VATICAN CITY (AP) - Pope John Paul the Second has died at 84. For a quarter of a century, he led the Roman Catholic church -- helping to bring down communism, and then warning against the dangers of Western-style capitalism.
John Paul declined rapidly after suffering heart and kidney failure following two hospitalizations in as many months. Just two hours before announcing his death, the Vatican had said he was in "very serious" condition, although he was responding to aides.
He was by far the most widely-traveled pope ever -- visiting scores of countries, even when he became old and frail.
His selection as pope in 1978 was a challenge to the communist leaders of his Polish homeland and throughout eastern Europe. His visits home to Poland would spur the free labor movement and the opposition to the communist regime. And it was a rebellion that would spread far and wide.
When he became pope at the age of 58, he was the youngest in more than a century -- and the first in more than 450 years to come from outside Italy. And in many ways, he was the first modern pope -- presiding not just over Masses, but also over pop concerts.
But when it came to church doctrine, he was deeply conservative. He forbid Catholics to have sex out of marriage, or use birth control. There could be no abortions, and no divorce. And women couldn't be priests. And as he traveled, the pontiff carried warnings against rampant consumerism and easy sex.
He also carried heavy security -- in the aftermath of a shooting in 1981 that nearly took his life. He was shot twice by a Turkish gunman while waving to a crowd in St. Peter's Square. The pope was hospitalized for three weeks.
Still, he was the most accessible of modern popes. His open-air ceremonies drew tens of thousands to St. Peter's Square -- and became a hallmark of his visits to other countries.
(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)