What does the passing of Pope John Paul II mean to you? (I urge you to click on the above to read the full blog entry that accompanies the question. It’s a good one.)
Pope John Paul II was the 264th Pope of the Roman Catholic Church, elected October 16, 1978.
First off, I’m not Catholic, so my feelings about the death of Pope John Paul II don’t have much to do with his role as a representative of God. I was also raised as a Jehovah’s Witness, so for many years I regarded the Catholic church as part of “Babylon the Great” – the worst of the world’s false religions. On the other hand, I do believe that God is in all of us – and this Pope did much to bring out the godspirit of lovemind and loveheart in many people all around the world. John Paul II did much to alter my original brainwashing about Catholicism (academic study, love of music and architecture, and several months living in Paris did the rest). I am also ambivalent for a number of reasons, some of which are a bit opaque to me in the immediacy of the event, so long expected but for all that, somehow surprising.
In the long history of Popes, I think that John Paul II was one of the better ones. I liked his spirit and I liked his face. Although Catholics in America didn’t seem to pick up on it much, the Pope was very much opposed to the Iraq war and its accompanying theory of unilateral preventive war. John Paul II did not think that all possiblilities for a peaceful solution had been exhausted before the American attack nor that there was even sufficient evidence of weapons of mass destruction.
I like that Karol Józef Wojtyła was Polish (and Lithuanian) and not Italian like so many previous Popes. I admired that the “Pilgrim Pope” travelled so much and clearly cared about people. He promoted non-Europeans and non-Americans into positions of leadership in the church, and I think he handled the child abuse issue pretty well. He didn’t do much for women or for gays – but his version of the “culture of life” (did the far right steal the term from him?) didn’t limit itself to abortion and birth control issues. I actually get the sense – completely speculative – that he might have wished to allow birth control, but didn’t feel he could. After all, he had run a service that dealt with marital problems, from family planning and illegitimacy to alcoholism and physical abuse (Time magazine called it “perhaps the most successful marriage institute in Christianity”).
He opened the office to hear the voices of people from other religious traditions, and was particularly interested in helping to heal the long historical rift between Catholics and Jews. He grew up in Poland, remember. He was the first Pope to visit a synagogue, the first to visit the Holocaust memorial at Auschwitz. From his childhood to the present, he was a spiritual person who understood suffering, and it deepened him. I respect that. I also thought it helped the church that he enjoyed music, poetry and theater. He had been a gifted actor, singer, and athlete in his youth.
He was involved in Vatican II on issues of religious freedom and throughout his life he worked on a theology that advocated a Christian view intimately concerned with issues of peace, political freedom, human rights, and even economic issues. He had a deeply practical side as well. He has always been deeply concerned about poverty – as every Christian should be – and while his early years were concerned with the downfall of Communism (he had lived through the authoritarian regimes of the Nazis and the USSR) his latter years pointed out the accompanying problems of rampant materialism and the abuses of global capitalism that has become destructive to the earth itself and to the spirit and well-being of the people on it.
I think he took his role very seriously and he handled it well. In his own way, he spoke prophetically to the whole world and he had the authority to do so.
He was not, however, a liberation theologian. He was a disappointment in that regard. The voices of spirit that have given us tremendous insights for the last, say, 30 years or so at least – the diverse constructive theologies from Latin America, Africa, Black communities, the ecumenical impulse that was getting into high gear before Bush took office, the Feminist, Gay, and Environmental theologies – didn’t really seem to get his consideration. He may simply have lumped them all into Marxism without thinking it through, but he was smart enough that I would have thought he could have considered these perspectives, many of which have made significant differences in lives around the world. What got started with Vatican II stopped here, and the Pope did seem to surround himself in later years with “religious caterpillars” – toady devouts, or what we would call parasitic “yes-men.”
Still, I liked him. I felt that he was, overall, a pretty good Pope. There have been some pretty bad Popes, and I am grateful that he had a conscience and a sense of duty and that he prayed. I have the sense that he really prayed, unlike many so-called religious.
John Paul II was close-minded in some respects – but I admired him even when I disagreed with him. I feel that his own person was probably more progressive than the role he had to embody. The church had lost a lot of people when they made too many changes at once – I think he tried to restabilize things. I don’t know for sure whether it was firmness or stubborness that motivated some of his pronouncements – but I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. He was a very intelligent and caring father of the church, and I will miss him. He has been the Pope for most of my life. I was in 8th grade when last the smoke rose. I grieve for the loss that so affects so many people all over the world.
Here are a few of my favorite quotations:
Do not abandon yourselves to despair. We are the Easter people and hallelujah is our song.
From now on it is only through a conscious choice and through a deliberate policy that humanity can survive.
The human creature receives a mission of government over creation to make all its potential shine.
It is perhaps appropriate at this point to recall the Church’s contribution to the defense and promotion of life through health care, social development, and education to benefit peoples, especially the poor.
Have no fear of moving into the unknown. Simply step out fearlessly knowing that I am with you, therefore no harm can befall you; all is very, very well. Do this in complete faith and confidence.
Humanity should question itself, once more, about the absurd and always unfair phenomenon of war, on whose stage of death and pain only remain standing the negotiating table that could and should have prevented it.
I have a sweet tooth for song and music. This is my Polish sin.
Pervading nationalism imposes its dominion on man today in many different forms and with an aggressiveness that spares no one. The challenge that is already with us is the temptation to accept as true freedom what in reality is only a new form of slavery.
Social justice cannot be attained by violence. Violence kills what it intends to create.
Science can purify religion from error and superstition. Religion can purify science from idolatry and false absolutes.
The historical experience of socialist countries has sadly demonstrated that collectivism does not do away with alienation but rather increases it, adding to it a lack of basic necessities and economic inefficiency.
An excuse is worse and more terrible than a lie, for an excuse is a lie guarded.
This people draws its origin from Abraham, our father in faith. The very people that received from God the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” itself experienced in a special measure what is meant by killing. It is not permissible for anyone to pass by this inscription with indifference.
To maintain a joyful family requires much from both the parents and the children. Each member of the family has to become, in a special way, the servant of the others.
Violence and arms can never resolve the problems of men.
Radical changes in world politics leave America with a heightened responsibility to be, for the world, an example of a genuinely free, democratic, just and humane society.
Man always travels along precipices. His truest obligation is to keep his balance.
Anything done for another is done for oneself.
I hope to have communion with the people, that is the most important thing.
Goodbye, dear spiritual father, blessed Ojciec.
Per aspera ad astra, requiescat in pace.