John Paul II

It's difficult for a Protestant to offer reflections on the passing of a pope, but being from the westside of Cincinnati I'm probably as qualified as many Catholics are. Despite the fact that I've lived "under the reign" of three popes, the only one I remember at all is John Paul II. It's been said that he was the most widely traveled pope in the history of the office [which spans almost 2,000 years] and that he has blessed more people during his papacy than the combined total of popes for the last 200 years. And with the advent of cable/satellite television and the internet, this was the most visible pope ever. Unfortunately, this left John Paul's declining health fully exposed for the whole world to see, but he managed to handle it with unparalleled composure. There's already a rumor that he died while staring out at the throngs of visitors in St Peter's Square, offering a blessing to them all and concluding his life by uttering the word "Amen." Sounds a little contrived, but with this guy, I actually believe it.

You have to respect the way that he stood for his church's convictions in the midst of a changing world. There were plenty of opportunities for him to be the pope that destroyed long established Catholic church teachings concerning celibacy or birth control or even homosexuality for that matter. Doing so would have made him immensely popular worldwide, but it would have damaged the reputation of the papacy.* He had a keen understanding of the world and how to get what he wanted. Just look at what he was able to do in his homeland. Many historians say that he was the catalyst of the Solidarity movement in Poland, crediting him for driving out communism there.

As much hatred there is out there for the Catholic Church, no one was able to launch a successful attack against this pope. Sinead O'Conner tried to and it killed her singing career [or was it her music that did that?]. John Paul did his best to stay above reproach and it looks like he was successful.

This next few weeks are going to be fascinating as the Roman Catholic church attempts to find someone else to step in and fill his shoes. I predict that it will be impossible. There will most likely be no other pope is influential and popular as John Paul II in my lifetime.

* I know it might seem humorous to discuss damaging "the reputation of the papacy" when there are plenty of occurrences of misdeeds performed by popes over the past two-thousand years. There were teenage popes and even those that fathered children. Yet this part of the past is either widely ignored or unknown by Catholics, so one would have to say that in 2005 the papacy has a good reputation. Perhaps this is another affirmation of the influence of John Paul II and of the power that he wielded while in office. It looks like he was even able to reform history.