The Pope's Legacy
"I come as a pilgrim of love, of truth, and of hope." Taken from Pope John Paul II's visit to Cuba, this statement embodies his mission during his 26 year reign as the head of the Catholic Church. During his time as leader of the Church, he redefined the papacy as that of pastor and evangelist, extending the reach of the Church with his charisma and will power. In his tenure, he played a pivotal role in the fall of communism, spread the Catholic message to all corners of the world, and endeared himself to billions with his warmth, courage and integrity.
As the 264th pontiff, Pope John Paul II was by far one of the most hard working and energetic: he visited more than 125 countries, beatified more people than any of the other pontiffs, delivered more than 1900 public addresses and issued countless encyclicals and apostolic letters.
Pope John Paul II served as the eloquent voice of freedom and justice in a tumultuous world. He demonstrated that with strong faith and moral conviction, one could leave an imprint in the lives of billions. Not only was he the religious leader of the Catholic Church, he was also a political player, becoming an international voice in the political stages of the world.
He was an outspoken opponent for the war on Iraq, stating that "[the Bush-led] war, like now in Iraq, threatens the fate of humanity." In the Middle East he accomplished what no other leader in the world could; by showing sympathy for both in the Israeli Palestinian conflict, he was able to win respect from both sides. To Muslims he stated, "It is my ardent hope that Muslim and Christian religious leaders and teachers will present our two great religious communities as communities in respectful dialogue, never more as communities in conflict." He actively pursued reconciliation between Jews, Muslims and Christians, in an effort to reach out to all faiths.
In addition, Pope John Paul II was a passionate fighter for human rights. He helped in the rapid growth of Catholicism in Asia and Africa, as a vehicle for service above all. In Latin America he put an end to liberation theology telling Latin American Bishops to discontinue the teachings of Jesus as a political activist, and to stress his spiritual role. In Europe he helped put an end to Communism by spreading the message of Catholicism and providing the moral voice against Communism in Poland.
Pope John Paul II was not only a person of great strength and immense passion. He was a truly caring and loving individual. When visiting Africa he sincerely enjoyed playing with the orphans of the AIDS crisis. Furthermore, he even visited the men who tried to assassinate him in his jail cell and personally forgave him for his failed assassination attempt.
While widely respected, Pope John Paul II was also a controversial figure for being the defender of the conservative values of the Catholic Church. Even within his own flock of worshippers, an ever increasing number of liberal Catholics questioned his hard-line stances on numerous social issues.
He spoke out forcefully on many moral issues: from abortion and euthanasia to the death penalty, war, and biotechnology. His conservative stance even opposed contraceptive methods that could protect people from HIV and AIDS and in turn reduce the demand and need for abortions. Additionally, Pope John Paul II initiated a campaign to protect marriage as that between men and women and voicing strong opposition to civil unions for gays and lesbians. In one of his books the pope criticized homosexual marriages as "a new ideology of evil" that is threatening out society and called abortion a "legal extermination." With regards to the role of women in society he emphasized women's play a passive role as family anchor and child bearer.
Despite his ultra-conservative stance on numerous issues, no one else today combines the religious, political, and personal power that Pope John Paul II embodied. Whether he was the man of the century, and whether he will one day be regarded with the title of Pope John Paul the Great, are still judgment calls. But one thing is certain: John Paul II was unafraid to articulate his vision for a better world, and he possessed the passion and integrity to carry out that vision.
Front Page (April 14, 2005)
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