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Saturday, April 09, 2005

In Memoriam: Pope John Paul II

He was a flawed man, as every one of us is, but I personally could not name one of those flaws, and that speaks very highly of him. He was a man who truly loved his fellow man, in accordance with the teachings of his faith, even going so far as forgiving and developing a friendship with the assassin whose bullet nearly took his life. That alone was such a remarkable display of Christianity in the best sense of the term that I cannot even begin to comprehend how he did it. I disagreed with him on capital punishment, abortion, birth control, and Iraq, and probably a few other issues I can't even think of right now, but unlike Mother Teresa of Calcutta, he was truly every bit as great as his reputation and, more remarkably, he didn't market his greatness, instead allowing his actions and words to speak for themselves.

And great actions indeed they were, the most significant of which were his speeches in Poland that Lech Walensa and others familiar with that time said were the most instrumental factor in getting the Solidarity movement started. That set off a chain reaction that eventually led to the destruction of an Evil Empire. While former United States President Ronald Reagan and the United Kingdom's Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher deserve quite a bit of credit, it was Pope John Paul II, survivor of both the Nazis and the Soviet communists, who set the foundation upon which they built. But Pope John Paul II didn't just speak. He acted, by providing fax machines and other communications equipment, as well as other logistical support and supplies, to the blossoming peaceful resistance through his priests and other church officials. For that, for his support of change through peaceful means, and for what he accomplished, he was truly the definition of two words that are sadly overused to the point that the original meaning has been lost in today's society: A survivor, and a hero.

But people will not remember him for that alone. Indeed, that is not what they will remember the most about him. They will remember him for his tireless efforts to foster dialogue and understanding among all faiths, and for his amazingly active schedule which saw him travel to more places to visit his flock and those in need than any pontiff before him. And they will remember the quiet dignity with which he lived his life, especially in his later years. This was truly a man who loved his fellow human beings, and while he left the world far better than he found it, the hole his absence leaves will be felt for some time to come. As an agnostic, I don't share his belief in an afterlife, but if ever one person deserved the reward his faith taught him to believe, it was Pope John Paul II. Rest in peace, beloved Bishop of Rome, Pope John Paul II, Karol Jozef Wojtyla. While you are no longer with us in body, your spirit, your ideals, your example, and your accomplishments live on.

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