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Blog // Thoughts
April 15, 2005

JP2, what to say?

It has taken me a while to gather my thoughts on the passing of Pope John Paul the Second. In a lot of ways I had come to dislike many aspects of his papacy. In principle, this papacy seemed a reversal of many of the aspects of Vatican II that I found appealing. In practice, […]

It has taken me a while to gather my thoughts on the passing of Pope John Paul the Second. In a lot of ways I had come to dislike many aspects of his papacy. In principle, this papacy seemed a reversal of many of the aspects of Vatican II that I found appealing. In practice, Rome failed to give adequate leadership on issues of clergy misconduct around the world. After all, what value could pontifical pronouncements on morality have in the face of such rampant failures on the part of it’s spokespersons?

But upon reflection JP2’s papacy was much more than that. Although he did not embody the spirit of Vatican II, he was a voice for the oppressed. Not just in his native Poland but through the world. Hand in hand with his strategy of countless beatifications was a strategy of making the Catholic Church truly global. This extended to way he addressed the past wrongs of the church’s members during the Holocaust and his moment at the wailing wall. His papacy was televisual, compelling and in the end beckoning. For me it was moving to see so many youth rallying to remember this man who had been pope for the whole of their lives. Bono was right, he was both a great man and great showman.

It is hard at this stage to comment on all that has been written thus far about JP2 (and a great deal remains to be written). I find myself in real agreement with Hans Kung about the ecclesiological problems the church now faces and laughing at the platidudinous and self-serving reductionism of Rod Benson (PDF download).

However, in the end my thoughts are best summarised by The Economist,

“He carried on largely to display, to a cynical world, the power of God at work in him and the needlessness of the fear of death.”

For me, when all else is said this Pope will always be the frail man who clung to life whilst holding up a cross. That image cuts through and casts aside the rhetoric of leadership, power and relevance that so dominates evangelical discourse. It is so powerfully iconic and captivating that it is almost a theology unto itself. It will stand for ages to come, even after so much of current practices will have been dismissed as mere fashions. Despite his faults and failings in this powerful and enduring way, JP2 was completly and incontrovertably right.

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