The 2005 Freedom Award was presented by the International Republican Institute, a non-partisan, non-profit organization that promotes democracy in more than 60 nations through workshops and other practical education activities.
The award to the pope, who died last month, was accepted on his behalf by Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, archbishop of Washington.
"I am humbled to share it with a great champion of human freedom: Pope John Paul II," Bush said during an IRI dinner. "Everywhere he went, Pope John Paul preached that the call of freedom is for every member of the human family, because the Author of Life wrote it into our common human nature."
The pope, he said, was a "hero for the ages."
In his remarks the U.S. president said helping fledgling democracies develop lasting institutions that grow and protect democratic necessities, such as free speech, free assembly, economic opportunity and an independent judiciary, is the challenge of the new century.
The United States would do its part, he vowed, but he also called on other nations, as well as non-governmental organizations, to join in the task.