Although much of today’s youth have been partying due to their graduation or simply the end of SY 2004-2005, I doubt they haven’t heard that the 264th leader of the Christian Community/Catholic Church, Pope John Paul II, has peacefully died on Saturday evening in Vatican City (however, let me point out that I am sometimes stunned how clueless the younger generation can be).
I remembered waking up on Sunday and learning from Merly that the 84-year old Pontiff, who has served for almost 27 years, has indeed passed away. I was dismayed by the news, but was somehow expecting it since he was critically ill. After a quick trip to the bathroom, I turned the TV on to CNN and watched the news until breakfast. I wouldn’t deny that I sad enough to shed some tears while watching. It’s amazing, really.
For me, his death was somehow different from the passing of other world personalities, such as the Mother Theresa, Princess Diana or even PLO leader Yasser Arafat. Maybe because, being a Catholic myself, Pope John Paul II was the face of faith that I have come to know and revered. To be honest, it will be quite an adjustment to see a new Pope wearing those familiar white robes.
He will always be referred to as the “Great Communicator”, and his being down-to-earth sets him apart from his predecessors who, in a way, have enjoyed the pageantry of the papacy. He was unique in many ways: first non-Italian pope in four and half century; first pope hailed from Eastern Europe; known as the most traveled pope, with visits in Africa, Asia, Latin American, North America, Europe and even the Middle East; has visited a synagogue in Rome and a mosque in Damascus (yep, he took his shoes off); has encouraged dialogue between nations and religions; said to have been partly responsible for the demise of Communism in Eastern Europe; aside from world leaders and other dignitaries, has met with personalities from the entertainment industry, such as U2’s BONO and the Passion of the Christ’s Jim Caviezel; and has canonized the most number of saints (or at least placed them on the path to sainthood).
On a serious note, like a President of a country, there were a few assassination attempts. Furthermore, there were criticisms against his efforts of keeping the Catholic faith conservative. A minority of Christian women called him not women-friendly because he disagreed to the petition for the ordination of women priests. Meanwhile gay activists referred to him as a bigot, since he was against gay marriages and homosexuality in the priesthood. While the Pope may have the power to pave the way for these changes, I believe the Church as a whole is not ready for these radical amendments any time soon. Since Christianity is deeply rooted in tradition, even if the Pope was open-minded, his education as a priest prevented him from considering these options.
Of course, the Filipinos will always remember the charisma of John Paul II, or Karol Wojtyla. As we all know, he visited the country twice as Pope, the first in the 1980’s and the other during the World Youth Day celebration in 1995. I just found out last night that in mid-1970 he was in the country as Cardinal Wojtyla, and celebrated mass in Baclaran Church while waiting for his flight for Papua New Guinea (?). In my opinion, the most memorable image of him during that week long celebration in 1995 was when he whirled his cane like Charlie Chaplin; the man obviously had a sense of humor.
Before going to work this morning, I decided to buy a newspaper that would definitely feature an article (rather, articles) on him. I like the picture printed in today’s Inquirer, which occupied the front page; the Pope was wearing his white miter and crimson robes (the wind made the picture all the more dramatic) and holding his, uh, staff (hehehe), his right hand was raised as if blessing the eager crowd before him, he was smiling of course. I guess this is how all of us should remember the Holy Father: eagerly spreading God’s word and assiduously promoting peace and unity among Christians and non-Christians.
We will be waiting for the election of the new Pope, but John Paul II will definitely be “a tough act to follow”. Nonetheless, the faithful will have to move on, since the Holy Father has moved on and returned to the house of the God. Our memories of him will last forever and his noteworthy contributions to the world will go down in history. The simple boy from Poland will gain immortality for his service to his brothers and sisters and ultimately, to his (and our) God.