The pope is the religious leader of the world's more than 1 billion Roman Catholics. There are many denominations within Christianity; Roman Catholicism is the largest branch. The pope lives in the Vatican City in Italy and is its official head of state. He acts as spiritual leader of his huge congregation and is thought to be infallible; he can't be wrong about spiritual or moral matters. The doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church is decreed by the pope. His decisions and pronouncements can have tremendous effect, even influencing governments in some parts of the world.
The papacy can be traced back to the early days of Christianity, when St. Peter was empowered, according to the Book of Matthew, by Jesus to lead the church. The statement now is called the Petrine guarantee. Although never officially recognized as such, Peter is considered to be the first pope by virtue of this decree and his extensive work to spread the teachings of Jesus. Shortly after Jesus' time, St. Peter was the unchallenged head of the church. He traveled to Rome to continue his spiritual work. It was in Rome that he met a martyr's death at the hands of the emperor Nero, who persecuted Christians. Peter was buried on Vatican Hill and a cathedral was later built over the site of his tomb.
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