Friday, April 08, 2005

waiting for the smoke to rise

Watched a few minutes of the Papal funeral before going ot bed. I am glad he is at peace. As courageous as it was to see him at the window last Easter waving to the crowd, it was heartbreaking to watch his body weaken. Not just because he's the pope, watching the slow process of death is hard no matter who it is.

As a Catholic I've been rather disappointed with the church in the last few years. But I don't want to remember John Paul II for his last few years, the John Paul II I remember travelled the world in his Pope-Mobile, a man of firsts. First pope to pray at a synagogue, and at the Western Wall, first non-Italian pope. He visited Catholic and non-Catholic countries alike. He didn't shy away from the errors of the church's past by apologizing for the way the Catholic Church turned the other way while Jews were disappearing during World War II. His intial years as pope, brought Catholicism to the world in a way it had never been done. He had an air of revolution theology in him, supporting and inspiring the Solidarity movement in Poland. John Paul II was a household name.

Few other people in the world would draw so many world leaders in one arena: from Iran, Jordan, Israel, the US, and Asia. He not only talked about peace, he inspired it, gaining the respect of people from all religions. It's a tribute really to the life he lead that so many people would come to say goodbye. I don't think anyone could have predicted the world's interest in John Paul II.

Despite hundreds of millions of people watching the funeral around the globe, Catholicism is really a declining religion particularly in Western countries, though it's growing in Africa and Asia. The last couple of decades, I saw the Catholic church move from a "fire and brimstone" kind of place to one where religion was a personal journey. But personal journeys don't seem to fill the pews. It will be interesting to see where the Cardinals decide to go from here, whether they try to "save" Europe or the US, where they cannot generate enough priests to even lead all the churches they have, or pick someone from South America or Africa.

John Paull II will not leave a perfect legacy, not one that everyone will agree was ideal, but he was a man who invoked dialogue and controversy, who forced Catholics to engage in the world around them. That is John Paul II's legacy.

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