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The Death of John Paul II
When Pope John Paul II died on April 2, 2005, his 26-year reign was the second longest of any Pope, a tenure marked by unconventionality, unprecedented interfaith work, and the rise of the beloved Pontiff as a global superstar.
Karol Josef Wojtyla became the first non-Italian pope elected in nearly 500 years, and started his tenure by breaking with tradition and addressing the gathered faithful from the balcony above St. Peter's Square. This accessible demeanor was a hallmark of his papacy, during which he visited more countries than any pope before him.
He became the first pope to visit the Auschwitz concentration camp, a synagogue, Jerusalem, and the first to pray at the Western Wall, where he placed a letter asking forgiveness for crimes committed by Christians against Jews. Seeking to repair ties between Catholics and Eastern Orthodox Christians, John Paul II became the first pope to visit Eastern Orthodox Countries--Romania, Ukraine, Greece--since the Great Schism in 1054. In another papal first, he visited the Ummayad Mosque in Syria, and made a speech calling on Christians, Muslims, and Jews to work together.
For all his interfaith outreach, Pope John Paul II remained staunchly conservative on other issues, such as abortion, contraception, and the ordination of women.
Pope John Paul's death was also important because of his successor, Pope Benedict XVI. While Pope Benedict has continued his predecessor's conservative stance on many issues, his first years as head of the Catholic Church have also been marked by tense relations with Muslims and Jews.