The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Monday, August 19, 2002  

A Man of Greatness Greets Death in the Spirit of Life

“Pope John Paul II, wrapping up an emotional homecoming that has revived him and his fellow Poles, asked Monday for the physical and spiritual strength to continue his pontificate ‘to the end.’ Once again dismissing speculation that he has any intention of resigning, the 82-year-old pope, visiting his native Poland for perhaps the last time, said it was in God’s hands how long his life and his pontifical ministry lasted,” reports Keith Miller of “(Pope Bids Farewell to Polish Faithful”).

“‘I hate to go’ were the final words the aged pope uttered to the adoring crowd gathered for his poignant departure after a four-day trip. . . . Clerics and politicians lined up to invite the pontiff to return for a 10th visit,” writes Miller. “But the pope asked to be remembered in prayers after his death and urged his countryfolk to acknowledge he may not live that long.”

“Earlier he spoke at a place that was instrumental in forming his religious mission, the Baroque hilltop Kalwaria sanctuary outside Krakow where his father took him as a boy in the 1930s to pray after the death of his mother. ‘Most Holy Mother, Our Lady of Calvary, obtain also for me strength in body and spirit that I may carry out to the end the mission given me,’ the frail pontiff prayed,” according to MSNBC’s report.

“The pope is revered by Poles as a father figure who inspired the resistance to communism and has steadied them during painful economic changes since they won freedom in 1989. On Sunday he lifted national spirits at an open-air Mass [in Krakow] for 3 million people, the largest crowd ever to see him in Poland,” Miller writes.

“On the final day of his ninth return to his homeland, papal concern for the future of his native land was at the fore. Democracy has brought excessive secularization, the pope has warned, and a society suffering more than 17 percent joblessness, social unrest and deep pessimism needs God’s help,” reports Miller.

Let’s see, now.

A man of faith, love, hope, and conviction tirelessly supervises his flock, the largest single organized religious body in the world, for nearly a quarter-century.

He is the first non-Italian pope in more than 450 years.

He overcomes a dramatic assassination attempt three years into his pontificate and later meets with the deranged gunman to express his forgiveness.

He authorizes the first catechism in English since the 16th century.

He authors numerous profound encyclicals and groundbreaking documents, including, among others, the 1983 Code of Canon Law for the Latin Rite, the 1990 Code of Canons for the Eastern Churches, the Apostolic Exhortation Resulting from the 1985 Extraordinary Synod on the Second Vatican Council, the Redeemer of Man (Redemptor hominis), the Father who is Rich in Mercy (Dives in misericordia), the Holy Spirit who is Lord and Giver of Life (Dominum et vivificantem), Mary Mother of the Redeemer (Mater Redemptoris), Splendor of Truth (Veritatis splendor), Gospel of Life (Evangelium vitae), the Moral Dimensions of Human Work (Laborem exercens), On Social Concerns (Sollicitudo rei socialis), That They May Be One (Ut unum sint), Commemorating Saints Cyril and Methodius -- Apostles to the Slavs (Slavorum apostolic), and Mission of the Redeemer (Redemptoris missio).

He writes a dozen or more learned apostolic letters and other documents, including. Among others, The Mystery and Worship of the Holy Eucharist (Dominicae cenae), Correcting Abuses of the Holy Eucharist (Inaestimabile donum), St. Joseph as Custodian of the Redeemer (Redemptor custos), the Dignity of Women (Mulieris dignitatem), Celebration of the Mass According to the Missal of 1962 (Ecclesia dei), and On Keeping Sunday Holy (Apostolos suos).

He plays a critical role in undermining communism in Poland.

He works closely with western leaders to help facilitate the demise of the Soviet Union and its Eastern European empire.

He displays a consistent, unwavering, and heart-felt concern for the poor, and unequivocally and vociferously supports social justice not only in the Third World but in the developed world, in the heart of Europe and even in the United States, where he chastises greed, selfishness, intolerance, and the indignity of the lives of the poor.

He holds a doctorate in philosophy.

He is fluent in eight different languages.

He is a best-selling author.

He is named Time magazine’s Man of the Year in 1994.

He visits more than 125 countries and his very presence draws millions almost everywhere he goes.

Approaching death he canonizes two of the most worthy of the blesseds, now known as St. Pio of Pieltricina and St. Juan Domingo, traveling all the way to Mexico for the latter event.

Nearing death he travels to Canada for World Youth Day, an event of such significance and filled with so much activity that it lasts a week.

Is there another religious figure alive today whose accomplishments even approach those of John Paul II? To ask the question is to answer it.

And yet they ask, “What kind of crazy religion is this?


-- J.M.C.

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