Pope John Paul II’s historic papacy

View a timeline of photographs spanning the life of Pope John Paul II.

Pope John Paul II waves to the crowd during a visit to his Polish homeland in 1997. In his 26 years as pope, he nominated 483 saints, held more than 1,100 general audiences at the Vatican, issued 14 encyclicals on moral, religious and social issues, and traveled the world. Click for images, along with a timeline of the notable events in his life, before and during the papacy.

Wojtek Laski / NEWSMAKERS

Karol Wojtyla, seen here at age 12, was born on May 18, 1920, in the small southern Polish town of Wadowice, near Krakow. His father is a non-commissioned officer in the Polish army and his mother dies when he is eight years old.


With talk of war in the air, Karol Wojtyla, second from right, works with unidentified colleagues to build a military camp in western Ukraine that summer.
1942 After the Nazi invasion, Wojtyla decides to become a priest but the Nazis had closed the seminaries so he studies secretly at the residence of the Krakow cardinal, working in a quarry by day.

1946 Wojtyla is ordained at the age of 26 and goes to Rome for advanced studies.

Adam Gatty / IL GIORNALE

The late Pope Paul VI places the cardinal's hat on the head of Karol Wojtyla, declaring him a cardinal in 1967.

1964 He is promoted to archbishop of Krakow.


Karol Wojtyja, now newly-elected Pope John Paul II, acknowledges cheers from pilgrims crowding Saint Peter's Square in his first appearance as pope on Oct. 16. He is the first non-Italian pope in 455 years, the 264th successor of St Peter and, at 58, the youngest pope for more than a century.

Massimo Sambucetti / AP

Pope John Paul II gestures to the crowd at New York's Shea Stadium after his arrival Oct. 3, 1979.


Queen Elizabeth II and her husband Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh with Pope John Paul II during the royal tour of Italy, 1980.

Hulton Archive / Hulton Royals Collection

The hand of Mehmed Ali Agca, holding a pistol, left, aims from the crowd at Pope John Paul in St. Peter's Square on May 13. Moments later the pontiff is shot and seriously wounded.


Pope John Paul II talks to his would-be assassin, Mehmet Ali Agca, in his prison cell in Rome in Dec. 27. Agca is serving a life sentence for shooting the pontiff.

1999 The pope says the teachings of Christ instructed him to forgive Agca.

Arturo Mari / VATICAN

Pope John Paul II walks with President Ronald Reagan in the garden of the Vizcaya, a lavish mansion on Biscayne Bay, Miami, Sept. 10, 1987.

Scott Stewart / AP

Pope John Paul II poses in San Francisco , Ca, with the Golden Gate Bridge in background, on Sept. 17, 1987.

Dave Tennenbaum / AP

Pope John Paul II welcomes Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev to the first-ever meeting between a Kremlin chief and a pope at the Vatican Dec. 1. After the visit, the pope steps up the re-establishment of the Catholic Church throughout the East bloc, a move that parallels the crumbling of communist regimes across the region.

Massimo Sabucetti / FILES

Pope John Paul II and South African President Nelson Mandela talking at the Presidential guest house in Pretoria.

Gary Bernard / AFP

Pope John Paul II prays during Mass at Camden Yards in Baltimore on Oct. 8. During his papacy, the pope travels the equivalent of 30 times the circumference of the earth, making more than 100 foreign trips and spending more than three years away from the Vatican.

Denis Paquin / AP

Pope John Paul II during his vacation in Cadore, Val Comelico, Italy.


Pope John Paul II, riding in the Popemobile, passes a painting of revolutionary hero Ernesto "Che" Guevara during a landmark visit to Cuba. He mixes criticism of communism with criticism of the U.S. embargo on Cuba. Cuban leader Fidel Castro says during the trip that he believes in God.

1993 Symptoms of Parkinson’s disease begin to appear and the pontiff appears increasingly frail, but maintains a rigorous travel schedule. The pope’s left hand trembles and his facial muscles appear stiff during appearances. In later years, he becomes unable to walk and is carried in a special transporter from planes to his Popemobile.

Domenico Stinellis / AP

Pope John Paul II is seen near the bronze Holy Door of St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican on Christmas Eve. Faltering at times, the frail pontiff walks through the door in a symbolic ceremony to mark the start of the church's third millennium.

March 12, 2000 In an unprecedented public act of repentance, the pope delivers the most sweeping papal apology ever, repenting for the errors of the Roman Catholic Church over the previous 2,000 years.

Andrew Medichini / AP

Pope John Paul rests his hand on the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem on March 26. The trip is the culmination of one of the pontiff's lifetime ambitions and follows a historic, and sometimes tumultuous, dialogue with Jews.

1986 The pope visits the Rome Synagogue in the first visit ever by a pontiff to a Jewish house of worship.

1987 The pope grants an audience to Austrian President Kurt Waldheim, angering Jews who accused Waldheim of Nazi war crimes.

1993 The Vatican and Israel forge full diplomatic ties, aimed at ending 2,000 years of distrust and hostility between Christians and Jews.

1998 The Vatican apologizes for Catholics who failed to help Jews persecuted by the Nazis.

Jerome Delay / AP

Pope John Paul II, left, embraces Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio on the day Bergoglio was elevated to cardinal in Vatican City. Bergoglio was elected pope on Wednesday, March 13, 2013, making him the first pope ever from the Americas. Bergoglio chose the name Pope Francis.

Buenos Aires Archbishop Office

After a series of sex scandals involving priests and minors rocks the church in the United States, the pope summons a dozen American cardinals and two high-ranking bishops to the Vatican on April 23. Over two days the Americans, joined by the heads of the eight most senior Vatican departments, attempt to hammer out a process for defrocking any priest involved in the "predatory sexual abuse of minors."

Arturo Mari / VATICAN

Pope John Paul II waves to an estimated 2.7 million people during a Mass in Krakow's Blonie meadow on Aug. 18. The pontiff uses his ninth trip home, which many feared would be his last, to address the plight of the poor and jobless in Poland as well as discuss his own mortality.

Vatican / X00683

Pope John Paul II gives a silent blessing from his studio window overlooking St. Peter's Square on March 30. A day later, the pontiff, after being hospitalized twice during the previous two months, develops a high fever. On April 1, a papal spokesman described the pope's condition as "very grave." A day later, the pope died.

Pier Paolo Cito / AP