John Paul II was one of the most influential people of the 20 century. With that title, comes a lot of responsibility...which includes meeting world leaders. The list is pretty long. Included is Fidel Castro.
It was in 1996 that the communist leader visited the Pope at the Vatican. Then the Pope made a historic trip to Cuba in 1998, as Castro progressively loosened the restrictions against the Church and Catholics in the island.
The tension between the Vatican and the Soviet Union, symbolically came to a close when president, Mikhail Gorbachev visited John Paul II in the Vatican in 1989. Historians agree that John Paul II played a pivotal role in the fall of Communism.
Former President of the Soviet Union
"He like no one else is critical of communism. But also at the same time, he is critical of modern capitalism. He certainly affected the atmosphere and his contribution to ending the cold war is without a doubt great.”
QUEEN ELIZABETH II
Of course the Pope was no stranger to royalty. He met with Queen Elizabeth in three occasions. First in 1980, then again in 1982 and in the year 2000.
CHURCH OF ENGLAND
He also strengthened the relationship between the Anglican communion and the Catholic Church by meeting with the Archbishop of Canterbury, including George Carey and his successor Rowan Williams.
When it comes to American presidents, John Paul II became the first reigning Pontiff to visit the White House. It happened back in 1979 under president Jimmy Carter. He then went on to meet with Ronald Reagan, George Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.
The relationship between both states, greatly improved back in the 80's.
CARD. PIO LAGHI
Late Vatican Nuncio to the U.S.
"Then we established a very good relationship, I would even call it friendly. I would go to the White House, in the first years, I would enter a side door and bring an apostolic delegate, not officially recognized as a representative of the Pope, but then since March 1984, I entered through the main door.”
KING HASSAN II
As a way to promote inter-religious dialogue, John Paul II visited Morocco in 1985, at the invitation of King Hassan II. In doing so, he became the first Pope to officially visit an Islamic country, at the request of its religious leader.
That dialogue was promoted over and over again in Assisi, where John Paul II called all religious leaders to promote unity and peace. Among the attendees was the exiled spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhists, the Dalai Lama, with whom he met several times.
John Paul II also met with Nelson Mandela three times. The late South African president, publicly said that John Paul II deeply inspired him in the fight for racial equality.
Back in August 2001, John Paul II met with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in Castel Gandolfo, as he called for an end to the tension and violence in the Middle East.
So over the years, it became evident that these meetings with high profile leaders, were much more than just 'photo ops' or casual conversations. Above all else, they carried the weight of diplomacy from the highest religious authority in the world.