Born Karol Jozef Wojtyla in Wadowice near Krakow, southern Poland, John Paul II (May 18 1920 – April 2 2005) was the first non-Italian Pope in 456 years. His long pontificate spanned from 1978 to 2005.
Pope Francis, addressing believers around the world through the Vatican media, spoke about the birth centenary of St. John Paul II . "We remember him with great love and appreciation," he said after Sunday prayer in the Vatican.
Services of thanksgiving were held in all Polish churches. A morning mass was celebrated at Warsaw’s Holy Cross Church by Metropolitan Bishop of Warsaw Cardinal Kazimierz Nycz.
President Andrzej Duda wrote a letter to the faithful gathered for an anniversary service at the Jasna Gora Monastery in Czestochowa, southern Poland.
"Karol Wojtyla was one of the most important figures of the 20th century, his teaching and testimony still touch the hearts and minds of millions of people around the world and are an inspiration for many initiatives," Duda wrote.
Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, who served as the Polish pope’s private secretary, addressed the faithful gathered in the cathedral of Poznan, western Poland. he said that John Paul II was the greatest of Poles and a gift that Poland "shared with the whole Church and with other nations."
Poland's Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich said in a Sunday statement that "no other pope has done more to heal the painful wounds and no one has ever done more to effectively eliminate the scourge of anti-Semitism."
Wojtyla was elected to the Papacy by the second Papal conclave of 1978, called after Pope John Paul I, who was elected in August of that year after the death of Pope Paul VI, died after thirty-three days. Cardinal Wojtyla was elected on the third day of the conclave and adopted his predecessors' names in tribute to them.
John Paul II is held to have helped end Communist rule in his native Poland and subsequently all of Central and Eastern Europe, he also significantly improved the Catholic Church's relations with Judaism, Islam, the Eastern Orthodox Church, and the Anglican Communion. He upheld the Church's teachings on issues like artificial contraception and the ordination of women, but also supported the Church's Second Vatican Council and its reforms. He was also the first Pope to recognise the development and importance of the media, and the first to introduce the custom of holding press conferences aboard aircraft.
The second longest-serving pope in modern history after Pope Pius IX, John Paul II was the first non-Italian pope since the Dutch Pope Adrian VI (1522-1523). One of his main goals was to transform the Catholic Church, which he expressed by the wish "to place his Church at the heart of a new religious alliance that would bring together Jews, Muslims and Christians in a great religious armada".
John Paul II died a month and a half before his 85th birthday on April 2, 2005 at 9:37 pm, prompting a spontaneous world-wide surge of mourning, with a number of TV stations putting entertainment content and commercials on hiatus.
John Paul II was canonised by Pope Francis in 2014. (PAP)