I had no idea that the death of Pope John Paul II would be the subject of my first post, but his passing has turned out to be a significant global event, reaching far beyond the boundaries of religious or political affiliation.
I want to talk about what his papacy has meant to me – and this revelation in and of itself was a surprise. I am Roman Catholic, and every weekend since he assumed the role of Holy Father in 1978 (okay, most weekends) I went to Church where Mass was said and praying for him was part of the format. I remember thinking (I was nine at the time of his appointment) that he looked like a teddy bear – he had a kind face and a special sparkle in his eyes. He was a natural communicator, the first Pope of the media age and if you’ve read my profile, you can imagine the appeal this held for me! This would not be a papacy conducted from an Ivory Tower – Karol Wojtyla was a man of the people. He also turned out to be a great conservative, and while I did not agree with the Church’s position on every controversial issue (I still maintain that the issue of female priests, for instance, will remain a hot button topic until a woman is ordained) I had to respect his unwavering faith in his decisions.
In 1985, right in the midst of what I termed my “Christian Identity Crisis”, the Pope visited Trinidad and Tobago during a pilgrimage to the Caribbean. It was a big deal. He said Mass in our National Stadium, where thousands turned out to see him, including me. He entered the stadium in grand style in his “Pope-Mobile” (his preferred means of transportation after the assassination attempt) to chants of “We Pope! We Pope!” (Translation: Our Pope.) He was ours.
Judging by the outpouring of prayers and good wishes from the international community (including China!) over the last few days, he actually belonged to the world. As my Uncle, a Bishop, said on our local news tonight, “He was a man of tremendous power – yet gentle.”
I think it is an approach to power that most world leaders could learn from. How unsettling is it that two men as radically different as the Pope and Robert Mugabe shared international headlines for the last two days? Just as unsettling, I suspect, as the fact that what the Pope most admired about Trinidad and Tobago twenty years ago – our ability to live peacefully with one another in a multi-ethnic, mutli-cultural, mullti-religious socety – is now being severely compromised, fuelled by the flippant talk of our leaders.
When John Paul II bade his farewell to a buoyant T&T so long ago, he proclaimed, “I will remember you not for your majestic mountains, but for your cheerful faces that reflect the glory of God. I am now leaving you, but part of me will go with you and part of you will come with me.” May the part of him that stays be his spirit of inclusion.
Requiem eternam dona eis Domine
Et lux perpetua luceat eis