John Paul II transformed the papacy but conservative views alienated some
John Paul II was the third-longest serving pope in history.
(CNN) -- Voicing a strong moral vision, Pope John Paul II forged a legacy as one of the Catholic Church's most influential and controversial leaders. The 264th pontiff traveled more and beatified more people than any pope in history.
Supporters and critics alike agree on the immense significance of his 26-year papacy.
During that period he played a key role in the fall of communism, brought the Catholic message to an unprecedented number of people around the world, and endeared himself to billions with his warmth, charisma, courage and integrity.
As TIME magazine noted when naming him Man of the Year in 1994, he generated an electricity "unmatched by anyone else on earth."
At the same time, however, he was a profoundly conservative leader whose moral opinions alienated many, and whose centralizing instincts stifled the move toward a more open, democratic church.
A surprise choice as pope
John Paul II was born Karol Jozef Wojtyla on May 18, 1920, at Wadowice, Poland, the third child of a devoutly Catholic retired army officer-turned-tailor.
Wojtyla, the son of a devoutly Catholic retired Polish army officer, was a surprise choice as pope.
A brilliant student and athlete -- he excelled at skiing, swimming, kayaking and soccer -- his earliest passions were religion, poetry and the theater.
Following the German invasion of Poland in 1939 he worked first as a stonecutter, then in a chemical plant, while at the same time studying at an underground seminary in Krakow.
In 1941, Wojtyla and some friends started an underground theater, called the Rhapsodic Theater, to present works in Polish in defiance of the Nazis.
He was eventually ordained in 1946, assuming priestly duties in 1949 as chaplain to university students at Krakow's St.... [continues]
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