Popes didn't always have a personal following

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The influence and magnetism of the modern papacy are, in fact, surprises. When Leo XIII was elected in 1878—the first pope in 1,100 years not to control substantial territory as an internationally recognized sovereign—many thought the papacy an impotent anachronism. Leo, however, created the modern papacy as an office of moral persuasion. John Paul II, elected precisely 100 years after Leo, turned the papal bully pulpit into something to be reckoned with in the world. John Paul was one of the key figures in the collapse of European communism; he also played a significant role in democratic transitions in Latin America and East Asia, while defending the universality of human rights and challenging the intolerant secularism of European high culture.

That many Catholics feel a deep personal connection to the pope is another relatively new, and in some respects surprising, phenomenon.

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