Today marks the third anniversary of death of Pope John Paul II. For three solid weeks in April of 2005, we were inundated with words, stories, images and rich ceremonies coming to us from Rome -- images that helped us recall and evaluate a charismatic leader's life and mission.
In this age of titillating television reality shows depicting the crudest forms of human existence, the world was invited in 2005 to take part in another kind of reality show of deep pathos and emotion -- first in the Papal Apartments at the Vatican, then at Rome's Gemelli Policlinic and finally back in the Apostolic Palace of the Vatican.
Rather than hide his infirmities, as many public figures do, John Paul II let the whole world see what he was going through. It came as no surprise, for the late Pope had remarked on several occasions prior to his death, in both private and public discourse that: "If it doesn't happen on television, it doesn't happen!" The passing of this Pope did not take place in private, but before TV cameras and the whole world. And people around the world watched for days.
Pope John Paul II was a bestseller in life and in death. Many within and outside the Roman Catholic Church say March and April 2005 were perhaps the most powerful teaching moments the Church has ever had.
The genius of John Paul II was his ability to bring out people's virtues, their desire for goodness and truth -- sometimes deeply buried. The goodness and inspiration released in people by his papal visits around the world turned out to be a powerful virtue.
It was by reviving such goodness, hidden in people's hearts, that the Pope led Poles out of communist slavery. In the same manner, he helped end dictatorships in Chile, Argentina, Nicaragua and the Philippines. He also strongly opposed wars in Iraq and the Falklands, among others, and spoke out against political repression in Cuba and elsewhere. The forces John Paul II helped to unleash against authoritarian regimes were only side-effects of the way the man who began life as Karol Wojtyla viewed humanity.
As the curtain was about to fall for the last time, John Paul II, the former athlete was immobilized, his distinctive, booming voice silenced, the hand that produced such voluminous encyclicals no longer able to write. Yet nothing made him waver, not even the debilitating sickness hidden under the glazed mask of Parkinson's Disease and ultimately, his inability to speak or move.
It was then, in the passion of Karol Wojtyla, that the world saw what authentic communication was all about: It is born of solidarity and compassion with other human beings. Though broken and bent at the end of his earthly pilgrimage, John Paul II entered history standing tall, as a giant.
At the beginning of the third millennium, we speak much about economic globalization. Pope John Paul II taught us this must be accompanied by a moral globalization.
Whether one shares his motivating beliefs, one can certainly acknowledge that his was perhaps the most impressive attempt ever made by a single human being to spell out what moral globalization might mean, starting with a lived practice of universal solidarity, charity, and hope. And he did this by communicating his message boldly and respectfully wherever he went.
We had in this servant of God a brilliant teacher, pastor, statesman, communicator and model of goodness and humanity. He began his historic service to the world with words that would become the refrain of his entire pontificate from 1978-2005: "Do not be afraid!"
Would that many of us in the church, in the world, in our professions and in our diverse families and communities, take these words to heart! Think of the walls that might come tumbling down! Imagine the bridges that would be built with other human beings! Try to fathom the new solidarity that would unite us together in such a fragile and broken world!