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John Paul II

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From: Stimmen der Zeit, 2005/6, p. 363-376
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    The pontificate of Pope John Paul II, who died on 2 April 2005, was the longest in the history of the Catholic Church. VICTOR CONZEMIUS, professor for church history at the University Luzern, looks back on his term of office, and gives especially attention to John Paul's II engagement for justice and human rights.


In its world-wide charisma the pontificate of John Paul II goes beyond the scope of all past standards {1}. The fact that more than two hundred statesmen, presidents, kings, heads of governments and representatives of other Christian communities as well as of other religions took part in his funeral, can also after the event hardly be understood by a sober-minded observer. One has to rub one's eyes: The American president with his Secretary of State and two of his predecessors pay their last respects to the Pope. This would have come into nobody's mind thirty years ago. Full diplomatic relations between the Vatican and the United States exist only since 1984. Anyway, no statesman of modern times had reckoned with the fact that the Roman papacy would grow up within the last century to a moral instance of international reputation.

The papacy of the nineteenth century seemed doomed to the fall, at least to political insignificance. When Pope Pius IX was buried in 1878, Roman citizens, who were infuriated against the Pope, tried to throw his coffin into the Tiber. When in 1915 the Italian government entered the war, it let lock out the Vatican from the future peace negotiations. And when in 1917 Pope Benedict XV put out peace feelers and made a peace suggestion, in the Italian headquarters it said: 'One should hang that chap, hang on the first tree' - so little one wanted to know of a negotiated peace. In 2005 it was the policy of peace which united statesmen from all over the world at the coffin of the sixth successor of Benedict XV.

You have just to take notice of those larger perspectives, in order to be able to grasp the tremendous increase of authority for the papacy. Pius XII, John XXIII and Paul VI - each of them has his part in it, but John Paul II probably the greatest and most comprehensive.

We flash back to the year 1978, the year of three Popes, the year in which Paul VI died, the always smiling John Paul I was called away already after thirty three days, and Karol Wojtyla from Krakow took over St Peter's office as John Paul II. Before the papal election a profile paper circulated in the large press, as if the "brain-trust" of a multinational company was looking for an efficient manager. The profile paper, sketched by German professors of theology, projected one's own desires and conceptions schoolmasterly on the future owner of the Petrine ministry. French co-signatories, among them the council theologian Yves Congar, assured me a few weeks later,



that this German paper had been very uncouth, and had displeased the Frenchmen; but they had signed it nevertheless from solidarity with the initiators. The new Pope, so the profile paper said, should be open-minded, a spiritual leader, a genuine pastor, a collegial fellow-bishop, an ecumenical mediator, a real Christian - as the usual clichés run.

Already one year after the pope's election one of the initiators set strong question marks behind each of those postulates. The pope's efforts had to be acknowledged, but compared with the expectations which one had toward him, and with the actual needs of the church, the interim stock-taking of his pontificate was disappointing. John Paul II - after one year weighed already - and found wanting!

Starting point of our attempt of a laudatory appraisal of his pontificate is not the idealized conception of a profile paper, to which no mortal human being could come up - as perfect as it might be. In a conclave always a human being is elected, not a program. A human being that stands in a certain biographic-historical context, is shaped by certain experiences, and is obligated to a certain theological horizon and a certain piety - in this case to a strong, but by no means unproblematic people's piety.


The Pope Who Came Out of the Cold

Karol Wojtyla was a Pole. He came from a country in which nationalism and Catholicism had entered into a special connection. In crisis periods, when the Polish nation was extinguished or maltreated by occupations from east and west, Catholicism - to say it with a romantic undertone - saved the soul of Poland. Its geographical marginal position contributed to the fact that the European core countries regarded also its culture as periphery and secondary. Nevertheless, and perhaps just therefore Poland, its poets, artists and scientists closely clung to Europe. Something like a Polish messianism, an enthusiastic view developed: Poland was destined to save once with its blood the exhausted Europe lying on the ground.

In such a country where religion and national identity almost merged, the church was the only social institution that was able to protect certain areas of social-political freedom under a totalitarian rule. Its patriotic credit was due not least to the heavy toll of lives paid under the NS occupation: About a fifth of its priests - by no means all heroes like the Franciscan Father Maximilian Kolbe who had suffered martyrdom in Auschwitz - did not return from German concentration camps.



So Poland's church was privileged also under communist rule and at the same time a bastion of resistance against the nationally ordered atheism. The church as resistance catalyst was befriended also by those who otherwise wanted nothing of it, and hardly knew what to do with its message. Under the given circumstances this church could only retain its strength when it held together and avoided also in its theological thinking scopes and initiatives that could endanger the unity of its teaching. The ordination of married men and women were topics which did not even emerge on the horizon during Wojtyla's Krakow episcopacy, although already to the Suffragan the ambivalences of the celibacy law were not unknown. There was only a small minority of Protestants in Poland with whose denomination and national orientation by no means positive associations turned up.

On May 18th 1920 Karol Wojtyla was born into that church with its living traditions, internal and external constraints. If the dictum is correct that for each Pope the world remains so as he experienced it before the term of his office, then this applies also and particularly to John Paul II {2}. Karol Wojtyla grew up under unusual burdens. He became acquainted with the world in a quite different way as the average student of theology in the Western world. But even under worst conditions he always experienced the devotion of helpful people. After the attendance of the primary schools of his native village Wadowice he changed to a national High School.

He was distinguished as an all-round talent. His intellectual performances kept absolutely up with his sporting performances. He was an enthusiastic soccer player, swimmer, and canoeist; later skiing in the Carpathian Mountains was added. His first love was devoted to the Polish language and literature; for its study he enrolled in 1939 at Krakow's Jagelloni University. He wrote poems and plays, was an amateur director and actor. This literary-artistic side of his person shows the essential features and the width of his interests. The German occupation troops drove him away from his university; as unskilled worker in a quarry and in a sewage plant he had a hard way to earn his living.

At that time - his parents and also his physician brother had meanwhile died - he decided to study theology. Cardinal Adam Sapieha of Krakow welcomed him within his underground seminary, and ordained him priest in 1946 after the liberation. The Cardinal recognized the gift of the young man and gave him every promotion. Despite the existing restrictions he obtained the visa for the study at the "Angelicum", the University of the Dominicans in Rome. Here the young priest attained the doctorate of Divinity by his research on the Spanish mystic John of the Cross. In the Belgian seminary for priests where he lived as guest, he found a mental climate that was not as narrow as in other major Roman seminaries.



Wojtyla had an extraordinary memory for good human encounters; even after decades he remembered them. So he appointed for example Godfried Danneels archbishop of Mechelen Brussels, or the simple Belgian country pastor Gustaaf Joos cardinal, who could enjoy his cardinalate only for a short time. When he as Pope in a very spontaneous way fell back on someone or other for his personnel policy, it could sometimes turn out well. But it was also connected with large risks and disappointments, as for instance with the appointments of Hans Hermann Groer (archbishop of Vienna) and Kurt Krenn (bishop in St. Pölten).

After some years in the parish pastoral Wojtyla returned to the University of Krakow, to study philosophy and to prepare a work about the German philosopher Max Scheler. The resumption of studies did not mean a break with pastoral care, and was not an exclusive turn to the theological sciences. The opening to pastoral care and to concrete people should keep absolute priority in his working. It was that what already then attracted young people and drew them under the influence of his charismatic personality. On July 4th 1958, while he was with students on a canoe tour through Poland, the appointment as bishop of Krakow reached the thirty-year-old. Six years later, on January 13th 1964 he became archbishop of that diocese, the richest of Poland and one of the largest in Europe. In an additional job - he became in 1956 professor at the Philosophical Faculty of the Catholic University of Lublin - meanwhile he had made a name for himself as Poland's prominent philosopher in social ethics.

Typical for his administration as archbishop was his nearness to people. For them he kept free spaces, by leaving administrative matters to his co-workers, the suffragans and the vicar general. He visited the parishes up to the last villages of the Tatra Mountain, and in the archiepiscopal palace in Krakow he had time for all people who wanted to present their requests. Here that setting of priorities began to emerge which he should maintain later in Rome.

In 1962 Pope John XXIII convoked the Second Vatican Council. Karol Wojtyla gave a considerable speech about freedom of religion, and cooperated in the preparation of the Pastoral Constitution "Gaudium et spes". The contacts which he established with bishops of other countries and continents, and the numerous journeys abroad contributed to the fact that his name reached sometimes also the Western press.


Sensational Papal Election

His election as Pope on October 16th 1978 - conditioned by chance after the surprising death of the cardiac John Paul I - was nevertheless a sensation. For the first time since 450 years a non-Italian was elected Pope.



Simple-minded people triumphantly said that the quasi eternal dominance of the Italians was at last over. But some weeks later was already to be heard one had nevertheless fared better with the Italians. When the first excitement had died down one realized: Here is a man who radiated vitality, kind-heartedness and faithful confidence. You could believe him when he called out in the sermon on occasion of his inauguration: "Have no fear! Open, yes, open wide the doors for Christ. Open for his saving power the borders of the states, the economic and political systems, the wide ranges of culture, civilization and progress."

It was a strong appeal, clear enough to encourage himself for the great task and to convince people. There was not the slightest trace of pessimism and no complaint about the adversities of time. The Pope himself points the way as a champion of hope - not with the rod but as a man whose inner eye had seen the invisible and who wants to win people for his vision.

More than his predecessors he developed a dynamic view of human rights. They were for him not a catalogue of civil rights, but urged for the realization of right and justice within economy and society. His first journey abroad led him in 1979 to Mexico, where he sided with the suppressed Campesinos and agricultural workers. In the Vatican he ignored with his spontaneous cordialness all regulations and barriers of the protocol, kept company with children just as free and easy as with journalists or heads of states. Soon it said: This Pope is tangible. On his pastoral visits thousands of hands were held out to him. One was not niggardly with superlatives. One called him the "most fascinating figure on our world stage", the "new Messiah for our time", the Pope who satisfies the "religious hunger of the masses". The Man in White gathered on his visits hundreds of thousands around him. Anxious church leaders like Cardinal Michele Pellegrino from Turin began to take offence at those mass spectacles and expressed their reservations. The Pope would govern the world church like a solid Polish diocese. He would push the bishops to the margin and mere emotionally promote religious feelings.

Critical matters could be noted everywhere. But in looking back it is amazing how this man, who came out of the cold, defeated to a large extent the fears and reservations about/towards his administration of those contemporaries who were responsive to corrections of their first impressions. Contrary to his predecessors he had not any curial experience and no "clan" on which he could rely. But nevertheless he succeeded to a large extent in delegating church administrative business, in order to get a free hand for his visions. He had a good hand with the choice of his closest co-workers. Cardinal Agostino Casaroli, a reliable diplomat of old Vatican school, became Permanent Under-Secretary, Achille Silvestrini papal foreign minister.



With Joseph Ratzinger, former archbishop of Munich and Freising, was finally appointed at the top of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith a man who understood something of theology, as Wolfhard Pannenberg once somewhat pointedly reminded.

Amazingly quickly the non-Italian settled down in Italy and enjoyed soon an extensive popularity. Hardly someone had tried - and that temptation lay near - to involve him into the Vatican's past financial scandals. In the Roman Curia the enthusiasm for John Paul II kept within close bounds. A few weeks after the Pope's inauguration a friendly member of the Curia reported not without malicious joy, that on Sundays the Pope would visit Roman parishes, but fewer and fewer faithful would come to meet him from one visit to the next. That is only one of the numerous examples of clerical disparaging of his work. Later one reproached him he had channelled whole carloads of Poles into the Vatican, as if he had not the right to supplement the Vatican personnel reservoir with Slavic co-workers, who proportionally were by no means excessively represented.


Global Scope of Preaching

The first journey abroad to Mexico was followed by further hundred three to countries of all continents. The journeys abroad ran according to a certain pattern: When he visited the country for the first time the Pope first kissed its soil, exactly in the same way as he had done it already as chaplain in his first Polish country parish. Then he was welcomed by the head of state, by the bishops and diplomats. After the ride from the airport to the capital of the country the scenes of ritual-symbolic greetings happened again with the attendance of church, social, and cultural institutions, meetings with church leaders of other denominations and non-Christian religions.

The mass services were usually held in the open air. The journeys should in the main strengthen the faith of the Catholics and encourage them to cooperate in building a just society in their countries. In spite of all his taking up the emotional elements of popular devotion, in particular the veneration of Our Lady which was for him personally so central, he did not miss to urgently remind of the social demands of the gospel. Certainly, there were warnings of the danger of secularization, of the loss of values and of the "culture of death". But the view at future prospects always remained central, which preach the gospel as message of freedom and liberation. He was particularly blamed for the fact that in 1984 the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith rejected the Theology of Liberation, because of its borrowing of Marxist concepts.



With it one usually overlooks that John Paul II has integrated two basic concepts of the theology of liberation into the encyclical letter "Sollicitudo Rei Socialis" (1987): the terms 'social structures of sin' and 'option for the poor'.

Due to his special intellectual conditions as moral philosopher and philosopher John Paul II had a wide reservoir for the doctrinal foundations of his teaching. He laid down his fundamental doctrinal position in his fourteen encyclical letters. Only those with social impact are mentioned here: "Redemptor hominis" (1979), "Laborem exercens" (1981) and "Centesimus annus" (1991). Statistically seen the Pope travelled most frequently to Poland, where his message was received by millions of enthusiastic people. He refused only a few invitations of dictators, not least because the TV broadcast made it possible to reach people of countries that knew only the system-conform language of their TV. So it happened that on his visits the Pope directly and indirectly appealed to the conscience of Central American dictators. But the Pope too learned during such journeys. That applies particularly to North America. The liberal social order there was contrary to his own conceptions and incomprehensible for him. But since the Denver World Youth Day in 1993 he also discovered the large positive potential in American society. So he could in later meetings with American presidents urge them to see the economic and political supremacy of the country as obligation to ethical actions.

By his journeys but also by the way how he treated people John Paul II made the institution of papacy more mobile and at the same time more human. He did it, as it were, with the emotionality of his Slavic temper and on the basis of an unusual working power. The certainty of his faith moved and scandalized a faith-sceptical world. Some people meant they could shrug off his appearances as "Ayatolla phenomenon". But the unbeliever sociologist Niklas Luhmann found it even comforting that the masses hailed that 'Man in White' instead of some Hollywood star.

Karol Wojtyla showed his colours. More than his predecessors he exposed himself and papacy to criticism, and exposed himself in the true sense of the word. The assassination attempt of the communist Turk Mehmet Ali Agca on John Paul II at St Peter's Place on May 13th 1981 can scarcely be overestimated in its traumatic effects on the Pope's personality. It encouraged him in the view that God protected him in his office and held him ready for special tasks. John Paul II laid claim to the authority which had been imparted to papacy again by him. Now it was reflected upon him from the papal office the reputation of which had been increased by him.



A World System in Free Fall

That increase in authority is expressed most directly within the political range: First in his Polish homeland, then indirectly in the whole Eastern Bloc. The picture which convincingly expressed this political dimension of the charismatic John Paul II was the arrival of the car convoy of Mikhail Gorbatschow in the Via della Conciliazione and the Vatican in 1989. The heir and administrator of the broken down imperial communist Russia came to Rome to show the Slavic Pope his reverence. Superficially one may see therein a triumph, and taste it to the full. With it one remains however on the surface. The event has a much deeper dimension. It marks the collapse of an ideology which promised an intact world but poured rivers of blood and extinguished millions of human lives. The materialistic atheism represented itself as a scientific vision of the future, allegedly unbeatable by rational arguments. To it, so it was argued, no alternative existed and no objection was to be raised. Stalin had ironically asked: How many divisions has the Pope got? How was it possible that the 'vision of mankind without military divisions could defeat that allegedly scientifically unbeatably embodied communist idea or at least survive it {3}?

John Paul II saw the fall of communism not as his merit. He soberly stated:

"It would be too simple to say that Providence let perish communism. Communism as system perished in a certain sense by itself. It proved that it was a more dangerous medicine as the illness itself. It did not bring about a real social reform, although it became for the whole world a powerful threat and a challenge. But it went down by itself, due to its inherent weakness."

At the latest now the world should have held its breath. The idea of Christianity, the end of which in the nineteenth and twentieth century had time and again been pounded into the heads of the people with thousand beats of the kettle-drum of newest scientific findings, should turn out to be more promising than those ideologies, for which so many European intellectuals in unbelievable short-sightedness from 1920 to 1950 fell into the trap - and with regard to communism even for a longer time.

Due to its history and its Catholic identity Poland had anyway a particular status in the Eastern Bloc and played the role of a pioneer with the dissolution of communism. Karol Wojtyla, the archbishop of Krakow, had indirectly been one of the most active personalities in the resistance against the communist stranglehold on his nation. He and his circle of friends gave to the liberal movement in the trade unions and among the intellectuals that logistic assistance which they needed to be successful.



Under the protecting cloak of the church those forces rallied which did not aim at revolution by force, but softened by their persistence the illusionary foundations of the system. When Poland in late summer 1989 got with Tadeusz Mazowiecki, an old acquaintance of the Pope, a non-Communist Prime Minister, there was no holding them, the other Central European countries too got into the whirl of freedom. The English political scientist Timothy Garton Ash puts it in a nutshell:

"Without the Polish Pope no Solidarnosc Revolution in Poland, without Solidarnosc no dramatic change of the Soviet politics under Gorbachev toward the Eastern European states, without that change no further 'pink revolutions' in 1989." {4}

So far the church had in no country played such a fundamental role, leading to a peaceful political revolution and to an increase of democratic political liberties. The churches - also the Protestant churches - may have been in Germany after World War II the driving forces of reconstruction. In Italy the church fought with the help of the Democrazia Cristiana for the fixing of Christian basic values. What the church did for Poland was a lot more. The church of Poland contributed to save the national identity of the country. That was and is its lasting historical merit. John Paul II was not content with that. In the discussion with Gorbachev he called up his favourite motive of an undivided Europe from the Atlantic to the Ural - a counter project to the peace dictate of Jalta in 1945. In August 1989 he presented this concept to hundreds of thousands of pilgrims who had come to the Spanish place of pilgrimage Santiago de Compostela. He asked them to spread the gospel anew in a continent that was growing together again.

'Spreading the gospel anew' - this was for some people a terrible vision, a return to the Middle Ages, re-Catholization, outfoxing Enlightenment. Pessimists and alarmists had their hour. They were mistaken, because the Polish Pope had no ambitions to establish theocracy. With him it was rather about the illusionary attempt to transfer to Europe a model that had satisfactorily worked in Poland {5}. In Poland at the time of communism the church had had the function of an ark. Nobody who knows the waters of Deluge and how easy you die in the rapid waves will destroy an ark. The election of a Pole as pope contributed to the fact that the church of Poland became a saving ark. Not only for a handful of good and just people but for a whole country, for millions of people who turned away disappointed from the promises with which they had been fooled. The Polish Pope gave a new self-assurance to the Christians in the East. He had hoped to be able to offer it also to the West. That hope however came not true. Here his preaching met those borders which he called secularization, materialism and hedonism.



Outward And Inward Effect

The collapse of communism contributed to mythologize his person. The phrase spread that this Pope had a greater political effect outside the church than within. With it also the assessment was connected that he admittedly was an athlete in his commitment to justice and human dignity but he would not reconcile it with his internal church policy. The realization of that contradiction may apply, but it ignores what it means that the person of the Pope got a tremendous increase in reliability just by testifying the church-religious things.

It remains surprising that just against all prognoses his message was heard and admired by a large part of the youth. Not that those young people changed their way of life radically after the meeting with the Pope, but that they listened to him at all, and let themselves be challenged by him is a phenomenon that is at right angles to time. The Paris World Youth Days in 1997 and elsewhere with millions of participants at least show the unreduced longing of a majority of young people for lasting prospects for the future establishing values and sense. That is the more remarkably as most of those young people knew the Pope only from his last period of life as a shaky old man; the strong Karol Wojtyla of the first decades they knew only from hearsay. The attractiveness of his appearance and the consequence of his convictions made him an ally of the youth. John Paul II was a torch carrier, a lighthouse lightening the way into an uncertain future.

Unanimity in the argument with the atheistic communism had been the condition for the church's surviving behind the iron curtain. The Polish Pope saw it also as a condition for the surviving of the church in an open society after the fall of all the Berlin Walls. A streamlined church in conformity with the spirit of the time had not enabled him for those grand symbolic gestures of peacemaking between the religions, and the plea for forgiveness for the misdeeds done by members of the church in its history. In October 1986 hundred thirty leading representatives of religions of this world met in Assisi around the Pope, in order to pray with him - everyone in his own religious language. A further peace meeting in Assisi took place in 2002, when the 'fight of cultures' took on threatening forms. In the rooms of the historical Franciscan monastery met muftis, rabbis, patriarchs, bishops and church presidents of all Christian denominations, Buddhist monks, Hindus and Zoroaster's followers and prayed for peace. The Pope closed the common self obligation of the religious leaders with the words: "Never again violence! Never again war! Never again terrorism! In the name of God each religion on earth may bring justice and peace, forgiveness, life and love."



The problem 'Christians and religious violence' was on the Pope's mind since the beginnings of his pontificate. Under the keyword 'Cleansing the Memory' he took initiatives which had no parallel in the history of the church. Already in 1980 he spoke about the necessity to confess the guilt which the gospel-forgotten Christians - naturally also Popes - had loaded upon themselves by the practice of religious force. In 1994 he invited the Christians to see the coming turn of the century as challenge and chance, and to connect it with a historical examination of their conscience. For this purpose he established two commissions: a theological and a historical-critical one. They had to clarify two particularly sensitive areas, i.e. the relations between Christians and Jews, and the involvement of the church in the Inquisition.

Just a Pole of all people suggested such a research program. That causes surprise. It may be that the Polish Pope had from his origin a greater impartiality for this topic than an Italian Pope who would have liked to take stock at the end of the millennium. Poland's church history has its own dark sides. But Poland was not or only little burdened by occurrences into which the churches of other European countries were involved: the crusades, the large Inquisitions, the persecution of the Indians in South America, the slave trade. On his numerous journeys John Paul II had critically dealt with events which strikingly contradicted the spirit of the gospel. About hundreds of such confessions can be proven. With numerous of them he connected the plea for forgiveness. On March 12th 2000 he delivered in St Peter's Cathedral a comprehensive confession of guilt for the church offences in history. The spectacular gesture was so arranged that also the cardinals of the Curia were actively included into the celebration. For each of the seven pleas for forgiveness a cardinal came forwards and lighted a candle on a seven-armed chandelier {6}.

But the probably most moving meeting was that with Judaism: his confession of the church's guilt, his prayer at the Wailing Wall, and his attendance in Yad Vashem in March 2000. It was an hour in which a Christian could hold its breath. Some of my friends who looked quite favourable upon John Paul II told me they had wished an angel would come and kidnap the Pope, who marked by Parkinson was sunk in prayer, and take him to that realm the hope of which he carried. So moving was the religious density of that hour - on the background of the sorrowful history of the relations between Christians and Jews.


From the Athlete to the Man of Sorrow

But John Paul II remained on this earth. Despite progressive paralysis he did the tasks of his office, and did also not dispense with journeys, as far as they seemed important to him - for example in 1998 to Cuba.



The eye saw now a different man, but what a man! Nothing was to be seen any longer from the sporting, victorious hero that appeared on the loggia of St Peter's in 1978. To be seen was rather a Man of Sorrow who fought against his illness. With admirable energy he demonstrated that a strong spirit can dwell also in a weak body. Although he did not approach the death of a martyr like St Peter, the words which Jesus addressed to Peter proved to be true: "Amen, Amen, I tell you: When you were still young, you put on your belt and went where you wanted. But when you have become old, then you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will put the belt around you and will lead you to a place that you not want." (Jn 21, 18)

Admittedly, the shaky, pity-worthy old man - even in his Polish native language scarcely to hear - became a picture of misery that must provoke the world. The modern world had announced the cult of the body and promised eternal youth. Now a woebegone figure challenged its creed. The man who had been hailed in his healthy times by millions of people, cheered up in the last days of his illness old persons, patients, frail and handicapped people. His dying too was public. That was suitable for him. So the world which he had made one parish could participate in his Calvary.

One of those who understood Karol Wojtyla's "memento mori" was Martin Walser. He noted: "The Pope never won my heart in such a way as now. The modest theatricality of earlier years rather moving than fascinating me is away. The pure fight for a further and further hour of life remained. You quite automatically join with his fight."

The charismatic John Paul II became in the last years of his life an icon of Christ - reflecting the greatness and transience of man, the power and powerlessness of papacy. When he was asked in the last years whether he - in view of his physical complaints - wanted to withdraw from his office, he allegedly answered: "Christ too did not climb down from the cross." So he stood to the very end in that Messianic Polish tradition which let the Man of Sorrow look at the Risen from the Death and connects each suffering, also that of Karol Wojtyla, with the hope of being in God's good hands.


The Vision: Reconciliation With Each Other And With God

Let us flash back to the pictures of his funeral. Although we do not want to stylize the unforeseen meeting of politicians and statesmen to a secular event, that assembly sets us nevertheless thinking. Timothy Garton Ash held that not President George W. Bush but John Paul II was the actual leader, the secret ruler of people of this world.



It is a posthumous triumph for John Paul II that he - by keeping with devotion to his task to preach the gospel and to demand justice - has shaken up mankind. The fact that millions of people showed their thanks to this Pope and sympathized with him goes beyond the usual mourning at such occasions. How far are Christian authorities ready to develop further the confidence which is placed in them due to the 'martyr' John Paul II instead of being afraid of the Pope's courage?

The point is not to bind the successor of John Paul II to the format of his predecessor. The Pope who came out of the cold exceeds the usual labels and remains unique. "Outward great, inward small", said one of the formulas by which one wanted to pin him down. "World-wide when close to people - narrow-minded when in the church ", someone else said. Not any of those formulas does justice to Karol Wojtyla; especially not the title 'Pope of Contradictions'. He wanted to be a missionary of Christ's message, and to contribute so to a mankind where people are reconciled with God and each other. For that he wanted to get the church ready, for that he looked for and found co-workers - but met also his limits {7}.

But it is not so that he left to his successor a church free of problems. He inherited a set of problems from his predecessors, so for example the 'ordered charisma' of priestly celibacy. He did not shake it, although anthropological and other findings suggested a revision. With the awkward prohibition of the discussion about the ordination of women the question was not solved, even when in the field 'church and woman' a certain reorientation cannot be denied {8}. In view of the priorities which he laid down, the power of curial institutions was inevitably strengthened; the collegial part of the bishop synods in leading the church, on which the Second Vatican Council had set large hopes, remained vague and indefinite. In their pastoral needs the voice of the local churches died often away unheard. Where a nuncio or papal counsellors failed, there were serial mistakes with bishop appointments. Austria for instance was hit particularly hard by that {9}. Also in Switzerland, in the case of the appointment of the Chur bishop seat with Wolfgang Haas, a senseless church controversy arose that found its conclusion with a bad loss in church authority. To the strong pope were missing strong bishops, who - in the consequence of their conscience - would have carried through deviating views, like Bishop Franz Kamphaus of Limburg in the affair of the church advisory boards. To hide behind the broad shoulders of the Pope has become an episcopal bad habit, even if one wished not such a drifting apart episcopal pluralism as in the Anglican Church.

The closing words we give to Thomas J. Reese, the publisher of the magazine "America":



"Millions of people looked for the meeting with the Pope and heard his sermon. 'What did they want to see? A reed swaying in the wind?' They came to see a Saint, a man who had convictions and principles, a man who cared for them, a man who changed the run of history. In our days political leaders say only the things of which their advisors mean that people want to hear them ... John Paul was completely different there. He spoke by conviction, he had principles, he provoked, and he said also hard things. Even those who did not agree with him admired his straightforwardness and his power of persuasion. We will miss him much. His successor will have no easy task. May he rest in peace."



{1} From the abundance of biographies are listed: G. Weigel, Zeuge der Hoffnung. Johannes Paul II. (Paderborn ²2003); J. Ross, Der Papst. Johannes Paul II. Drama u. Geheimnis (Berlin 2000); L. Ring-Eifel, Johannes Paul II. Der Mensch - der Papst - das Vermächtnis (Freiburg 2005). - Of the laudatory articles which were published after the death of John Paul II may be mentioned: T. Garton Ash, The First World Leader. The greatest political actor of our time leaves us the challenge of moral globalisation, in: The Guardian, 4.4.2005; H.-J. Fischer, Ein Werkzeug Gottes. An den Grundfesten der Kirche ließ der Papst nicht rütteln, in: FAZ, 4.4.2005; L. Ferry, in Le Soir, 6.4.2005; - The 'Neue Zürcher Zeitung' published some informative essays about the personality and the pontificate of John Paul II, which are quoted in the text.

{2} H. Helbling, der Papst, der aus der Kälte kam, in: NZZ, 4.4.2005.

{3} H. Maier, Wie viele Divisionen? Diplomatie u. Öffnung - das Papsttum in der Gegenwart, in: NZZ, 9./10.4.2005. Cf. the same, Braucht Rom eine Regierung?, in this magazine, volume 219 (2001) 147-160.

{4} Garton Ash (Cf. A. 1).

{5} O. Kallscheuer; Antikommunismus u. Antikapitalismus. Politische Aspekte des Pontifikats Johannes Pauls II., in: NZZ 9./10.4.2005.

{6} V. Conzemius, Historie und Schuld. Johannes Paul II. auf den Spuren von Lord Acton?, in: RQ 95 (2000) 94-109.

{7} Cf. to it: J. Grootaers series of lectures (manuscript) on the topic: Trois décennies de l'Eglise catholicque: stagnation ou renouveau? Université catholique de Louvain 2001; G. Zizola, L'ultimo trono. Papa Wojtyla e il futuro della chiesa (Milano 2001); M. Deneken, Die Kirche nach Papst Johannes Paul II. - Anforderungen für die Zukunft: Vortrag in der Katholischen Akademie in Bayern am 14.4.2005.

{8} E. Gössmann, Interreligiöser Friede, Genius der Frau. Hat Johannes Paul II. Hoffnung keimen lassen?, in: NZZ, 9./10.4.2005.

{9} G. Greshake, Nach dem Fall Krenn. Streiflichter zur jüngsten österreichischen Kirchengeschichte, in: HerKorr 58 (2004) 589ff.


Link to 'Public Con-Spiracy for-with-of the Poor'