Timothy Garton Ash, Guardian (via Fora do Mundo):
"As an agnostic liberal, I don't feel qualified to judge what he meant for the Catholic church. But I think I can judge what he meant for the world. John Paul II was, quite simply, the greatest political actor of the last quarter-century. I use the word "actor" in a double sense. Theatre was the second passion of the young Karol Wojtyla, even in Nazi-occupied Poland, and he was a talented stage performer. Before the onset of Parkinson's disease, he had a lovely voice. The actor John Gielgud described his delivery as "perfect". He had this extraordinary ability to speak to a crowd of a million people so that each and every one felt he was talking to them individually. He spoke in images as well as words (look at that photo of him in a sombrero carrying a Mexican child) and his personal warmth came across on television.
We also use the words "political actor" to mean a person who makes things happen in the world, as in the portentous American phase "a global player". I watched at close quarters John Paul II's impact on the Soviet bloc, from his election in 1978 to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. No one can prove conclusively that he was a primary cause of the end of communism. However, the major figures on all sides - not just Lech Walesa, the Polish Solidarity leader, but also Solidarity's arch-opponent, General Wojciech Jaruzelski; not just the former American president George Bush Senior but also the former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev - now agree that he was. I would argue the historical case in three steps: without the Polish Pope, no Solidarity revolution in Poland in 1980; without Solidarity, no dramatic change in Soviet policy towards eastern Europe under Gorbachev; without that change, no velvet revolutions in 1989."