The Passing of Pope John Paul II
This is the image I love best. Over the years and particularly in the past few weeks I have opined publically my cynicisms about the Pope, but I have been greatly saddened by his passing. I am not a Catholic, so the whyfores and wherefores and whofores of this man were lost in my memory banks. I must have been in the 5th grade when he ascended to papal greatness, as it were. I have vague memories of being excited about it but only because the world was excited. I know I didn't understand anything beyond that and maybe I still don't.
Last night I sat at Roro and Lala's. The television showed an endless stream of live and archived footage about the Vatican, this Pope's historical and cultural contributions, and his current condition. Even if you missed it all, I'm sure it's easy to imagine. We watched intermitently, talking about other things when the drone became too stressful. Every once in a while a soundbyte would catch my attention or Roro would say something that would dislodge items that had been lost in my head for 27 years. "Born Karol Jozef Wojtyla ... the first non-Italian in 455 years." A small part of me murmered "oh yah...." Roro mentioned the previous Pope and how he had died after a month. I felt disoriented; I had no recollection of that. Then slowly it came back to me. Yes, his name was Pope John Paul, and this new guy chose the name John Paul II, and I, a ten-year-old, had thought that very noble. It had made me feel warm and fuzzy about him. I had loved the Pope with my decade-old heart.
So the night continued, the reports, the timelines, the failed attempts by newcasters not to appear opportunistic about having a guaranteed large-scale viewership for the evening. They continued with shots of people crying, comments by average Joes saying that losing him would be like losing his or her own father. Experts drone and speculated. People prayed for the Pope in hope that he might not suffer too much. I couldn't relate to much of it other than that certainly one always hopes for no suffering. It made me sad that he was laying there, knowing that he would die sooner rather than later. I thought of my mom and how she must have known that she was dying even if the rest of us were in denial. I thought about how I'm glad that they will meet. Isn't that odd? At the time it was a perfectly sensical thought—the Pope will die and at some point my mother will get to meet him and oh how she'll like that.
I lost myself in myself as I had more and more strange thoughts. I tried to imagine the life of someone whose destiny will lead them to be a spiritual leader of such reknowned stature. Or what it would like for his parents or childhood friends. I thought about all the irreverent comments I've made about the Pope, and I stand by them because my comments were not about the man who is the Pope, but the Pope who is a man. Think about the power with which we imbue certain roles as well as the people in them. If their power comes from us then aren't we really the powerful ones? Or is it that we give up so much of it that we leave ourselves none?
One thing I never forgot was the reaction when Sinead O'Connor tore the picture of the Pope on Saturday Night Live. I didn't understand why it was so troublesome and had such bad repercussions. I wouldn't have done it but to me it was just a picture. It wasn't like she shot him. The symbolic gesture was nothing more than that to me, but last night, when I realized that he really would die, I began to understand. The world, including the non-Catholic one, has lost a great spiritual leader. It doesn't matter if you or I agreed with his actions or stances or that for which he stood. Genuine spiritual leaders speak for all of us regardless of class, color, or creed. They speak to the one thing that we all have in common, even if we're athiests. For better or worse, we're all human, which means that ideally we share a humanity.
I always liked my impression of the man who was John Paul II. I will continue to point the finger and have my opinions about the Pope just as I do for presidents and princes, monks and ministers, supervisors and sultans, judges and the judged. We'll have a new Pope soon. He won't be Asian or Latino or Black nor will he be a woman, but he will be somebody. He will lead and many will follow. God bless the future and the past. Amen.