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 immensean estimated three million people. Everywhere John Paul II went there were crowdsseven 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 writerauthor of 14 encyclicals, 42 apostolic letters, 15 apostolic exhortations, 10 apostolic constitutions, hundreds of public addresses, numerous poems, five books and a number of playsall 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 accomplishmentsas world statesman, theologian, philosopher and church leaderhad 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, ChristChrist 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.
The April 18 issue of America is excellent and should be in every seminary, parish and school librarya wonderful source of information on the papacy.
I find the lead article in the next issue, What Should the Next Pope Do? (4/25), typically American. We all love to give others advice and opinions. Here is mine: Holy Father, be who God calls you to be, and don’t fret about what others think.
(Deacon) Joseph Krikawa
What a great issue is America for April 18. Thank you. Each of the articles on Pope John Paul II is a treasure. Thomas J. Reese, S.J., on Papal Transition is excellent. This is truly an issue to keep.
Santa Clara, Calif.
Will Pope Benedict XVI’s agenda be anything like what was suggested in What Should the Next Pope Do? (4/25)?
Would that the new pontiff become a truly 21st-century disciple of Christ, showing compassion, patience and forgiveness to the alienated among us. Would that he trust regional bishops, who best know their peoples’ needs. Would that he be a bridge-builder between factions within the Catholic church as well as between other religions and other cultures.
Pray that in this world in flux he becomes an understanding listener, especially to the global cries of the poor and vulnerable, and particularly to those suffering and dying of AIDS. Let him hear the church’s major critics and prayerfully ponder what they say.
However long or short his reign, I hope that along his path he re-establishes his role and the role of the Curia as servants of all of the people of God.
W. F. Cento
West St. Paul, Minn.
I would like to applaud Terry Golway’s column on the Renew program (5/2). I must confess that before reading this column, I had never heard of Renew. But I did participate in Why Catholic? this past Lent.
Being Jesuit educated, but not having gone on a retreat since high school, my faith has become very cerebral. Why Catholic? helped bring me more down to earth. Having contact with fellow Catholics and reading the catechism and the Bible, praying together and sharing how we tried to live the Gospel each week is very sobering and inspiring. The beauty of the faith of my fellow parishioners, in all its simplicity and complexity, has truly expanded the horizon of my own faith. In a very real sense, I feel Renewed.
As a longtime admirer of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J., I appreciated your publishing The Weight of Glory and A Holy Man and Lover of the World (3/25). It is to Teilhard that I owe the insight that there is nothing unholy in the universe and that the cosmic universe is one seamless whole, which Christ is to gather up to present to the Father.