Friday, April 02, 2010
JPII: Five Years After
Today, April 2, 2010, marks the 5th anniversary of the death of our school’s namesake, Pope John Paul II.
There are now 12 high schools in the United States, with a 13th being built in Huntsville, that are named “Pope John Paul II High School” or “John Paul the Great High School”. I believe it’s a just another hint as to what history will prove: John Paul II was one of the two or three popes of most consequence in the history of our Church.
To celebrate this fifth anniversary, our school invited Mr. George Weigel to speak to our community as part of our “John Paul II Distinguished Lecturer” series. Weigel is best known for his authoritative biography on the life of JPII, entitled “Witness to Hope,” and thus knew him as well as any American. I asked him to speak to us about the legacy of JPII for our current and future church. Accordingly, his talk was entitled “The Ten Enduring Achievements of Pope John Paul II”.
A summary of his talk follows (my gratitude to Board member Diane Huggins for this summary):
1. JPII recast the role of the papacy by returning to the evangelical roots of Peter. He was not a “central administrator” of the Vatican but first and foremost a pastor. This is what led him to make 105 visits to foreign countries, to begin World Youth Day, etc.
2. His influence on the Second Vatican Council, helping it focus on a “Christ centered humanity”. He was instrumental in writing “Gaudium et Spes”, perhaps the most important document of the Council.
3. His central role in the collapse of Communism and the end of the Cold War. He was a pivotal figure in the 1989 revolution, beginning with his support of Solidarity in Poland and ending in the tearing down of the Berlin wall.
4. Correspondingly, his challenge to democracy: Democracy is a means and not an end. It is measured by how well it promotes the common good and supports human dignity, especially the dignity of its most vulnerable members.
5. His focus on ecumenism and unity in truth. He was instrumental in re- invigorating many ecumenical dialogues. His “Ut Unum Sint” encyclical puts the Catholic Church on an irrevocable path toward unity with other Christian faiths.
6. His efforts to strengthen Jewish-Christian relations and to reconvene the dialogue/conversation with the Jewish people for the first time in 1900 years.
7. His teaching that truths lead us to God and that we embrace the truths of the world of science, philosophy and other disciplines.
8. His theology of the human body and its relationship to moral life in response to the sexual revolution. He re-invigorated traditional Catholic moral teaching and gave it a persuasive, innovative foundation.
9. His Catechism of the Catholic Church. He called it a gift to the future of our Church. The very idea that a faith could be codified in an age of relativism was radical in and of itself.
10. His impact on lives throughout the world. How many hundreds of millions of people did his life inspire? His funeral was called by NBC news "the human event of our generation”.
It’s always a dubious enterprise to try and measure the historical “greatness” of someone who died such a short time ago. Still, I suspect we’re on solid ground in predicting that Karole Wojyla was one of the greatest figures of the 20th century, and JPII, one of our greatest popes.
Sainthood is just a matter of time.