It struck us over the weekend that a lot of people who read this site have
only known one Pope. It's probably a great thing, if you only have
known of one, to have known this one.
And for just about everyone, John Paul II redefined a lot of things.
The Pope wasn't supposed to have, much less exercise, serious political
power. Yet with only the strength of his faith and a fearless voice, he
greatly changed the world. He had a lot to do with the collapse of
Communism. In hindsight, it seems inevitable. But for those who grew
up when it was a great darkness hanging over the West, John F. Kennedy's
suggestion of a twilight struggle seemed on the mark.
The man simply never backed down from what he believed in, and that's rare
Perhaps the most amazing moment in his papacy was when he went to Poland and
met General Jaruzelski (we probably massacred his name), then the leader of the
Communist government there. When John Paul stepped off the plane,
Jaruzelski, quite visibly, was shaking.
Then watching his many trips, the hope he brought to people, and his
insistence that the poor and desolate be loved as well: that would be enough of
He also made amends with Jews, who were persecuted far too often by the
Church, and reached out to the Orthodox Church and to Islam as well.
Perhaps the most stirring thing we learned this weekend was the broad respect
he enjoyed in the Middle East. We didn't realize he was so well thought of
He's certainly the most consequential Pope of modern times, and we'd have to
read more to learn of one who had a bigger impact on the world.
To be sure, not everyone loved everything he did. He welcomed Yasir
Arafat to the Vatican, which offended a great many Jews, and Tarik Aziz, who was
Saddam's partner in crimes against humanity. He made few friends among
feminists or homosexuals, opposing abortion, homosexuality, and opening the
priesthood to either married men or women. A lot of people strongly
But of whatever criticisms one may have of this Pope, none are more
lamentable than his failure to aggressively address the pedophilia among
This was a disaster for Catholicism and was dealt with more or less as a
misfortune. That's a shame and the greatest failing we can think of.
As dark and inexplicable as that is, though, it does not change the fact that
this morning, millions of people across the world who were enslaved when he
became Pope woke up this morning free. Millions more had hope where there was no
The old cliche is you should leave the world a better place than you found
it. Not many did a better job at that than John Paul II. Not bad for
a kid from Krakow.