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Vatican: Pope John Paul II Is Dead


Pope John Paul the Second, leader of the world's one billion Roman Catholics for more than 26 years, has died.

The Vatican said the 84-year-old pope died late today Saturday at his quarters in Vatican City, days after circulatory system collapsed following an infection that spread throughout his body.

The pope's health had declined steadily since early February, when he was hospitalized for breathing problems caused by the flu and his advanced Parkinson's disease.

His health worsened dramatically Thursday after he developed a urinary tract infection, followed by major circulatory, respiratory and kidney problems.

Elected at a conclave of cardinals in 1978, John Paul was the first non-Italian in 450 years to lead the Roman Catholic church.

During more than a quarter century in the papacy, the former Karol Wojtyla traveled more widely than any other Catholic leader had before, delivering the Church's message to hundreds of millions of people throughout the world.

One of the most influential figures of the 20th century, the Polish-born pontiff is widely credited with transforming the papacy.

He repeatedly made efforts to mend fences with other faiths, and was the first pope to visit a synagogue. He later apologized for Catholics who failed to help Jews against Nazi persecution.

Experts say one of John Paul's most lasting legacies will be his influential role in the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe in the 1980s.

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