Many think the Pope has been a conservative leader. Certainly if you look at his political pronouncements on issues like gay unions, that is a conclusion you may draw. However, the Pope has always been a progressive in my heart. Perhaps it is the selection of memories that I have carried of him.
Of his biography, I recall little of his role in the fall of the Soviet Union. I recall his early years in Poland during first the Nazi occupation and then the Soviet occupation. He worked in a gravel pit and returned home one day to learn all the priests in his church had been arrested by the Nazis. In the shadow of this, he joined an underground theater. Later, he studied to be a priest in secret.
The first spiritual teaching of Pope John Paul II to make an impression on me was his teaching that God is not male or female. God is greater than our gender roles. He encompasses all of the masculine and all of the feminine.
Then, a few years ago, he defined heaven, hell and purgatory in ways that provided a great deal of comfort. Heaven was eternal in the presence of God. Hell was the place for those who chose not to live so. We hope it is empty and that even at the time of death, God is merciful enough to grant one more moment of choice. Purgatory contains the souls of those who are purifying themselves in preparation for heaven.