In my entire lifetime, this is the only Pope I have known. So I don't have a clear perspective of what all this means. Check out this thoughtful post
by John Marshall.
The Pope didn’t travel around the world. He was always an Italian. And he was far less involved in the ecumenical work that played such a role in John Paul’s pontificate. All of this goes to say that for a Jewish nine-year-old and his grandfather sitting in a rec room in a Jewish retirement home in 1978, the Pope was a much more distant figure than he would be to almost any of us today.
On first blush, I think of all the ways he brought the Catholic Church into the modern world --- and, in this sense, I mean not so much Catholicism (Vatican II did that) but the institutional church and the papacy. I think most of his ecumenicism and the truly epochal changes he wrought in the Roman Catholic Church’s relationship with Judaism and the Jewish people, symbolized by his visit to the Synagogue of Rome in 1986. I think of his ecumenical dialogue with Anglicanism and Eastern Orthodoxy or his preaching at a Lutheran Church in 1983 --- an almost inconceivable event for someone steeped in the history of Early Modern Europe and the Reformation.
I think also of his ambivalent political legacy in the Third World. On the one hand he was hostile, even authoritarian in the measures he employed, toward Liberation Theology in Latin America. And yet he also made great strides in elevating that strain of Catholicism which, in the Third World especially, has always been on the side of the poor and the powerless (where it should be), and diminishing that often dominant portion which casts its lot with the wealthy and the powerful (where it has so often been).
Separate from all these individual points John Paul II has simply been a towering figure -- a perception that I imagine will grow as he recedes into history. And that is a striking thing in itself since he was a compromise candidate; and the Cardinals probably didn't have a clear sense of what they were getting into when they chose him.
Pretty interesting stuff.