Saturday, April 02, 2005

The pope died today

The Pope died today. We were going to the movies, but both DH and I are too sad. It doesn’t feel right.

He was a good man, a holy man. And though I clashed with some of his conservative views, I cherished having him as pope. He championed the cause of the poor and downtrodden. He was a pope for and of the people. He stuck to his convictions. He was a pope of peace, and reached across the chasms dividing religions.

When he left the note at the Wailing Wall, asking forgiveness for those who caused the suffering of the Jewish people, and wishing to commit to brotherhood with those of the Jewish faith, I was deeply moved. Equally so when he visited a mosque. So symbolic and ground-breaking. The pope was a man people of all faiths could admire. A devout man of prayer. He did not grandstand nor try to grab political favor. He spoke out against communism with courage. He stated his opinion and did not fear people mocking him for it.

He wasn’t politically correct. And he didn’t care. Have to admire the man for that.

I saw him once, in Miami. 1987. I was serving as a Catholic young adult steward for the open air Mass held in Tamiami Park. We had to be there the night before, and slept on the ground. It rained fiercely the next day. My friends and I stood there, soaked, watching him pass by in his Popemobile. An awe-inspiring moment. And the electrical storm, wow, they had to finally cancel. Too dangerous.

Years later, I saw another popemobile in Guatemala. The one he used to tour the city. The priest who showed it to us was explaining proudly how the pope visited his country. And it struck me at how far traveled this pope was, and what his visit meant to the thousands of Catholics in that country. To the poor, who lived in misery and tiny hovels, whose cause he championed. What an inspiration it must have been for them to see him.

I think what I’ll miss most about him is his championing the plight of the poor and the suffering. In 1994 he wrote a deeply moving Christmas message to children.

He wrote, “But it is also true that in our days, unfortunately, many children in different parts of the world are suffering and being threatened: they are hungry and poor, they are dying from diseases and malnutrition, they are the victims of war, they are abandoned by their parents and condemned to remain without a home, without the warmth of a family of their own, they suffer many forms of violence and arrogance from grown-ups. How can we not care, when we see the suffering of so many children, especially when this suffering is in some way caused by grown-ups?

And he concluded with a message of love. “I hope that they will be joyful and peaceful for you; I hope that during them you will have a more intense experience of the love of your parents, of your brothers and sisters, and of the other members of your family. This love must then spread to your whole community, even to the whole world, precisely through you, dear children. Love will then be able to reach those who are most in need of it, especially the suffering and the abandoned. What joy is greater than the joy brought by love? What joy is greater than the joy which you, O Jesus, bring at Christmas to people's hearts, and especially to the hearts of children?”

Pope John II. A man of peace, champion of the poor, firm in his convictions. A very tough act to follow.

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