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Pope John Paul II: people power

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in Leaders & Managers,Profiles in Leadership

One way to understand Pope John Paul II as a leader is to look at his papacy as a vehicle for change.

In part, here’s how:

1. He broke the mold. Karol Wojtyla, a Polish archbishop, became the first non-Italian pope in 455 years and the first Slavic pope.

2. He “managed by walking around” the world. John Paul took himself out of Rome. When it’s all totaled up, his trips amounted to about 30 spins around the globe, making him a spiritual heir to the traveler St. Paul.

His trips by plane and Popemobile, to places as far flung as small towns in Brazil and huts in Chad, increased conversions (particularly in South Korea) and vocations (particularly in Eastern Europe).

John Paul referred to his travels as pilgrimages to the “living sanctuary of the people of God.”

3. He inspired the faithful. This leader who started his career as an actor communicated great caring, particularly to young people and the oppressed. He knew the name of every Catholic diocese. People felt as though he spoke directly to them.

In the communist world, after Poland imposed martial law and imprisoned union leaders and intellectuals, John Paul was instrumental in shutting down the prisons. His three trips to Poland during the 1980s drew millions of people, eventually helping win their freedom.

4. He healed old wounds. In Greece, the pope apologized to the Orthodox world for the Catholic sins of the past and the sacking of Constantinople, an apology met not only with surprise but joy.

He also mended some fences with Jews and Muslims, kneeling at Auschwitz, “the Golgotha of the contemporary world,” and becoming the first pope to visit a synagogue in Rome and a mosque in Damascus.

5. He listened. In Popayán, Colombia, he met with Indians whose chief delivered the full version of a censored speech—it contained harsh words for local landowners who’d murdered people. A priest jumped onstage and grabbed the microphone, but John Paul told the chief to keep talking.

—Adapted from A Life with Karol, Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, Doubleday.

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