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The Pope's Legacy - A Soldier of Faith
Vi ho cercato e siete venuti, vi ringrazio (I came to you, now it is you who have come to me. I thank you)

Date to be added   |   2005   |   Subject  Middle East & North Africa (MENA)

The Vatican, 2 April 2005 - dr harry hagopian, KOG-KSL

On 2 April 2005, as he lay serenely on his deathbed, Pope John-Paul II reportedly murmured this sentence twice over to his closest aides. It was his final message to the youth, and the Italian Corriere della Sera newspaper came out on Sunday with the headline Grazie, giovani {Thanks, young people}. It is not surprising that this phrase almost drew the Pope's last breath for he was known to strike a chord with the younger generations. After all, the meetings he had held with young men and women across countries and continents from Lebanon to France over many years spoke volumes about the special rapport he had established with them. Although they did not always agree with his views, the younger generations appreciated nonetheless his steady integrity and truthfulness. Here was a holy man who depicted a moral force that did not spin, prevaricate or fudge but remained consistent - almost infallibly so - as he deployed his principles and upheld his beliefs.

I was fortunate enough to meet this impressive pastor on a number of occasions in Rome or on his pilgrimages abroad, and I believe that John-Paul II's death marked the end to an exceptional pontificate of 26 busy years. Indeed, this was the epilogue to a papal story that started on 16 October 1978 when white smoke billowed from the Vatican chimney announcing that Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, Archbishop of Krakow, had become the 264 th Pope of the Universal Catholic Church. 58 years young, John-Paul II was the first Polish pope ever, and the first non-Italian since the election of Adrian VI in 1522. Now, almost twenty-seven years later, he has also become the second longest-serving pontiff after Pope Pius IX (1846-1878). The void is therefore even greater as many people grew up with this charismatic communicator. No wonder HE Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor, head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, when commenting that the late pope could soon become known as John Paul the Great, added that John Paul II was one of the greatest Popes in the Church's 2000-year history. The Church will miss him. The world will miss him. I will miss him.

Witty, charismatic, humorous and media-friendly, John-Paul II was also a redoubtable theologian and deep-rooted philosopher who subscribed to certitudes and condemned non-conformity of thought. Much influenced in his early years by the teachings of Saints Louis Marie Montfort and John of the Cross, he had authored Love and Responsibility , contributed to Humanae Vitae and issued many Encyclicals. His own family experiences as a young child, and his later visit to the icon of the Black Madonna in Czestechowa in Poland, made him a fervent devotee of Mary, Mother of God. But his wartime experiences also meant that he had first-hand witness and understanding of Nazism, the cold war and communism.

In his constant attempts to initiate dialogue with Judaism, the older sister of Christianity, in the bridges he built with Islam, or even in his contribution toward the demise of communism in his native Poland, this man marked aggressively the pages of history. In all likelihood, this late successor to the Throne of St Peter would posthumously be viewed as someone who believed that human values, not numbers, were what mattered most, and his embrace of each person's innate dignity was the touchstone that allowed him to shape our times as he railed against them. He managed to globalise the Catholic Church despite his doctrinal conservatism, his Scripture-literate ethical traditionalism and his ostensible aptitude for centralisation. Paradoxically, though, he countered those conservative labels with his adoption of liberal positions on global politics, human rights, personal dignity and social justice. Pope John Paul II was a man who used the tools of modernity to struggle against a modern and uncaring world. Wherever he travelled, he spoke out in solidarity with the voiceless, poor, needy, infirm and afflicted peoples. He was unremittingly in favour of a culture of life that implacably opposed the death penalty, and stressed constantly that wars never resolved conflicts. In fact, one of his favourite prayers intoned, Hear my voice, for it is the voice of the victims of all wars and violence among individuals and nations. Hear my voice, for I speak for the multitudes in every country and every period of history who do not want war and are ready to walk the road of peace.

Was Pope John-Paul II an ecumenist? Despite clear divergences with the Anglican Church, HG Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, eulogised him as a leader of manifest holiness and a faithful and prayerful friend of the Anglican Church. Was he perhaps a politician and philosopher, a reformist or traditionalist, a savvy celebrity or even a keen 'propagator' of saints? Whatever the Holy Father meant to each one of us, I believe that his ultimate objective was 'to confirm brethren in the faith' and to preach the Word of God. He manifested the instinct of St Paul for preaching the Gospel, and the channels he established with the Orthodox Churches from Constantinople to Athens, from Bucharest to Yerevan and Jerusalem, made him a primary disciple of faith.

The late pilgrim pope leaves behind a legacy of selfless faith in God and of effective witness to our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. But he also leaves behind him today an ekklesia buffeted with core challenges relating to economics, multi-faith dialogue and science. Moreover, and paramount to the new century, there also remain a host of unresolved worldly teachings on birth control, abortion, homosexuality, priestly marriage, divorce and the ordination of women. His successor would need to grapple with those weighting and determining issues very soon.

© Dr Harry Hagopian   |   2005   |   Date to be added


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