- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 14, 2004

VATICAN CITY (AP) — He was already the most-traveled pope, having visited 129 countries. And he has made more saints than all his predecessors in the past 500 years combined.

Pope John Paul II yesterday reached another milestone in his career: He is the third longest-serving pontiff in the history of the Roman Catholic Church.

John Paul, who celebrated his 25th anniversary as pope Oct. 16, surpassed the 9,280 days reached by Pope Leo XIII in 1903 to move into third place on the papal longevity list.

Unlike other milestones officially celebrated by the Vatican, the record set yesterday largely went unheralded: John Paul did not even refer to it in his Sunday remarks in St. Peter’s Square, devoting them instead to the bombings last week in Spain that killed 200 persons.

The Vatican Web site, however, updated its papal statistics chart to reflect John Paul’s new standing, and Vatican Radio also listed his accomplishment as one of its top stories of the day.

“John Paul II has passed such arduous and unique tests that fill us with marvel and thanks,” Catholic historian and commentator Giorgio Rumi told Vatican Radio.

The Vatican lists St. Peter, the first pope, as serving from the year 30 to 64 or 67 — a total of either 34 or 37 years. Second on the longevity list is Pius IX, who served 31 years, seven months and 22 days until Feb. 7, 1878.

John Paul began his papacy by setting a precedent: He was the first Polish pope and the first non-Italian pope in 455 years. At 58, he also was the youngest pope elected in a century.

Over the years, he has notched more firsts. On May 24, 1998, he became the longest-reigning pope elected in the 20th century, beating out Pope Pius XII, who served 19 years, seven months and seven days from 1939 to 1958.

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