As a bishop when this photo was taken, the future Pope is here visiting the Parthenon (Greece) in 1963.
Following are excerpts of some articles/rememberances I have enjoyed. Click on title to see whole article. For a whole list of them, go to this special collection of articles prepared by RealClear Politics.
Mourning and Remembrance
by George Weigel
He once described his high-school years as a time in which he was "completely absorbed" by a passion for the theater. So it was fitting that Karol Jozef Wojtyla lived a very dramatic life. As a young man, he risked summary execution by leading clandestine acts of cultural resistance to the Nazi occupation of Poland. As a fledgling priest, he adopted a Stalin-era nom de guerre--Wujek, "uncle"--while creating zones of intellectual and spiritual freedom for college students; those students, now older men and women themselves, called him Wujek to the end. As archbishop of Krakow, he successfully fought the attempt by Poland's communist overseers to erase the
nation's cultural memory. As Pope John Paul II, he came back to Poland in June 1979; and over nine days during which the history of the 20th century pivoted, he ignited a revolution of conscience that helped make possible the collapse of European communism a decade later.
The Power of Faith
By Charles Krauthammer
It was Stalin who gave us the most famous formulation of that cynical (and today quite fashionable) philosophy known as "realism" -- the idea that all that ultimately matters in the relations among nations is power: "The pope? How many divisions does he have?"The Poet and the Revolutionary
Stalin could have said that only because he never met John Paul II. We have just lost the man whose life was the ultimate refutation of "realism." Within 10 years of his elevation to the papacy, John Paul II had given his answer to Stalin and to the ages: More than you have. More than you can imagine.
History will remember many of the achievements of John Paul II, particularly his zealous guarding of the church's traditional belief in the sanctity of life, not permitting it to be unmoored by the fashionable currents of thought about abortion, euthanasia and "quality of life." But above all, he will be remembered for having sparked, tended and fanned the flames of freedom in Poland and the rest of Eastern Europe, leading ultimately and astonishingly to the total collapse of the Soviet empire.
I am not much of a believer, but I find it hard not to suspect some providential hand at play when the white smoke went up at the Vatican 27 years ago and the Polish cardinal was chosen to lead the Catholic Church. Precisely at the moment that the West most desperately needed it, we were sent a champion. It is hard to remember now how dark those days were. The 15 months following the pope's elevation marked the high tide of Soviet communism and the nadir of the free world's post-Vietnam collapse.
It was a time of one defeat after another. Vietnam invaded Cambodia, consolidating Soviet hegemony over all of Indochina. The Khomeini revolution swept away America's strategic anchor in the Middle East. Nicaragua fell to the Sandinistas, the first Soviet-allied regime on the mainland of the Western Hemisphere. (As an unnoticed but ironic coda, Marxists came to power in Grenada too.) Then, finally, the Soviets invaded Afghanistan.
And yet precisely at the time of this free-world retreat and disarray, a miracle happens. The Catholic Church, breaking nearly 500 years of tradition, puts itself in the hands of an obscure non-Italian -- a Pole who, deeply understanding the East European predicament, rose to become, along with Roosevelt, Churchill and Reagan, one of the great liberators of the 20th century.
John Paul II's first great mission was to reclaim his native Eastern Europe for civilization. It began with his visit to Poland in 1979, symbolizing and embodying a spiritual humanism that was the antithesis of the soulless materialism and decay of late Marxist-Leninism. As millions gathered to hear him and worship with him, they began to feel their own power and to find the institutional structure -- the vibrant Polish church -- around which to mobilize.
And mobilize they did. It is no accident that Solidarity, the leading edge of the East European revolution, was born just a year after the pope's first visit. Deploying a brilliantly subtle diplomacy that never openly challenged the Soviet system but nurtured and justified every oppositional trend, often within the bosom of the local church, John Paul II became the pivotal figure of the people power revolutions of Eastern Europe.
by Lorenzo Albacete
John Paul Was a Man of His Times
This piece, first published in 1998, on the eve of John Paul II’s historic
visit to Cuba, examines one of the Pope’s many missions, and his unexpected
relationship with Fidel Castro. The author, Monsignor Lorenzo Albacete, is a
professor of theology at St. Joseph’s Seminary, in New York.
The first time I went to Cuba, in February of 1989, I felt that I was on a secret mission. My “cover” (which, undramatically, was also one of my real-life jobs) was that of theological adviser to the Northeast Hispanic Catholic Center: I was helping to chaperon a pilgrimage. Among the center’s other activities, it arranges for groups of Latino parishioners to travel to their countries of origin, and that year we had finally won approval from the Cuban government to send a group of visitors. The center’s director and I were warned, however, that any religious objects we might bring would have to be for personal use only. The Cuban authorities frowned upon the importing of Bibles, rosaries, or pious books with intent to distribute.
My “secret” was related to this prohibition: we were bringing with us parts of an apparatus that makes the Communion wafers used in the Catholic Mass.
Apparently, most of this machine had already been carried into Cuba, and our
group was bringing in the last parts, which would finally allow the contraption
to work. We were to deliver the parts to a particular group of cloistered nuns,
who supported their order by supplying wafers to Catholic parishes.
Now it is apparent that Fidel Castro and Pope John Paul II sense some common purpose as well. Over the past two decades, they have been making fitful progress toward their historic public encounter this week in Havana. There have been frequent breakdowns, to be sure, along the way. (One Cuban friend of mine
compared the process to the island’s traditional danzón, in which dancers approach each other, then step back or turn away, only to approach again.) Yet the underlying impetus for this meeting has been strong enough to overcome all obstacles. The collapse of the Soviet Union gave it a new urgency and, by the same token, mooted Cold War objections to it. John Paul II, having helped destabilize the Communist governments of Eastern Europe, is dismayed by the corrosive materialism that has now taken hold there. One friend who has had meetings with Castro told me recently that Fidel regards himself and the Pope as the only world leaders willing to condemn the triumphalist neoliberal capitalism that both believe is widening the gap between rich and poor, especially in developing countries. To be sure, the superstructure of Castro’s anticapitalism is Communist, historical materialist, and secularist, whereas that of John Paul II is anti-Communist, spiritual, and formally religious. These are not trivial differences. But, with Communism dead as a global model and capitalism sweeping everything before it—even in Cuba—both men can afford to pay attention to the points where their views and interests converge. Both men, after all, are visionaries, and both, as a matter of philosophical belief, reject the free market’s implicit view of mankind as the sum of its material wants.
Can the transcendent social vision of the Revolution be squared with the transcendent spiritual vision of the Church? One of the Pope’s favorite quotations is from St. John of the Cross: “At the sunset of our lives, we shall be tested in love.” As Castro and John Paul consider what they will leave behind when darkness falls, these two masters of symbolism see great value in standing together against what both see, in different but overlapping ways, as the forces that threaten to undo the work of their lives. They believe, each for his own reasons, that this gesture may have a profound effect on the future of Cuba and of Latin America.
WhenI returned to Cuba, last month, I again accompanied the director of the Northeast Hispanic Catholic Center, but this time, in anticipation of the Pope’s visit, our group carried enough liturgical vessels, vestments, medals, and altar books to staff a parish. The Cuban customs official waved our cargo through with a smile.
John Paul the Great
By RICHARD JOHN NEUHAUS
IN the nearly two millennia of the Church's history, only two popes are known as "The Great": Leo the Great and Gregory the Great, in the fifth and sixth centuries respectively. I fully expect that in the not distant future John Paul II will regularly be referred to as John Paul the Great.
That is not a controversial suggestion, although there is considerable controversy over the reasons why he is generally recognized as one of the greatest of the 264 successors to the apostle Peter — to whom Jesus said, speaking of his faith and his person, "You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church."
Political historians will undoubtedly focus on John Paul's role in bringing down what it is no longer controversial to call the "evil empire" of Soviet communism. Having lived for years under Nazism and for many more years under communism, Karol Wojtyla, who would later become John Paul II, had no illusions about totalitarian tyranny.
He was among the few who was not taken in by the belief that the best we could hope for is "coexistence" between freedom and tyranny. That conviction was informed by his understanding of human dignity and the way in which we human beings are, so to speak, hard-wired for freedom and responsibility, both of which communism denied.
In his very first sermon after becoming pope, John Paul chose the theme, "Be not afraid." That was the greeting of the resurrected Jesus to his frightened disciples, and those words were repeated like a triphammer throughout the more than 26 years of John Paul's extraordinary pontificate.
He was telling people behind the Iron Curtain to be not afraid, but, in a deeper sense, he was telling all of humanity to be not afraid.
BY CARDINAL FRANCIS GEORGE
The word "theocrat" is a rapidly emerging swearword in American politics. If someone opposes gay marriage, or supports giving sustenance to Terri Schiavo, or has any strong moral convictions that inform his policy positions, he is a "theocrat" who secretly wishes to begin burning people at the stake. How odd, then, that this week we mourn the death and celebrate the life of a man, Pope John Paul II, who had "theocratic" trappings and convictions and yet is universally regarded as a great warrior for freedom.
Karol Wojtyla, actor on the world stage, Pope John Paul II, Bishop of Rome, successor of Peter and Vicar of Christ, has died.
Pope John Paul was a man of apostolic faith, of constant prayer, of dedication to the church's mission in the world. He saw his work as Bishop of Rome to be the implementation of the goals and decrees of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). The council was called not to change the church in order to "catch up" with modern times but to plan changes so that the church could convert modern times to Christ. No matter how Pope John Paul II is judged now or in the future, what is certain was his fidelity to that vision and, behind it, to Christ himself.
The pope is dead. There will be another, as there has been for the last 2,000 years. The office is more important than its holder, for our faith is based on the office, not the person. Yet, Karol Wojtyla was a person who held the office of the papacy in a way that transformed it. Pastors of other Christian churches, leaders of other world religions, political officials and millions of ordinary people of good will who have met him personally or through the mass media have grown accustomed to his presence in ways that would have been unthinkable before Karol Wojtyla became pope. He was a man steeped in the tradition that unites us to Christ; he was also a man of his own time, our time, who understood contemporary experience even as he subjected it to criticisms which echoed Jesus' own criticisms of his society 2,000 years ago.
That critical voice gave hope, especially to young people. A girl who attended one of the World Youth Day celebrations commented, "The pope is the only strong person kids can look up to." A not-so-young Mikhail Gorbachev, when introducing his wife to Pope John Paul II, said, "Raisa, I should like to introduce His Holiness, who is the highest moral authority in the world."
by Rich Lowry
Actually, it is not odd at all. Many of the great leaps of freedom in the West have come at the instigation of Christian believers. Their faith lends them an unbending belief in human dignity and an audacious hope in success against all odds that sweep aside excuses for inaction.
When the Quakers began agitating against slavery in 18th-century England, igniting a wave of moral revulsion against it, they didn't care that slavery was important economically to the country. They believed slavery was a violation of God's law — enough said. When Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and his collection of (in secular terms) fellow religious fanatics began marching in the American South in the 1960s, even some pro-civil-rights liberals demurred, warning against "impatience." King responded that justice wouldn't wait. John Paul II acted in this tradition of Christian confrontation of evil in his titanic struggle against Communism in Eastern Europe.
By Rabbi Daniel Lapin
What meaningful eulogy can a rabbi possibly add to the many heartfelt tributes being paid to the Holy Father, Pope John Paul II?
Ancient Jewish wisdom advised that in this world a man is known by his father. Not only a man's last name, but much of his identity comes from his father. However, after the process of death transforms us to spirit, we look to our children and grandchildren for clues to our eternity. In the future world of the spirit where all is light and truth, Judaism teaches that each of us will be known by the actions of his children.
But children are not the only building blocks people leave behind. In the world to come we will be known by all our lasting accomplishments, including worthy children and powerful ideas.
Pope John Paul II is even now being warmly greeted in heaven as the father of a billion worthy children and the progenitor of one powerful idea.
We can condense the vast repertoire of courage and compassion, the dazzling virtuosity exhibited over decades by Pope John Paul II into one idea. This idea is so powerful that it welded the many facets of his life into one brilliant beam of clarity.
Pope John Paul II's singular coherence was the sanctity of life. His beam of clarity was the triumph of life over death. Terri Schiavo, clinging to life, alerted all Americans to the real distinction between the culture of death and that of life. Perhaps her final role was to herald on high, the imminent arrival of Karol Wojtyla.