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The Pope we never knew John Paul II, who makes his third visit to Canada this week to preside over the Catholic Church's World Youth Day, is at once among the most solitary and the most public people on the planet. His contradictions make sense only to those who understand what the young Karol Wojtyla experienced growing up in Poland before and after the Second World War. The Globe's MICHAEL VALPY introduces the child who was father to the Pontiff

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This has been no accidental man, no accidental Pope. All his actions as leader of the world's one billion Catholics flow from ideas and beliefs he held before his papacy began.

Martyrdom? Suffering? Divine intervention? It's as if John Paul knew that Mehmet Ali Agca, or someone like him, would one year be waiting with a Browning 9mm semi-automatic pistol on the anniversary of the apparition of the Virgin Mary at Fatima.

On May 13, 1981, Mr. Agca fired at point-blank range at John Paul on St. Peter's Square, but his bullet travelled an extraordinary trajectory, missing every vital organ, the spine and the aorta by a tiny fraction of an inch. It was a motherly hand that guided the bullet's path, the Pope said. Mr. Agca, a Muslim, later became frightened of the Virgin of Fatima.

His hard-wired connection to young people? It was palpable on an October morning in 1979, when tens of thousands of teenagers in Madison Square Garden chanted at him, "John Paul II, we love you!" and he strode to the microphone and shouted back: "Woo-hoo-woo, John Paul II, he loves you!" And it was all rooted in Srodowisko, and what biographer George Weigel calls his instinct for paternity.

He has a powerful sense of spiritual fatherhood: his own father, his powerful male mentors, his father-figure archbishop Sapieha and the father-God. Maybe this has moulded his views of the role of women in the church and what many Catholics believe is his paternalistic, authoritarian papacy.

Then again, that could be too simple.

He has developed a theological teaching on the separate but equal "Marian Church" of faith and disciples that makes possible the "Petrine Church" of office. To which many Western Catholics will respond: "Why bother?" George Weigel argues that the Pope's critics do not understand what he is trying to say.

The Polish church confronted the Nazis and Communists with a single authoritative voice, which is how John Paul II believes he is behaving as Pope -- authoritative, not authoritarian. (He once informed the hierarchy of Communist Hungary's not-authoritative-enough -- in his view -- church that he wouldn't visit Hungary "until the cardinal learned to bang on the table.")

It means he has a strong disinclination toward moral and theological pluralism. It means the notion of "loyal opposition" in the church does not appear on his theological map.

He thinks the concerns of Western Catholics with ordination of women, homosexuality and priestly celibacy are both petty and marginal in comparison with the great issues of human sacredness, human freedom, human dignity and faith.

His defenders say that, rather than being anti-collegial, no pope in modern history has consulted fellow bishops more. But Joaquim Navarro-Valls also points out: "When he's convinced of the truth of something, he goes ahead without any regard for whether people agree with him."

He presides over a church in which the Western bloc is almost in revolt against his papacy. He was indecipherably slow to respond to the American scandal of molesting priests. Yet he has spoken to the world as no pope has ever done.

He wrote, in Gift and Mystery, a charming book commemorating the 50th anniversary of his ordination: "I cannot refrain from asking myself some questions: Have you been a diligent and watchful master of the faith of the church? Have you set out to bring the people of today closer to the great work of the Second Vatican Council?

"Have you sought to satisfy the expectations of the believers in the church as well as the hunger for truth that is making itself felt in the world outside the church?"

The answers to those questions will depend on where the church goes after him.

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