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GRAND RAPIDS (WZZM) - He is called the Vicar of Christ, the Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church, and the Bishop of Rome, but he is best known as the pope. The Roman Catholic Church says the history of the pope goes back to the first century, starting with Saint Peter. The papacy is steeped in tradition, but the ultimate role of the pope has remained unchanged.

"The pope is the pastor of the Universal Church," explains Bishop Walter Hurley from the Diocese of Grand Rapids. "Basically, the role of the pope, as it is understood by the church, is that he is the successor of Peter the Apostle," says Bishop Hurley. He is the focal point of unity and meant to be a unifying force within the church.

The pope is also the administrator of Vatican City, a city-state within Rome. "He has a large staff of people who work in various offices, explains Bishop Hurley. "It is a lot like the Diocese of Grand Rapids only much bigger."

The pope appoints bishops and cardinals, the spiritual leadership for a group of churches. "I was one of his (Pope Benedict's) first appointments as the Diocese of Grand Rapids," explains Bishop Hurley.

And as the spiritual head of the Catholic Church, Bishop Hurley says he has "a level of authority within the church that most presidents don't have."

The pope is a leader, a teacher, a pastor, an administrator to over one billion Roman Catholics. "So you can understand at the age of 85 that could be challenging, even when you have a very large staff," explains the Bishop Hurley.