Pope John Paul II to be made a saint, Vatican announces

VATICAN CITY (AFP) - Pope John Paul II, who the Vatican said on Friday will be made a saint, was an inspirational figure who helped topple communism but alienated many Catholics with his conservative views.

The first non-Italian pope in more than 400 years, and the first from eastern Europe, Polish-born Karol Wojtyla was immensely popular, eschewing the pomp that surrounded his predecessors and seeking contact with ordinary people.

The pontiff, who died in 2005, was beatified in May 2011, giving him the status of "blessed" for the world's 1.1 billion Catholics and placing him one step away from sainthood.

During a papacy lasting nearly 27 years, John Paul travelled far and wide, often greeted by massive crowds as he championed peace, denounced human rights abuses and deplored the decadence of the modern world.

He left one of his most momentous acts for the twilight of his papacy - an attempt to purify the soul of the Roman Catholic Church with a sweeping apology for sins and errors committed during its 2,000 years of existence.