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The Pope

The pope is the leader of the Catholic Church and his role is to lead and guide the Catholic Church spiritually. He also guides the world and the issues it faces today and affects a lot of people and followers by the decisions he makes. However, he is not meant to be and nor is he a political figure that some non-Catholics take him to be. He is simply a spiritual leader of the Roman Catholic Church and also the head of the world's smallest country, the Vatican City.

Who is the Pope today?

Pope Benedict XVI is the reigning pope of the Catholic Church today. His full name is Joseph Ratzinger and was elected on April 19, 2005 after the death of Pope John Paul II on April 2, 2005. He was born in 1927 to farming family in Bavaria, Germany and is the oldest person to have been elected since Pope Clement XII. He is also a well-known theologian, an author and like Pope John Paul II, he holds traditional Catholic doctrines and values especially against birth control, abortion and homosexuality.

Selecting the Pope

Choosing the Pope is a long process and can take several weeks or even months. When a reigning pope passes away, the most important people of the Catholic Church such as the Cardinals travel to Rome. And one of them will most likely be the new Pope. The expired Pope's funeral takes place and then nine days later; they begin to elect the new Pope.

The election of the new pope is very secretive and has a lot of odd traditions. Each cardinal gets one vote. A candidate should also get two thirds of the votes to be elected and if after 30 rounds, a Pope has not been elected, then a person with half of the votes would be elected.

And when finally a Pope has been elected, smoke signals are sent to people outside the Vatican. The bells of St. Peter's Basilica will also ring. Black smoke signals would mean that the cardinals have not yet elected a Pope. While white smoke signals would mean that they have elected a new Pope.

Pope John Paul II

Karol Wojtyla also known as John Paul II became Pope in 1978. He was the only Polish Pope and the first non-Italian Pope since the Adrian VI in the 1520's. He reigned for 27 years until his death in April 2005 and is known to be one of most influential Popes in the history of the Catholic Church. During his papacy, he visited more than 100 countries, more than any of his predecessors and was also shot and critically wounded in 1981. In 1992, he was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease and he died on April 2, 2005 in his private apartment in the Vatican saying, "Let me go to the house of the Father."

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