April 2, 2005


POPE JOHN PAUL II: DAYS OF GRACE (Joseph Farrell, 4/03/05, Sunday Herald)

POPE John Paul II was one of the few figures in this age whose fame and legacy are guaranteed to outlive it. Historians centuries hence will be debating his influence on Church doctrine, his role in reshaping the modern Papacy and extending its prestige worldwide, his part in the liberation of Europe from communism and the remaking of the continent, as well as the enigmas of the private man and the public leader.

His impact on his age could not have been foreseen when on October 16, 1978, the announcement was made that Cardinal Wojtyla had been chosen as the 264th successor of St Peter. Nobody had predicted a Polish Pope, but it quickly became a matter of received wisdom that both the man Karol Jozef Wojtyla and the Pope John Paul II could be understood only by reference to his Polish roots.

Poland has a vision of itself as a nation offended by history. Many complex political and historical factors contribute to the Polish sense of self, but allegiance to Catholicism is one of its core elements. While visiting Castro’s Cuba, Pope John Paul II stated that a universal church can legitimately break down into a series of national communities, each true to the culture of the nation which produced it. The statement is as true of Poland as of Cuba. The Polish church has always seen itself as guardian of culture and identity, but also as embattled and at odds with a political authority which at many points of history was in the hands of adversaries.

Whether by quirks of fate or Providence or both, Jews and Christians have been positioned by history so that they understand the danger of a totalitarian state, the value of a secular political system, and the absolute necessity of a vibrant church and society. No one was ever better, or more painfully, tutored in these truths than the 20th century Poles.

Pope John Paul II (Charles Krauthammer,April 3, 2005, Townhall)

It was Stalin who gave us the most famous formulation of that cynical (and today quite fashionable) philosophy known as ``realism'' -- the idea that all that ultimately matters in the relations among nations is power: ``The pope? How many divisions does he have?''

Stalin could only have said that because he never met John Paul II. We have just lost the man whose life was the ultimate refutation of ``realism.'' Within 10 years of his elevation to the papacy, John Paul II had given his answer to Stalin and to the ages: More than you have. More than you can imagine.

History will remember many of the achievements of John Paul II, particularly his zealous guarding of the church's traditional belief in the sanctity of life, not permitting it to be unmoored by the fashionable currents of thought about abortion, euthanasia and ``quality of life.'' But above all, he will be remembered for having sparked, tended and fanned the flames of freedom in Poland and the rest of Eastern Europe, leading ultimately and astonishingly to the total collapse of the Soviet empire.

I am not much of a believer, but I find it hard not to suspect some providential hand at play when the white smoke went up at the Vatican 27 years ago and the Polish cardinal was chosen to lead the Catholic Church. Precisely at the moment the West most desperately needed it, we were sent a champion. It is hard to remember now how dark those days were. The 15 months following the pope's elevation marked the high tide of Soviet communism and the nadir of the free world's post-Vietnam collapse.

-A great man has passed (George Will, April 3, 2005, Townhall)
In Eastern Europe, where both world wars began, the end of the Cold War began on Oct. 16, 1978, with a puff of white smoke, in Western Europe. It wafted over one of Europe's grandest public spaces, over Michelangelo's dome of St. Peter's, over statues of the saints atop Bernini's curving colonnade that embraces visitors to Vatican City. Ten years later, when the fuse that Polish workers had lit in a Gdansk shipyard had ignited the explosion that leveled the Berlin Wall, it was clear that one of the most consequential people of the 20th century's second half was a Pole who lived in Rome, governing a city-state of 109 acres.

Science teaches that reality is strange -- solid objects are mostly space; the experience of time is a function of speed; gravity bends light. History, too, teaches strange truths: John Paul II occupied the world's oldest office, which traces its authority to history's most potent figure, a Palestinian who never traveled a hundred miles from his birthplace, who never wrote a book and who died at 33. And religion, once a legitimizer of political regimes, became in John Paul II's deft hands a delegitimizer of communism's ersatz religion.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 2, 2005 11:42 PM
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