The Editors
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John Paul II presided over the Catholic Church for 26-and-a-half years, longer than any other pope except St. Peter and Blessed Pius IX. For about half the people living today, he is the only pope they have ever known. During those 26 years, he visited over 130 countries, published more than 50 major documents, canonized hundreds of saints and appointed most of the church’s active bishops. But these numbers are only part of the story. Pope John Paul II will go down in history as the most important world leader in the second half of the 20th century. He changed the course of history and helped bring an end to the cold war though his support of Solidarity and the Polish freedom movement. This started the landslide that wiped out Communism in Eastern Europe and eventually the Soviet Union. He was the right man in the right place at the right time to shape world history. For those of us who grew up under the terror of the mushroom-shaped cloud, this was an extraordinary achievement. And he brought it all about as a nonviolent revolution without shedding blood, proving foolish the conservative hawks who had counseled violent confrontation and first strikes that would have cost the lives of millions.

But John Paul’s care for the world was not directed only to Eastern Europe. He was a prophet for peace and justice elsewhere as well, especially the Middle East and the third world. He balanced concern for the rights of Palestinians with his condemnation of terror. He supported humanitarian intervention but opposed pre-emptive war. He worried about the impact of economic globalization on the poor in the third world, and urged rich countries like the United States to give more generously to development. In a world of competing economic and national self-interests, he was a prophetic voice for humanity and reconciliation. He admired the American people but was not afraid to challenge government policies that were contrary to moral values, whether these were the Clinton administration’s population policies or both Bush administrations’ wars against Iraq.

John Paul will also be remembered for greatly improving relations between Catholics and Jews. Long after people forget what Communism was, there will still be Catholics and Jews who will look back at the end of the 20th century as a turning point in their relationship. Disagreements and controversies will continue, but they will be disputes among brothers and sisters, not adversaries. Likewise, he began a dialogue with Muslims that we hope will bear fruit in the years ahead.

But John Paul’s vision of himself was not as a politician or diplomat but as a teacher. His writing ran the gamut from poetic musings to scholarly tomes. He came to the papacy with firm convictions about how the Second Vatican Council should be interpreted. He felt there was a need for stability and calm after the tumultuous days that followed Vatican II and considered himself responsible for protecting the deposit of faith while at the same time applying it to the needs and concerns of the day. That not everyone accepted his teaching must have been one of his severest disappointments.

John Paul was often mislabeled as a conservative. True, he stressed traditional church teaching. He also allowed his subordinates to silence and remove theologians from teaching positions. But anyone who listened to him carefully realized that he did not fit into the normal liberal-conservative boxes of American politics and culture. True, he opposed abortion, the use of condoms, gay marriage, women priests and a married clergy. But he was to the left of liberal Democrats when it came to opposing capital punishment and the war in Iraq and supporting foreign aid and the United Nations. And while he opposed women’s ordination, he also opened other church positions to women, from altar servers to diocesan chancellors.

John Paul will also be remembered for his immensely successful pastoral visits to every corner of the world. People by the millions came out to pray with him and hear him preach. What did they come out to see? A reed shaken by the wind? They came to see a holy man, a man of conviction and principle, a man who cared about them and a man who had changed the course of history. In this day of world leaders who tell us what their handlers think we want to hear, who do not open their mouths without checking the polls and focus groups, John Paul was clearly different. He spoke with conviction; he was principled; he challenged us and said hard things. Even those who disagreed with him admired his honesty and conviction. He will be a hard act to follow. May he rest in peace.

Comments

Rev. Vincent Poirier | 4/12/2005 - 1:10pm
John Paul 2nd was a truly remarkable man and priest; however (yes, the inevitable "however"), his hard line with the internal life of the Church was the antithesis of his approach with the world outside the Church, which he approached with sensitivity, humility, and a liberal spirit.

With the members of his own flock, he brooked no opposition to his conservative posture on such issues as divorce, contraception, a married clergy, women priests, etc. He even resorted to an ideosyncratic infallibility over such matters. Open discussion was not an option.

The idea of subsidiarity, so desired by the Fathers of Vatican II (and not unknown in our Church's history) was regarded as an aberration. As his pontifcate lengthened his distaste intensified.

Furthermore, he gave free rein and positions of power to extreme right-wing groups, some members of which are in positions to continue the serious and growing diviseness within the Church.

Lastly, and inexplicably, the Pope's apparent inability to address in a forthright and bold manner the sexual abuse scandal will cast a shadow over his pontificate for many years to come.

Ross Reyes Dizon | 4/11/2005 - 10:08am
Last Friday, biggest foes in the world stood side by side to pay tribute to John Paul II. Sharing, as every Christian should, in Christ’s fullness (cf. Col. 2:9-10), John Paul II must have simply participated in the reality brought about by Jesus’ death and referred to by the Lord himself when he said, “And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself” (Jn. 12:32).

And if the glowing tributes paid to John Paul II are any indication, he too was given an abundant share of the Lord’s power to keep hearers’ hearts burning within them (Lk. 24:13-35).

One only hopes and prays that the show of unity and the excitement of burning hearts reach their peak and come to fulfillment in the breaking and sharing of bread--in such discernment of the body that leads to advocacy for the poor and the standing-up for peace and justice, which especially characterized John Paul II (cf. 1 Cor. 11:17-29).

Joseph Durepos | 2/16/2007 - 2:28pm
Much of the world stood still recently, at least for a few moments, to observe the passing of Pope John Paul II. Television coverage of the crowds of pilgrims making their way to view the body one last time was extraordinary. In a world often deemed indifferent to religion, who would have guessed a humble Polish priest would become a pope the whole world would mourn (4/18)?

I am a Catholic by birth and an editor at a Catholic publishing house by profession. Even among those of us who might be called “professional Catholics,” there has been a sense of awe and wonderment at the life and accomplishments of John Paul II. In August 2002 I watched television coverage of a visibly ailing, 82-year-old pontiff saying Mass in a field outside Krakow. The crowd was immense—an estimated three million people. Everywhere John Paul II went there were crowds—seven million in the Philippines. His general audiences in Rome were attended by 14 million people. It’s difficult to imagine a person living or dead who has seen or been seen by more people than John Paul II. Why?

I decided to search for an answer by immersing myself in John Paul’s writings. He is perhaps the papacy’s most prolific writer—author of 14 encyclicals, 42 apostolic letters, 15 apostolic exhortations, 10 apostolic constitutions, hundreds of public addresses, numerous poems, five books and a number of plays—all this in addition to being the most traveled and most influential pope of the modern age.

What really amazed me, though, was the fact that the magnitude of John Paul II’s accomplishments—as world statesman, theologian, philosopher and church leader—had perhaps obscured his greatest role: that of a humble pastor. He knew something about how men and women can find God. He understood how the power of God can be released in our lives. His supreme desire was that we come to embrace a faith that transforms the way we work, the way we relate to other people and the way we live in the world.

John Paul returned again and again to a few basic themes in all his writings and talks: faith, prayer, family, suffering, the church, Mary and, most passionately, Christ—Christ as the answer to all life’s mysteries. He traveled the world bringing this very simple message.

Though the papacy of John Paul II has ended, his legacy lies tangibly before us in his writings. We can touch his books, hold his pages in our hands, take his words into our hearts. We should do this. He wanted us to. In so doing we may discover that the secret to John Paul II’s immense popularity was that he really believed in a faith that could change the world for the better. His words will bear eloquent witness to this hope for many years to come.

Rev. Vincent Poirier | 4/12/2005 - 1:10pm
John Paul 2nd was a truly remarkable man and priest; however (yes, the inevitable "however"), his hard line with the internal life of the Church was the antithesis of his approach with the world outside the Church, which he approached with sensitivity, humility, and a liberal spirit.

With the members of his own flock, he brooked no opposition to his conservative posture on such issues as divorce, contraception, a married clergy, women priests, etc. He even resorted to an ideosyncratic infallibility over such matters. Open discussion was not an option.

The idea of subsidiarity, so desired by the Fathers of Vatican II (and not unknown in our Church's history) was regarded as an aberration. As his pontifcate lengthened his distaste intensified.

Furthermore, he gave free rein and positions of power to extreme right-wing groups, some members of which are in positions to continue the serious and growing diviseness within the Church.

Lastly, and inexplicably, the Pope's apparent inability to address in a forthright and bold manner the sexual abuse scandal will cast a shadow over his pontificate for many years to come.

Ross Reyes Dizon | 4/11/2005 - 10:08am
Last Friday, biggest foes in the world stood side by side to pay tribute to John Paul II. Sharing, as every Christian should, in Christ’s fullness (cf. Col. 2:9-10), John Paul II must have simply participated in the reality brought about by Jesus’ death and referred to by the Lord himself when he said, “And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself” (Jn. 12:32).

And if the glowing tributes paid to John Paul II are any indication, he too was given an abundant share of the Lord’s power to keep hearers’ hearts burning within them (Lk. 24:13-35).

One only hopes and prays that the show of unity and the excitement of burning hearts reach their peak and come to fulfillment in the breaking and sharing of bread--in such discernment of the body that leads to advocacy for the poor and the standing-up for peace and justice, which especially characterized John Paul II (cf. 1 Cor. 11:17-29).

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