Throughout the day, I’ve gone to Yahoo! and refreshed the page to see if there’s been any more news concerning the Pope.
I’m 44 years old, and I was raised Baptist. After a born-again experience that radically changed my life when I was 13, I devoted myself to apprehending as much as I could of what God had for me. The adventure took through every major expression of Protestantism, and 10 years ago, into the peace and turmoil of the Catholic Church (and beyond). I’ve never really known a Catholic Church that wasn’t headed by Karol Wojtyla, the pope known to the world as His Holiness, John Paul II.
By the time you read this, chances are that John Paul will be “dead,” a word that I have to put in quotes, because any mystic knows that there is no such thing as death. But his smile, wave, and sometimes-infuriating tenacity will be gone.
Most popes have been chiefly administrators of the Church. John Paul II was a maverick. He traveled to every continent and nearly every country of the world, praying for peace and preaching peace. Behind the scenes, he would meet with dictators and urge them to practice tolerance. He was instrumental in preventing the democratic movements in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union from going the way of Tiananmen Square.
He lobbied consistently on behalf of the poor, against the exploitation of poor people by rich people, and poor countries by rich countries. He argued for dignity, fairness, and kindness to all, since all are created in the image of God. He fought against war and the death penalty; he had seen up close the horrors of war and killing, when the most terrible seizure of brutality that humanity has manifested enveloped his country.
He never wavered in proclaiming Christ as the Savior of the world. Yet he reached out with kindness and love to leaders of other religions, and invited the world to dialogue. He publicly asked God’s forgiveness for the Church’s past sins.
To many Catholics like myself, his weaknesses seemed to be in his official role of governing the Church. He resisted the reforms of Vatican II, and interpreted them as narrowly as possible. He scaled back the ministres of laity within the Church, as the priesthood continued to wither away. He often seemed unable to give the grace to more progessively-minded Catholics that he would give to the world in general. Proponents of change often found themselves silenced or censured, such as Matthew Fox OP, Anthony deMello SJ, Leonardo Boff OFM, Tissa Balasuriya OMI, not to mention dozens of lay teachers. The Church remains a largely pre-modern institution in a post-modern world, locked in Thomistic views about sex, birth control, and the capability of women to minister.
But whatever else can be said of him, he gave his all. He gave his heart, his hope, his health, and his life for his convictions and the world. He loved God with all his heart, soul, mind and strength, and he loved his neighbor as himself. He will be missed, and he will be remembered.
Requiescat in pace, Papa Johannes Paulus.
Frontline has an excellent biography of John Paul II.