Since I lived in Poland for a year and have felt close to the country for more than a decade now, I wanted to add my voice to the remembrances of Pope John Paul II. There were many areas where I, as one who seems to lack the faith gene, disagreed, often vehemently, with the Pope, but here are things I found admirable:
- He demystified the papacy. By traveling and embracing global telecommunications, he made the Pope a much more human figure. His admissions of Church error and requests for forgiveness made the Catholic Church itself a more human institution. He even admitted that Galileo was right.
- He was an incredibly staunch friend of freedom. He would frequently travel to dictatorships, even his beloved Poland, and criticize the regimes on their own soil.
- He was consistent. While a foolish consistency may be the hobgoblin of little minds, Jan Pawel did remain true to his beliefs from beginning to end. He did not remain silent on Iraq just because George W. Bush shared his view of abortion. He privately met with and forgave the man who tried to kill him.
- He reached out to other religions, particularly Judaism, who had suffered at the hands of the Catholic Church. He had Jewish friends in Wadowice (OK, because it’s driven me crazy recently, it is pronounced vah-doh-VEE-tseh, and “Cracow” is really spelled Kraków and is pronounced KRAH-koof) and genuinely seemed to “get” the relationship between anti-Semitism and the horrors of Nazi Germany.
He, of course, was flawed, like all men. But he did rise to the occasion more than most and made radical changes in the Catholic Church. I wish he could have gone further, but in a little over a quarter century he did quite a lot.