BERLIN -- Pope John Paul II is being honored with a special edition of the prestigious International Charlemagne Prize for his contribution to European unity.
The 83-year-old pontiff follows British World War II leader Winston Churchill, former U.S. President Bill Clinton, British Prime Minister Tony Blair in winning the prize, awarded annually since 1950 by the German city of Aachen.
The pope will receive the prize during a ceremony at the Vatican on March 25. This year's regular Charlemagne prize will go to European Parliament president Pat Cox, who will receive his award in Aachen on May 10.
The award committee, which made the announcement late Thursday, cited "the extraordinary contribution of the pope to the process of European integration, but also his particular effort to exert an influence from Europe on the shaping of the world order."
Aachen mayor Juergen Linden highlighted the Polish-born pope's role in bringing down the Iron Curtain that once divided the continent.
"Communism would have been overcome without the pope, but he helped to ensure that it happened faster and without bloodshed," Linden said.
The Charlemagne award is endowed with a symbolic $6,350. The Holy Roman emperor Charlemagne once ruled a large swath of western Europe from Aachen, close to the Belgian border.