POPE John Paul II will be an extremely hard act to follow. He was the Pope who took the Catholic Church to the world, and few religious figures can match the impact he made.

Using the mass media with rare assurance, and capitalising on the opportunities of modern air travel, he touched more people than any previous Pope.

His visit to York in 1982, when 300,000 people turned out to see him in astonishing scenes - remembered in our commemorative supplement today - is an example of his extraordinary popularity. The fact that the event is still talked about to this day is testament to his powers of communication.

He will be best remembered for his unflinching determination to build bridges between the faiths of the world, and his efforts to promote international peace and understanding.

It meant that he earned the love and respect of millions, irrespective of whether they had strong religious beliefs or not.

John Paul's successor must continue to build on the links which have been forged with other denominations, and he must go on reaching out to all corners of the world. That is now expected and there can be no going back.

But more controversially, he will find it extremely difficult to unravel John Paul's uncompromisingly traditional views on birth control, abortion and women priests.

We join the world in saluting a truly great man whose influence went far beyond religion. And our thoughts are with the man who has the huge task of following in his footsteps.