Saturday, April 02, 2005

Pope John Paul II, R.I.P.

I remember where I was when Karol Cardinal Wojtyla ascended to the papacy. I was in junior high school, barely paying attention in English class when they announced that Pope John Paul the First had died.

The first John Paul took two names in order to create the idea of unity: John for John XXIII, and Paul for Paul VI, both of whom represented different philosophies of the Catholic Church. The first John Paul had been in the seat barely a month before he died, which caught everyone by surprise.

The second John Paul turned out to be one of the good guys. I remember his first visit to North America, when he preached in English -- heavily accented, but full of energy and vigor. Make no mistake, no matter what language he spoke this was a guy to be reckoned with.

I remember being in social studies class when he was shot in 1981, not long after President Reagan took a bullet. I was relieved when it was reported that he'd survived that attempt, and pleased that he'd recovered so well.

Yes, he was conservative, and a lot of liberals didn't like that he wouldn't bend church doctrine towards their conception of reality in the 20th century. But he managed to guide the Church through many of the crises of the period -- the fall of Communism, the rise of terrorism and 9/11, and so on and so forth.

I only hope that the next pontiff will have the vigor and the intellectual will to defend the Church as well as John Paul II.