Since the end of the 19th century, church doctrine has called for moderating capitalism and for solidarity with workers. John Paul did not read that message from a comfortable chair in the Vatican, but spread it as he traveled frequently to the world's poorest places.
In Africa, the percentage of Catholics is low -- about 17 percent of the population but growing rapidly. The pope visited that continent more than a dozen times, and presided in the 1990s over an African synod, calling for respect for African culture and values alongside evangelizing. During his tenure the number of African priests grew, as did the number of Catholic hospitals, orphanages and social service centers in Africa.
March 1998: Being driven through crowds of worshipers before Mass in Onitsha, Nigeria.
(Jerome Delay -- AP)
"We must present to the rich all the needs of the poor," he said in the impoverished Sahel region of northern Africa in 1990.
In Asia in 1995, he appeared before millions-strong crowds in the Philippines, a predominantly Catholic country, despite reports of a planned assassination attempt. In South Korea he visited lepers; in Indonesia he visited refugees. His trips seemed to bypass the nicer places of the world in favor of the slums.
Eduardo Aguilar, a church historian who observed John Paul six times in the United States and Mexico, said the pope's stand on social justice and concerns about the free market touched the neediest around the globe. "The people of the Third World thank him for his message; his voice is valued and listened to."
About 40 percent of the world's Catholics are in Latin America, and the pope focused much attention here. In 2001, he named 11 cardinals from Latin America, a sign of the new prominence he placed on the region. Three more were named in October 2003.
He saw the situation of Latin America's dire poverty as "continuingly alarming."
"The pope wants to be your voice," he told Mexicans on his first trip here, in 1979.
In his encyclical "The Social Concerns of the Church," a long letter to the world and to the church in the 1987, the pope laid out an argument that the chronic problems of famine, debt and illiteracy were not solely the fault of poor nations. More generosity, more debt relief and more coherent designs by the richer countries to help the poor were needed, he said, observing that poverty was only getting worse.
In the summer of 2002, a clearly ailing John Paul flew to Guatemala and used an outdoor Mass to call for more respect for the "least of my brethren." Nearly 85 percent of Guatemalans live in poverty.
Signing off with his signature message, with scores of cameras trained on him, he asked the world's leaders to "practice mercy heroically with the lowliest and the most deprived." The crowd, standing for hours in 90 degree heat, yelled its approval in chorus:
"John Paul II, the whole world loves you!"