When the history of the fall of the Soviet Union, a fascist empire, is written, more than a footnote should be given to
Karol Józef Wojtyla the bishop of Rome and head of the Roman Catholic church since 1978, the first non-Italian pope in 455 years and the first ever from a Slavic country. His crusades against political oppression have been widely praised, and his trips abroad—90 by the year 2000—have attracted enormous crowds (some of the largest ever assembled). With these trips, John Paul has covered a distance far greater than that traveled by all other popes combined. They have been an outward sign of the efforts at global bridge-building between nations and between religions that have been central to his pontificate. The journeys also played a role in the final years of the Cold War, when his nonviolent activism spurred movements that contributed to the peaceful dissolution of the communist Soviet Union in 1991. John Paul's constant efforts to reach out to people of other religions, most notably Jews and Muslims, culminated in a dramatic trip to the Holy Land in March 2000.