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Saturday, April 02, 2005

Death of Pope John Paul II, April 2, 2002


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It will be a long time before the life and tenure of Pope John Paul II can fully be appreciated and put into perspective, but certain things are most likely to be a certain part of his legacy:
Pope John Paul II
He will be remembered as the Pope who bridged the 2nd and 3rd millennia after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and who also bore the brunt of the continued stresses on the church created, not unexpectedly, by the Second Vatican Council.

He will be remembered as the Pope whose elevation, installation, and visits home awakened the spirit of freedom within his own people, and the courage and knowledge that they were not alone in their beliefs but were in fact, the vast majority of the Polish nation. It was this truth, brought out into light by this Pope, that added strength to Solidarity, and ultimately aided the downfall of the entire Soviet system.

He will be remembered as a traveling Pope, putting a personal face, a warm face on the image of the Papacy, so distant before the age of television and air travel. As perhaps the single most traveled Bishop of Rome, his popularity, not unlike that of the departed Joseph Cardinal Bernardin of Chicago, warmed faithful and non-faithlfulalike as he visited key religious sites important to other major religions. He made a point of reaching out to all peoples, of all faiths, of all genders, but especially the young, who responded to him with enthusiasm and love.

As charming, charismatic and diplomatic as he was, he was also an intellectual, whose beliefs were grounded in disciplined thought, and who wrote so much that he may one day be compared to some of the great writers of the Church's early history. This is one of the things that only time can tell.

As leader of the Roman Catholic Church, as Bishop of Rome, as the follower of St. Peter, Christ's Shepherd on earth, he was also tasked to be a conservative, a conservator of the Church's values, to be a protector of the faith, to resist changes for the sake of changes alone, changes that he felt were not allowed by inherent nature of the church itself, and to be the one to speak out against injustice when and as he saw it even when it was most saddening, angering, challenging or difficult in a way which lead to healing, peace and action.

It was his duty and burden and perhaps his joy as well to do so at a time when there was more daily change than perhaps at any time in human history, and with a segment of Catholics that were in large numbers more wealthy, articulate, educated, politically powerful, (male and female), than at any time before.

At the same time, the influence, scrutiny, power and instantaneous scope of mass media created powerful new tools and powerful challenges simultaneously. They both allowed world wide coverage of the impact of his international visits and the power of his messages, and continuous unrelenting coverage when scandal rocked the American Catholic Church.

Through all of this, he was a human being, with friends who brought him laughter and joy, extraordinary lifetime duties of office, and a strong will, a will forged while surviving as a Catholic Bishop and Cardinal in a Poland fighting to regain its identity and religion. The Catholic Church will indeed be lucky to find such a spirited whirlwind of power and conviction in the next Pontiff.

For all of this, I suspect he would like to be remembered as a person of faith, hope and love, who did hid best to do reach our to all people with Christ's message of love and forgiveness, who was grateful for the opportunities he received for the good work that he did, and for the love and appreciation that was shown to him, right up until the end. It was noted today by one official that saw those accolades not as his praise but as a sign of faith and love for the Church and the message of Christ Jesus.

But in today's world we look much more closely at the medium than the message, which is why the person, the personality, the dignity, the charity, the openness, the strength and the love and joy conveyed by Pope John Paul the Second, opened so many hearts to him, and why so many will mourn for him and genuinely miss him in the weeks to come.

He will surely be remembered for his ability as a shepherd; rarely has a Pontiff traveled so far to gather his sheep. How else he will be viewed by history we will have to see. But tonight, and in the days to come, people across the world, of many faiths, pray for him, for the church, and for those who mourn his passing. Though he would be quick to point out that the Catholic funeral mass is not a mass of mourning, but a mass of celebration of one's passing on to eternal life.

I ask that those who pray join the community of prayer today for The Holy Father, pray for him and those who mourn his passing, pray for peace in the world among all peoples, and pray for certain personal intentions of my own.

(Apologies for any wording unintentionally lifted from the news commentary today).

More information can be found at the Archdiocese of Chicago Website Special Section on the Pontiff's death: Archdioces of Chicago - Special Section


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