For more than a quarter century, Karol Wojtyla was the world's spiritual superpower.
As Pope John Paul II, his decisions shaped the lives of more than 1 billion Catholics around the world -- by far, the largest organized religious group on Earth.
The Vatican announced in an e-mail Saturday that Pope John Paul II, 84, has died..
"The Holy Father died this evening at 9:37 p.m. (2:37 p.m. EST) in his private apartment. All the procedures outlined in the apostolic Constitution `Universi Dominici Gregis' that was written by John Paul II on Feb. 22, 1996, have been put in motion."
A Mass was scheduled for St. Peter's Square for Sunday morning.
The pope died after suffering heart and kidney failure following two hospitalizations in as many months. Just hours earlier, the Vatican said he was in "very serious" condition but had responded to members of the papal household.
He used his personal charisma in a tireless campaign for a Catholic vision of human rights that helped topple communism, defend the poor and build bridges to other faiths, especially Judaism. He brought a sharp sense of discipline to the Vatican, honed in his native Poland during years under Nazi and later Soviet oppression, and wielded his power as pope to punish wayward Catholic theologians and shore up traditional church teachings.
His followers did not always agree with him, but their affection and respect were obvious during more than 100 tours, when vast crowds around the world were drawn to his outdoor masses. He was the first pope to regularly pack up, hit the road and carry the banner of the church into his members' backyards, and his talent for languages allowed him to address national constituencies in their native tongues.
Catholics worldwide loved him for this -- and his critics in places like Cuba and the former Soviet bloc feared him for it.
"He brought the human face of the Vatican to people of every culture in every part of the world," said Detroit Cardinal Adam Maida. "He showed that the pope is not someone who is locked up in the Vatican, but is truly a man whose mission is bringing the gospel message to the people of the world."
In 26 years of travels and Vatican public events, John Paul spoke in person to more people than any other human in history.
"This is the greatest Christian witness of our time," said papal biographer George Weigel.
Historians ranked John Paul as either the second or third longest-serving pope, depending on how many years they credited to St. Peter 2,000 years ago. John Paul's impact on the church will be felt for many years to come. He appointed nearly all of the church's top leaders, modernized and clarified the entire code of church laws and supervised a complete revision of the catechism, the official summary of Catholic doctrine.
Though raised in an era of horse-drawn carts, he ended his life recording messages on CD-ROM, hosting a vast Web site -- www.vatican.va -- and joining passionately in scientific debates on genetic engineering and cloning.
Against all odds, in 1978, he became the first non-Italian pontiff in 455 years, elected at the relatively young age of 58.
It seemed that nothing could stop him. When Mehmet Ali Agca shot him in St. Peter's Square on May 13, 1981, he survived and then turned the near-fatal incident into a moral lesson by visiting his attacker in prison and forgiving him.
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