He travelled to Haiti in 1983, where he spoke in Creole to thousands of impoverished Catholics gathered to greet him at the airport. His message, «things must change in Haiti,» referring to the disparity between the wealthy and the poor, was met with thunderous applause. In 2000, he was the first modern pope to visit Egypt, where he met with the Coptic pope, Pope Shenouda III and the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Alexandria. He was the first Catholic pope to visit and pray in an Islamic mosque, in Damascus, Syria, in 2001. He visited the Umayyad Mosque, a former Christian church where John the Baptist is believed to be interred, where he made a speech calling for Muslims, Christians and Jews to live together.
On 15 January 1995, during the X World Youth Day, he offered Mass to an estimated crowd of between five and seven million in Luneta Park, Manila, Philippines, which was considered to be the largest single gathering in Christian history. In March 2000, while visiting Jerusalem, John Paul became the first pope in history to visit and pray at the Western Wall. In September 2001, amid post-11 September concerns, he travelled to Kazakhstan, with an audience largely consisting of Muslims, and to Armenia, to participate in the celebration of 1,700 years of Armenian Christianity.
In June 1979, Pope John Paul II travelled to Poland, where ecstatic crowds constantly surrounded him. This first papal trip to Poland uplifted the nation’s spirit and sparked the formation of the Solidarity movement in 1980, which later brought freedom and human rights to his troubled homeland. Poland’s Communist leaders intended to use the pope’s visit to show the people that although the pope was Polish it did not alter their capacity to govern, oppress, and distribute the goods of society. They also hoped that if the pope abided by the rules they set, that the Polish people would see his example and follow them as well. If the pope’s visit inspired a riot, the Communist leaders of Poland were prepared to crush the uprising and blame the suffering on the pope.
The pope won that struggle by transcending politics. His was what Joseph Nye calls ‘soft power’ — the power of attraction and repulsion. He began with an enormous advantage, and exploited it to the utmost: He headed the one institution that stood for the polar opposite of the Communist way of life that the Polish people hated. He was a Pole, but beyond the regime’s reach. By identifying with him, Poles would have the chance to cleanse themselves of the compromises they had to make to live under the regime. And so they came to him by the millions. They listened. He told them to be good, not to compromise themselves, to stick by one another, to be fearless, and that God is the only source of goodness, the only standard of conduct. ‘Be not afraid,’ he said. Millions shouted in response, ‘We want God! We want God! We want God!’ The regime cowered. Had the Pope chosen to turn his soft power into the hard variety, the regime might have been drowned in blood. Instead, the Pope simply led the Polish people to desert their rulers by affirming solidarity with one another. The Communists managed to hold on as despots a decade longer. But as political leaders, they were finished. Visiting his native Poland in 1979, Pope John Paul II struck what turned out to be a mortal blow to its Communist regime, to the Soviet Empire, [and] ultimately to Communism.»