He was the "Pilgrim Pope," the man who traveled the world inspiring a young generation of Catholics that had never seen a leader like him.
He was the first non-Italian pope in half a millennia, so beloved that a crowd of more than a million people cried "Santo Subido" -- sainthood now -- on the day of his funeral.
Today, just eight years later, their prayers were answered. John Paul II will become a saint by the end of the year, the Vatican announced today, likely canonized on the same day as one of the great reformist popes of the last century: John XXIII.
Together, they represent two of the largest influences on the current pope, Francis: John Paul II made Francis a cardinal, and John XXIII convened the Second Vatican Council, a groundbreaking meeting that created a modernized church to which Francis subscribes.
The move was most likely personally pushed by Francis, according to Vatican watchers. John XXIII will become a saint despite not having performed a required second miracle.
"If John Paul were canonized alone, it might be seen as an endorsement," John Thavis, author of "The Vatican Diaries," told ABC News. "By announcing both at the same time, it suggests the church is a broad-based community: We have very different kinds of saints, even among popes. We embrace both of them as models of holiness."
John Paul II led more than a billion Catholics for 27 years and revolutionized how the church's followers relate to the pope. He traveled to more than 125 countries, logging 680,000 miles of travel.
His crowds were some of the largest ever assembled. In Manila, Philippines, four million people listened to him speak.
He was not afraid of politics, either. As the first Polish pope, he fought against both Nazi occupation and Soviet communism.
"He took the bullet of the 20th century," the Rev. John Wauck, a professor at Holy Cross Pontifical University, told ABC News. "The most horrible things of the 20th century -- the wars, Hitler, Soviet communism, persecution, even the political assassinations of the 20th century, he was a victim of an assassination attempt -- he lived through it, and he remained the model of love and forgiveness to the very end."
After John Paul II survived that assassination attempt, he pardoned his would-be killer. His popularity and his leadership helped push the sainthood process along.
But for him to officially become a saint -- under a process that he overhauled himself -- the Vatican needed to declare he lived a virtuous life and then certify two miracles attributed to his intercession.
Pope Francis approved the second miracle sometime this week, according to Italian media. A Costa Rican woman named Floribeth Mora said she suffered from a brain aneurysm and was told she would die. She prayed to John Paul II during his beatification -- when his first miracle was confirmed -- and, her doctor said, the aneurysm disappeared.
"I can't explain it based on science," Dr. Alejandro Vargas told La Razon newspaper.
On the anniversary of John Paul II's death this year, Francis prayed at both John Paul II's and John XXIII's tombs -- a sign he sees continuity by honoring both of them. They are both expected to be canonized by the end of the year.
When John Paul II changed the rules for canonization, he guaranteed that sainthood would not take forever. In the past, many waited centuries: It took Thomas More 400 years to be named a saint.
"In historical terms, this is a very quick canonization," Wauck said.
But for many, John Paul II's canonization was a foregone conclusion even before "Santo Subido" was chanted at the Vatican during his funeral.
As Wauck put it: "I was here in the square after his death, realizing that I was already starting to pray not for him, but to him -- that he was already a saint in Heaven."