Pope John Paul II was the head of the world's largest international organization of individual human beings. No world leaders have ever had such an impact as he did. I believe that he was the first real world leader we have ever known. The entire world lived his death like no other person's passing. It was a global Calvary, a global dying and a global death. This week the world gathered in St. Peter's Square to acknowledge a great witness to truth and to hope. People of every race, culture, faith and way of life were drawn to this man and his message. What does this outpouring of emotion and love tell us?
It is simply telling us about what John Paul II has done over nearly twenty-seven years at the helm of the Church. During his Pontificate, the eyes of the world were fixed on this Polish actor, philosopher, politician, theologian, pastor, prophet, mystic, and poet. This world leader of a billion Roman Catholics was the first pontiff of the media, satellite and Internet age. He had a commanding presence on center stage. He was a teacher of extraordinary intelligence, talent and humanity. The Pope often said, "In the designs of Providence, there are no mere coincidences." Maybe the reason this man became Pope is that he bore messages the world needed to hear over the past twenty-seven years.
What were those messages? John Paul II taught us about the radiant splendor of Jesus Christ as the unique Lord and Saviour of all. He impressed upon us the dignity and sacredness of human life, from the earliest moments to the final moments. Life is an extraordinary adventure, a God-given gift to be cherished, treasured, and protected. He helped us to realize that the Church is thriving where the full Gospel is preached in clarity, charity, piety, devotion -- in its full integrity. He told his beloved young people that there is every reason for the truth of the Cross to be called the Good News.
How many times did the Pope remind us that the family is the privileged place for the humanization of the person and of society, and that the future of the world and of the Church passes through it?
John Paul II issued to us a clarion call to commitment. To young people he said: "Many and enticing are the voices that call out to you from all sides: many of these voices speak to you of a joy that can be had with money, success, and power. Mostly they propose a joy that comes with the superficial and fleeting pleasure of the senses." The alternative call was Jesus' siren song. "He calls you to be the salt and light of the world, to live in justice, to become instruments of love and peace." How many ordinary people have done extraordinary things because of his influence, his teaching and his gestures!
In a world that prides itself on building walls and amassing arms for protection, he taught us how to build bridges and make peace. How many Jews throughout the world see in this man an instrument of reconciliation, hope and shalom! How many people from the major religions on earth find in him a model of prayer and holiness! How many world leaders find in him an example of leadership, humility and goodness! That is why they all gathered this week to bid him farewell.
One of the most profound lessons he taught us in the twilight of his Pontificate was that everyone must suffer, even the Vicar of Christ. Rather than hide his infirmities, as most public figures do, he let the whole world see what he went through. What grace, what dignity, what solidarity with the sick and suffering, what hope for each of us!
John Paul II will survive in the memories of millions who loved him. But even for those who did not love him, the legacy of this first world leader will remain a challenge. At the beginning of the third millennium, we have economic globalization. But this requires what has been called moral globalization. Whether or not we share John Paul II's motivating beliefs, we can acknowledge that his was the most impressive attempt so far made by any single human being to spell out what moral globalization might mean, starting with a lived practice of universal solidarity, charity, hope and above all, joy.
John Paul the actor gave the world a command performance on a world stage. He touched us deeply and changed the world and the Church. The Polish Pope began his historic Pontificate with the words that would become the refrain of his global ministry: "Do not be afraid! Open wide the doors to Christ!" Now Christ has flung open the doors of heaven to him. John Paul II will continue watching over the world from heaven.
Once again the Toronto Sun has helped to tell the world the story of greatness and goodness that still inhabit our earth through the life and death of Pope John Paul II. The Sun's coverage of World Youth Day 2002 was outstanding, and its coverage of the Pontificate of Pope John Paul II, especially its final moments, is deeply appreciated by Catholics, Christians, and people of good will- who were all so loved and cherished by Pope John Paul II -- the young boy from Wadowice who would become a priest of Krakow, the Bishop of Rome, a giant and a hero for our time, and a witness to truth, hope and peace for the ages.