I have wanted to meet the Pope for some time now. So when a fellow student told me in a yawning, casual way that she was blessed by His Holiness in a receiving line not once but three times on a spring trip to Rome, I was both shocked at her distasteful lack of respect and just a little bit jealous. Former CBS journalist Charles Kuralt once videotaped the footage of the Papal receiving line, where he stood in line along with many other pilgrims to receive the Pope’s blessing. When Mr. Kuralt’s turn came, he explained to the Pope that he was doing a special on the Vatican. The Pope, seemingly amused, blessed Mr. Kurwalt, his cameraman and their journey. Afterwards, Mr. Kurwalt reflected that upon meeting the pontiff, you didn’t charm him; he charmed you. That speaks volumes.
The insatiable media in this country loves to tug at the heartstrings of Catholics and those who respect and admire Pope John Paul II by covering every illness with the same questions: will the Pope resign and/or how long does he have left? Inevitably, there is talk of the Pope’s suspected case of Parkinson’s disease and then sidetracked discussion of the sex abuse scandals that have surfaced in court cases around the country. A man such as Karol Wojtyla, who left his native Poland and voyaged to the Vatican to become God’s own representative to over one billion people across the world, deserves better press.
The Pope has given the world nearly 30 years of service as head of the Catholic Church. He came to Rome as a selfless servant of God and the church, and made it clear that he would pray for the whole of the world, not just the faithful following. Using his status, he has advocated and pushed for peace wherever there is strife and tragedy.
In the realm of international politics, political scientists should take note: among his many accomplishments, the Pope helped force the collapse of Communism through word and deed in Eastern Europe, including Poland. He was one of the first to give the South African state under Nelson Mandela official recognition after the fall of the Apartheid regime. And he challenged Fidel Castro on Cuban soil to relax the law so that the religious in Cuba could be free to practice their faiths.
To me, what makes this Pope so special is that he is a man who has gained the power of an ancient and powerful institution that has seen the rise and fall of empires and commands the attention of people around the world, and yet has not lost his humanity to the position. His aura is unmistakable and yet he is humble and caring for the smallest concerns. Contrast these noble facets to those of the more aloof or even corrupt pontiffs of yesteryear and we are quickly reminded how far the Catholic Church has come. It took a stout heart to apologize for the dark parts of the church’s history and courage to embrace change that there is validity to the discoveries of science when they pertain to the origins of our world. Change is hard for any religion, let alone Catholicism.
Followers and observers should place Pope John Paul II alongside the peace-seeking greats of history. These people would include the likes of Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Teresa. Our world is truly blessed for having the large and small figures of benevolence. In troubled times such as these, we are lucky to have a man such as the Pope, who makes it his life’s occupation to take the world’s troubles onto his own shoulders and prays for a better tomorrow.
However much longer we have His Holiness, I think it is important to reflect on all the good he has done and continues to do. For him, I am, and shall forever remain, thankful.
-The writer is a senior majoring in political science.