesque walk passing 14 monuments and chapels, eventually reaching the monastery of Santa Maria del Monte.  But the town itself and the handsome villas and palaces in the centre and the surrounding countryside are interesting in their own right, reflecting the prosperity of the area. The grand Palazzo Estense is one, now the city's Municipio - the town hall.

St Peter's Basilica is part of the Vatican City, which is the smallest sovereign state in the world
St Peter's Basilica is part of the Vatican City, which is
the smallest sovereign state in the world
Travel tip:

The Vatican City, which occupies an area of 44 hectares (110 acres) within the city of Rome and has approximately 1,000 citizens, is the smallest sovereign state in the world by both area and population. It came into existence in 1929 when an agreement was signed between the Kingdom of Italy and the Holy See to recognise the Vatican as an independent state. The treaty - known as the Lateran Treaty - settled what had been a long-running dispute regarding the power of the Popes as rulers of civil territory within a united Italy.  The treaty was named after the Lateran Palace where the agreement was signed and although the signatory for the Italian government was the Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, succeeding democratic governments have all upheld the treaty.

Also on this day:

1728: The birth of opera composer Niccolò Piccinni

1749: The death of playwright and poet Count Vittorio Alfieri

1957: The death of conductor Arturo Toscanini 

1998: The death of interior designer Renzo Mongiardino


20 August 2018

Stelvio Cipriani – composer

Musician wrote some of Italy’s most famous film soundtracks

One of Stelvio Cipriani's first jobs was as piano accompanist for the singer Rita Pavone
One of Stelvio Cipriani's first jobs was as
piano accompanist for the singer Rita Pavone
Stelvio Cipriani, an award-winning composer of film scores, was born on this day in 1937 in Rome.

One of his most famous soundtracks was for the 1973 film, La polizia sta a guardare (also released as The Great Kidnapping). The main theme was used again by Cipriani in 1977 for the film, Tentacoli, and also featured in Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof in 2007.

Although Cipriani did not come from a musical background, he was fascinated with the organ at his church when he was a child.

His priest gave him music lessons and then Cipriani went to study piano and harmony at the Santa Cecilia Conservatory in Rome at the age of 14.

His first job was playing in a band on a cruise ship and then he became the accompanist for the popular Italian singer, Rita Pavone.

Cipriani with actress Antonella Lualdi at the Giffoni film festival in 1975
Cipriani with actress Antonella Lualdi
at the Giffoni film festival in 1975
Stelvio wrote his first movie soundtrack for the 1966 spaghetti western, The Bounty Killer. This was followed by a score for The Stranger Returns in 1967, starring Tony Anthony. He wrote for other films starring Anthony, as well as for many poliziotteschi - Italian crime films - a type of film popular in the 1970s.

Stelvio was awarded a Nastro d’Argento for Best Score for the 1970 film The Anonymous Venetian.  This is still considered one of the best and most famous Italian film soundtracks.

In an interview in 2007 Cipriani revealed that he had composed music for Pope John Paul II and was working at the time with Pope Benedict XVI.

Cipriani wrote Il Tema di Karol, a piano solo dedicated to Karol Wojtyla, who became Pope John Paul II, which was released on CD in 2013.

The composer will celebrate his 81st birthday today.

The Via della Conciliazione, looking towards the basilica of St Peter, was conceived by Mussolini
The Via della Conciliazione, looking towards the basilica
of St Peter, was conceived by Mussolini
Travel tip:

The Rome Cipriani was born into in 1937 had been radically changed by the Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini after he became Prime Minister in 1922. The classical city had been built between the first century BC and the fourth century AD, the Christian city between the fourth and the 18th centuries and Mussolini wanted to build la Terza Roma, the third Rome, which would be an Empire for modern times. One of the major changes ordered by him was the building of the Via della Conciliazione, the wide avenue along which today’s visitors approach Saint Peter’s Basilica from Castel Sant’Angelo. It was commissioned by Mussolini to be a symbol of reconciliation between the Holy See and the Italian state after the Lateran Treaty was signed. Roughly 500 metres long, the vast colonnaded street designed by the architect Marcello Piacentini was intended to link the Vatican to the heart of Rome. At the time it had the opposite effect as local people were upset by the many buildings and houses that had to be demolished causing residents to be displaced.

The new headquarters of the Accademia di Santa Cecilia were designed by the architect Renzo Piano
The new headquarters of the Accademia di Santa Cecilia
were designed by the architect Renzo Piano
Travel tip:

The St Cecilia Academy, Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, where Cipriani studied music in the 1950s, is one of the oldest musical academies in the world. It was founded in Rome by Pope Sixtus V in 1585 at the Church of Santa Maria ad Martires, better known as the Pantheon. Over the centuries, many famous composers and musicians have been members of the Academy, which lists opera singers Beniamino Gigli and Cecilia Bartoli among its alumni. Since 2005 the Academy’s headquarters have been at the Parco della Musica in Rome, which was designed by the architect Renzo Piano.

More reading:

The composer who created the sounds of The Godfather

The brilliant film music of Ennio Morricone 

Rita Pavone - the precocious star who conquered America

Also on this day:

1561: The birth of Jacopo Peri, composer of the first opera

1799: The poet and revolutionary Eleonora Fonseca Pimentel is hanged


25 October 2017

Carlo Gnocchi – military chaplain

Remembering a protector of the sick and the mutilated

Carlo Gnocchi as a young priest
Carlo Gnocchi as a young priest
Carlo Gnocchi, a brave priest who was chaplain to Italy’s alpine troops during the Second World War, was born on this day in 1902 in San Colombano al Lambro, near Lodi in Lombardy.

In recognition of his marvellous life, which was dedicated to easing the wounds of suffering and misery created by war, his birthday was made into his feast day when he was beatified by Pope Benedict XVI on October 25, 2009 in Milan.

Gnocchi was the youngest of three boys born to Henry and Clementine Gnocchi. His father died when he was five years old and his two brothers died of tuberculosis before he was 13.

He was ordained a priest in 1925 in the archdiocese of Milan and afterwards worked as a teacher.

When war broke out he joined up as a voluntary priest and departed first for the front line between Greece and Albania and then for the tragic campaign in Russia, which he miraculously survived, despite suffering from frostbite.

While he was chaplain to alpine troops in the war he helped Jews and Allied prisoners of war escape to Switzerland. During this time he was imprisoned for writing against Fascism.

Gnocchi pictured with General Luigi Reverberi at the Russian Front
Gnocchi (left) pictured with General Luigi
Reverberi at the Russian Front
As he assisted the wounding and dying soldiers and listened to their last wishes the idea came to him to create a charity that was to become a reality after the war.

Gnocchi founded the Fondazione Pro Juventute after the war and worked to provide care for those orphaned or disabled during the conflict. The Foundation gradually expanded its operations to care for children suffering from polio.

Today the Don Carlo Gnocchi Foundation also cares for children or young people with disabilities or diseases and for patients of any age with debilitating diseases. In 2003 the president of the Italian Republic awarded it a gold medal for service to public health.

Gnocchi died of cancer in 1956 in Milan and on his deathbed donated his corneas, which returned sight to two, blind young people.

After his death many people invoked his name when in danger and claimed Gnocchi had saved their lives. An electrician from Villa d’Adda said he had survived a serious accident at work after praying to him in 1979.

He was venerated in December 2002 by Pope John Paul II and in 2009 his beatification was celebrated in Piazza del Duomo in Milan on October 25, the date of his birth 107 years before.

A panoramic view over San Colombano al Lambro
A panoramic view over San Colombano al Lambro
Travel tip:

San Colombano al Lambro, where Gnocchi was born, has the distinction of being the only wine producing town in the province of Milan. An area of 100 hectares (250 acres) grows the grapes to produce the acclaimed red wine San Colombano DOC. San Colombano is an exclave of the province of Milan, as it is completely surrounded by the territory of the provinces of Lodi and Pavia. When the province of Lodi was carved out of Milanese territory, the people in San Colombano voted in a referendum to stay part of Milan.

The Santuario del Beato Don Gnocchi is next door to the Fondazione Don Carlo Gnocchi in the San Siro district
The Santuario del Beato Don Gnocchi is next door to the
Fondazione Don Carlo Gnocchi in the San Siro district
Travel tip:

Gnocchi’s remains were transferred in 1960 from the Cimitero Monumentale in Milan to the Fondazione Don Carlo Gnocchi, which is close to Via Don Carlo Gnocchi in the San Siro district of Milan. The foundation stone for the building was laid in September 1955 but Carlo Gnocchi did not live long enough to see the construction completed. Named after him, the organisation was originally set up to provide care, rehabilitation and social integration for children who had lost limbs during wars but has expanded over the years to provide treatment for adult patients as well. 

27 April 2017

Popes John XXIII and John Paul II made saints

Crowd of 800,000 in St Peter's Square for joint canonisation

The Basilica of St Peter, in readiness for the joint-canonisation of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II in 2014
The Basilica of St Peter, in readiness for the joint-canonisation
of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II in 2014
Pope Francis declared Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II as saints at a ceremony during Mass in Rome’s St Peter’s Square on this day in 2014.

Hundreds of thousands of people from around the world converged on the Vatican to attend the ceremony, which celebrated two popes recognised as giants of the Catholic Church in the 20th century.

There was scarcely room to move in St Peter's Square, the Via della Conciliazione and the adjoining streets.  The crowd, probably the biggest since John Paul II’s beatification three years earlier, was estimated at around 800,000, of which by far the largest contingent had made the pilgrimage from John Paul’s native Poland to see their most famous compatriot become a saint.  Thousands of red and white Polish flags filled the square.

In his homily, Pope Francis said Saints John XXIII and JohnPaul II were “priests, bishops and popes of the 20th century. They lived through the tragic events of that century, but they were not overwhelmed by them. For them God was more powerful, faith was more powerful”.

He added that the two popes had “co-operated with the Holy Spirit in renewing and updating” the Catholic Church.

Pope Francis delivers his homily to the crowd in the square
Pope Francis delivers his homily to the crowd in the square
Among those attending this morning’s Mass was Pope Emeritus, Benedict XVI, who in 2013 had become the first pope to resign in 600 years.

Among the foreign dignitaries present, which included 19 heads of state and 25 heads of government, was the former Polish president, Lech Walesa, who had been a key figure in the fall of communism as leader of the Soviet bloc’s first independent trade union, Solidarity.

Italy was represented by the prime minister, Matteo Renzi, the president, Giorgio Napolitano, and his wife, first lady Clio Maria Bittoni.

Other world leaders present included Spain’s King Juan Carlos I and Queen Sofia, the French prime minister Manuel Valls, and the controversial Zimbabwean president, Robert Mugabe.

St Peter’s Basilica was opened to allow pilgrims visit the tombs of both new saints, which rest in crypts inside the building.

Both John XXIII, who was in office from 1958 to 1963 and called the modernising Second Vatican Council, and John Paul II, who reigned for nearly 27 years, played leading roles on the world stage.

Every space in St Peter's Square was taken
Every space in St Peter's Square was taken
John XXIII, born Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli in Sotto il Monte, near Bergamo, in 1881, was known as the “Good Pope” because of his friendly, open personality. He died before the Second Vatican Council ended its work in 1965 but his initiative had set off a significant upheaval in church teaching, ending the use of Latin at Mass, introducing modern music and opening the way for challenges to Vatican authority.

John Paul, born Karol Józef Wojtyła in Wadowice in 1920, was widely credited with helping to bring down communist rule in eastern Europe and hastening the end of the Cold War.

As pope he continued with reform but tightened central control, condemned theological renegades and preached a strict line on social issues such as sexual freedom. Although a charismatic character, he was criticised by some for being too conservative.

Pope John Paul II was idolised by many Catholics
Pope John Paul II was idolised by many Catholics
However, he was able to inspire adoration from many Catholics, as was witnessed when the crowd at his funeral in 2005 joined in a spontaneous chant of “santo subito”, urging that he be made a saint immediately. Although that did not happen, he was honoured with the fastest declaration of sainthood in modern history.

Among those less enamoured with his canonisation were a group who claimed to have been the victims of sexual abuse by priests, who felt John Paul II did not do enough to tackle the problem, particularly with regard to the controversial Mexican founder of the Legion of Christ, Father Marcial Maciel Degollado, whom John Paul’s successor, Benedict XVI, removed from active ministry soon after beginning his papacy.  The group staged a rooftop vigil nearby.

Both canonisations had involved adaptation of the strict rules governing declaration of a saint, which normally involve the attestation of at least two miracles.

In the case of John Paul II, Benedict XVI had waived the customary five-year waiting period before the preliminaries to sainthood can begin, while Francis ruled that only one miracle was needed to declare John a saint.

The Via della Conciliazione at night
The Via della Conciliazione at night
Travel tip:

The Via della Conciliazione, in the rione (district) of Borgo, is the street that connects St Peter's Square to Castel Sant'Angelo on the western bank of the Tiber river. Bordered by shops, historical and religious buildings including the churches of Santa Maria in Traspontina and Santo Spirito in Sassia, it was built between 1936 and 1950 to fulfil Mussolini’s vision of a grand thoroughfare into the square but attracted much controversy because of the destruction of an area known as the ‘spina’ – spine – of Borgo and the forced displacement of hundreds of residents to locations on the outskirts of the city.

The village of Sotto il Monte Giovanni XXXIII
The village of Sotto il Monte Giovanni XXXIII
Travel tip:

Now renamed Sotto il Monte Giovanni XXIII, Pope John’s birthplace was originally a small farming community to the west of Bergamo. It has seen much change as a result of Angelo Roncalli’s elevation to the papacy and subsequent sainthood, attracting many tourists. The house where he was born is in the hamlet of Brusicco and the summer residence at Camaitino that he used when he was a cardinal is now a history museum dedicated to him.  Also worth visiting nearby, on the slopes of Monte Canto, is the Romanesque Fontanella Abbey, dating back to the 11th century.

More reading:

How Karol Wojytla became the first non-Italian pope for 455 years

The farmer's son who went on to become the 'good pope'

The consecration of St Peter's Basilica

Also on this day:

16 October 2016

Election of Pope John Paul II

How Karol Wojtyla became first non-Italian pope for 455 years

Pope John Paul II
Pope John Paul II
Pope John Paul II, who was to have a political and social influence unmatched by any pontiff since the Middle Ages, was elected to be the new leader of the Catholic Church on this day in 1978.

The result of the second Papal conclave in what became known as the Year of the Three Popes was announced after eight ballots. The new pontiff succeeded Pope John Paul I, who had died on September 28 after only 33 days in office, who had himself followed Pope Paul VI, who had passed away in August after reigning for 15 years.

The new man chosen was 58-year-old Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, then Archbishop of Kraków, the first non-Italian to hold office for 455 years since the Dutch Pope Adam VI, who served from 1522-23.

Wojtyla's stand against Poland's Communist regime had brought him respect but he was not seen as a Vatican favourite and his elevation to the highest office stunned the Catholic world.

Yet he would go on to become one of the most familiar faces in the world, remaining in post for almost 27 years, which made him the second longest-serving pope in modern history after Pope Pius IX. He visited 129 countries, beatified 1,340 people and canonised 483 saints.

He was a dynamic and approachable pope, which only enhanced his popularity. Yet to his critics, John Paul II was an arch-conservative who reinforced the Catholic Church's autocratic stance on abortion, contraception and women's rights.

On the other hand, others hail his enlightenment at having helped end Communist rule in his native Poland and eventually all of Europe, at the same time improving the Catholic Church's relations with Judaism, Islam, the Eastern Orthodox Church, and the Anglican Communion.

A stone tablet marks the spot outside St Peter's Basilica where  Mehmet Ali Agca attempted to kill Pope John Paul II in 1981
A stone tablet marks the spot outside St Peter's Basilica where
 Mehmet Ali Agca attempted to kill Pope John Paul II in 1981
As a young man, he loved sport, in particular soccer and skiing, and the theatre. He might have become an actor had he not been ordained a priest in 1946. He became archbishop of his home city of Krakow in 1964.

Throughout his time in office, he always wanted to get as close to the public as possible, even when huge crowds turned out to see and hear him. He survived an attempted assassination in May 1981 when, leaning out of his vehicle in St Peter's Square, he was shot and seriously wounded by a Turkish fanatic, Mehmet Ali Agca.

It was his role in the break-up of the Soviet bloc that was his most significant legacy. When Mikhail Gorbachev visited Rome in 1989 it was the first time a Soviet leader had crossed the threshold of St Peter's, and the understanding between the two men is acknowledged as having eased the transition to democracy in the eastern bloc.

Yet critics saw his support for freedom from oppression for Poles and other Eastern Europeans as at odds with his anti-liberal position on other matters.  He called for action to combat world poverty yet insisted that contraception was morally unacceptable even with the need to curb population growth, and while declaring that he wanted to improve the status of women he also stressed that motherhood should be a woman's first aspiration.

The beatification ceremony at St Peter's in 2011 attracted huge crowds
The beatification ceremony at St Peter's
in 2011 attracted huge crowds
He was fiercely and outspokenly against gay rights, believing homosexuality to be another symptom of the moral depravity of which he despaired, particularly in the United States, where headlines concerning radical feminist nuns and gay priests caused him much annoyance, even before the 1990s scandal of paedophile clergy emerged.

Increasingly frail in his later years although still insisting on maintaining a punishing schedule of travel and public appearances, he died in March 2005, having been treated in hospital for pneumonia the previous month.

Pope John Paul II became Pope Saint John Paul II just nine years after his death after a campaign that began at his funeral when crowds began chanting 'Santo subito' - literally meaning 'Saint immediately' - in recognition of his achievements.

He was beatified in 2011 by his successor Pope Benedict XVI and canonised in 2014 by Pope Francis after two women claimed their prayers to John Paul II had resulted in miracle cures, in one case from advanced Parkinson's Disease and in the other from a brain aneurysm.

Travel tip:

The stunning Renaissance Basilica of St Peter in Rome is believed to be the largest church in the world and was built to replace the original fourth century Basilica that had been constructed on what was believed to be the burial site of St Peter. Bramante, Michelangelo and Bernini all contributed to the design of the 16th century structure. Located within Vatican City, the Basilica is approached along Via della Conciliazione and through the vast space of St Peter’s Square. The magnificent central dome of the Basilica dominates the skyline of Rome and the balcony above the entrance, where the Pope makes appearances, is instantly recognisable because of the many times it has been shown on television.

The pope's summer residence at Castel Gandolfo  overlooks Lake Albano
The pope's summer residence at Castel Gandolfo
 overlooks Lake Albano
Travel tip:

Castel Gandolfo, where Pope John Paul II spent a lot of time while recovering from the attempt on his life, overlooks Lake Albano from its wonderful position in the hills south of Rome. It is traditional for the Pope to take up residence every summer in the Apostolic Palace there. Although his villa lies within the town’s boundaries, it is one of the properties of the Holy See. The palace is not under Italian jurisdiction and is policed by the Swiss Guard. The whole area is part of the regional park of Castelli Romani and there are many places of historic and artistic interest to see there.

More reading:

The day Pope John Paul II came face to face with his would-be killer

(Photo of Lake Albano by Gaucho CC BY-SA 3.0)