pope: noun. 1: The bishop of Rome and head of the Roman Catholic Church on earth. (Etymology: Middle English, from Old English papa, from Late Latin, from Latin, father (title of bishops), from Greek pappas, father) - WordNet.
IT WAS a week of weddings and funerals. Everyone was surprised by the staggering numbers of pilgrims who turned out for the funeral of Pope John Paul II. The title of pope comes from the classical Latin, where it had taken on the connotation of tutor, but obviously goes back to the Greek for father.
It shares a common heritage with patriarch, which goes back to the Greek for the head of a clan or extended family. Patriarch was used as an honorific title of certain bishops in the early Christian Church, notably those of Antioch, Alexandria, and Rome.
As the western Church developed independently, the designation pope was attached to bishops by the time of Leo the Great (440-461). But it was not appropriated exclusively by the Bishop of Rome until as late as 1073. The word bishop itself is from the Old English (bisceop), from the Vulgar Latin (ebiscopus), from Late Latin (episcopus), from Late Greek (episkopos), where it just meant an overseer of any kind.
Pontiff, the other title for the pope, is of ancient pagan origin, from the Latin pontifex, the title of the high priest in Roman times. The word was adopted for the more secular "bishop" in Church Latin, but not recorded in that sense in English until 1677, specifically then for the pope. Pontifex is probably from pont (bridge) + fex (root of facere, to make). If so, the word originally meant "bridge-maker", poetically bridging the earthly world and the realm of the gods. Alternatively, it might go back to some older Etruscan word referring to a burnt offering. To pontificate, which is my job, is first attested in 1825.
Pope John Paul II has added his own gentle mark to the language of popery. He will forever be associated with the word "Popemobile", coined in 1979 for his papal car.