We’ll not see his kind again. Not in our lifetime.
The passing of Pope John Paul II galvanized the globe – as no other contemporary world figure could. His mourners transcended the planet’s 1 billion Catholics. Condolences came from Muslims, Jews and Protestants. Praise came from the most disparate sources, including George W. Bush, Fidel Castro and Mehmet Ali Agca – his would-be assassin. In unprecedented numbers, an estimated 4 million pilgrims – and 200 world leaders — made their way to Rome to pay their final respects.
That’s what happens when the honoree was a globe-trotting crusader for human rights and an outspoken opponent of totalitarianism wherever he found it. Talk about a bully pulpit.
But for all his charisma and courage – from defying Nazis to helping defeat Communism – there was this: Has there ever been a person who was more disagreed with who was also more respected? And beloved?
Over the years, we became familiar with his ideology – and his obstinacy.
He was doctrinaire and a fundamentalist hard liner on sex and gender issues, which is not what “cafeteria Catholics” wanted to hear in this country. He was an opponent of capital punishment and the Iraqi war, which was at odds with certain significant constituencies. And he didn’t exactly jump-start a housecleaning of pedophile priests, for which there was a deafening demand in many quarters.
But what you saw – and heard in myriad languages – is what you got.
Right and wrong were not relative concepts — any more than morality could be more or less good or bad. Pope John Paul II wasn’t one for changing with the times as if principles could meander in and out of fashion. Pander wasn’t in his extensive, multi-lingual vocabulary.
Those weren’t sectarian traits; an animist or atheist would find them no less refreshing in an era of relativism, materialism and cynicism.
He wasn’t going to make it easier to be Catholic – just because it was an increasingly secular world. There were standards – and they weren’t up for compromise. Salvation was earned. It was a reward – not a block grant. He took controversial stands and didn’t back off because they were unpopular. It’s what leaders do.
It’s what’s done by those who alter history.