Sunday, April 03, 2005

John Paul II, RIP

As virtually everyone in the world knows by now, Pope John Paul II has died.

Even though I am not Catholic, I admired John Paul. He will be remembered as one of the great leaders of the 20th century, if not of all history. He became Pope at a time of great crisis, and through his moral leadership the world has changed for the better.

I remember clearly when he became Pope. It was the fall of 1978 and I was a junior in high school. The previous Pope (I think it was Pope Paul, not sure of the number) had died after nearly 20 years of service. In his place they appointed a friendly, telegenic man who took the name of the two previous Popes, John and Paul. In contrast to his stoic predecessors, this new Pope was outgoing and lively who smiled and waved to well-wishers. My good friend "Mello", who was Catholic, was excited about the change. It seemed the entire Catholic church was energized by the new Pope.

And then he died about a month later.

In his place the College of Cardinals appointed another friendly, telegenic, media-savvy Cardinal, the former Karol Wojtila of Poland. Recognizing the popularity of his predecessor, he adopted his name, and became John Paul II.

The world would never be the same.

This new Pope had lived under the hard boot of repression, first under the Nazis in World War II, and then under the Soviets during the Cold War. He knew that communism was not just another form of government, but a fundamentally evil system that in the eyes of God was just as sinful as adultery and robbery. John Paul was determined to stop it.

1979 was a bleak year for freedom-loving people. The Soviets and their allies were on the march in Central America and Afghanistan. The leaders of the West were feckless and weak. America was still saddled by the doubt and despair of the war in Viet Nam. The conventional wisdom was that captialism and democracy were on the wane, and communism was the wave of the future.

Against this stood John Paul II. He pledged his support to dissident groups and condemned totalitarianism. His opposition to communism added a moral dimension to the debate, inspired the West, and gave comfort to the opponents of the Soviet Union. He was a bright light of hope during those dark times.

Soon he had allies. The elections of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan marked the turning of the tide in 1980. For the first time since the early 1960's the West was prepared to meet the Soviets head-on, and this time not only contain them but destroy them.

John Paul provided the moral support for this effort. Cynical western intellectuals rolled their eyes when Ronald Reagan called the Soviet Union an "Evil Empire", but thanks to the statements of the Pope it resonated with the common people. If Ronald Reagan was the Commanding General in the fight against communism in the 1980's, then John Paul II was the Head Chaplain.

For this I honor John Paul II, even though I did not consider him to be the representative of God. But he was an honorable, courageous and moral man who stood against the forces of totalitarianism and helped liberate countless millions. He will be greatly missed.

May God rest his soul.


At 1:17 PM, Blogger noodlenaper said...

Thanks for this post, it's nice to see that non-catholics recognised the difference that Pope john Paul II made.


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