As Pope John Paul recuperated, he eased back into his full schedule of travel and long hours, ever more willing to inject himself into the affairs of the secular world.
The Vatican dispatched emissaries to the war zone of Lebanon so the pope could get a front-line report. Pope John Paul mediated a border dispute between Argentina and Chile. And, lest anyone accuse him of being a tool of the free market forces of the West, he scolded bankers and big business on behalf of the poor, calling for a "third way" between communism and capitalism.
He set out to heal a centuries-old rift between Catholicism and Judaism, first by visiting the Synagogue of Rome in April 1986 for an unprecedented prayer service and then by restoring diplomatic relations between the Vatican and the State of Israel in 1993.
A year later, the pope presided over a Holocaust memorial ceremony in spite of grumbling from within the Vatican bureaucracy.
Perhaps no single event in his papacy cemented the relationship between Pope John Paul and the Jewish world more than the moment in his March 2000 pilgrimage to the Holy Land, when he stood before the Western Wall in Jerusalem and, with trembling hand, inserted a prayer written on a card expressing repentance for the church's centuries of persecution of Jews.
On the other hand, some of Pope John Paul's actions offended many Jews. One sore spot was his advocacy of the canonization in 1998 of St. Edith Stein, a Jewish-born philosopher who converted to Catholicism, became a nun and died at Auschwitz during World War II.
Many Jews have also been disturbed by Pope John Paul's defense of Pope Pius XII, the wartime pope who has been excoriated by some historians for his silence in the face of Nazi atrocities.
Inside the church, the pastoral pope became a stern disciplinarian who would brook no opposition. Prominent dissenters were silenced or, if they were professors at Catholic universities, declared unfit for teaching.
Shortly after becoming pope, he revoked the authority of German priest Hans Kung to teach as a Catholic theologian because his writings on papal authority had departed from orthodoxy. He took on the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits, in October 1981, when he set aside the religious order's normal governance and appointed his personal delegate to temporarily lead it until reforms could be instituted.
Conservative appointments to clerical posts set off protests in nations with more liberal-minded local churches. And whenever the issues of contraception, or marriage for priests or the ordination of women came up, Pope John Paul was firm with yet another "No."
In the last decade of his papacy, Pope John Paul's medical problems mounted, and so did the speculation over just how serious his condition was. Unseemly talk of possible successors became routine. A benign intestinal tumor was removed in 1992; two years later, he fell and broke his hip, causing him to use a cane to walk for more than a year and forcing him to cancel a trip to the United States that was to include a visit to Baltimore.
His quivering hand and shuffling gait revealed that he had developed Parkinson's disease, a degenerative brain ailment, as well as hip and knee problems. Yet, he continued traveling, making that canceled trip to the United States in October 1995 that included a 10-hour stop in Baltimore, highlighted by a Mass in Oriole Park at Camden Yards and a parade through the city streets in his "popemobile." In 1996, his appendix was removed.
In January 1998, Pope John Paul embarked on the first trip by a pontiff to Cuba, the last bastion of communism in the Western Hemisphere. Pope John Paul's motive was to buoy the Cuban Catholic Church, which had suffered under four decades of persecution but was beginning to show signs of new life as Cuban leader Fidel Castro allowed certain religious freedoms.
Pope John Paul used the opportunity to demand freedom for Cuban citizens, the release of political prisoners and a greater role for the Roman Catholic Church, particularly in education. He denounced Marxist-Leninist ideology and warned Cubans against embracing "false Messiahs," an oblique reference to the cult of Fidelismo.
But he also denounced the U.S. economic embargo as "oppressive economic measures - unjust and ethically unacceptable - imposed from outside the country."
A highlight of the last years of Pope John Paul's pontificate was the celebration of the Holy Year he proclaimed in 2000 to celebrate two millennia of Christian history. He took the opportunity in March of that year to offer unprecedented prayers of repentance during a Mass in St. Peter's Basilica for the sins of Catholics throughout the history of the church, again overruling the doubts of many cardinals and bishops.
The pope asked forgiveness for religious intolerance and injustice against Jews, women, indigenous peoples, immigrants, the poor and the unborn.