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'Farewell Applause'

Natalia J. Garland

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When the news of the death of Pope John Paul II was announced to the thousands of faithful in St. Peter's Square, there was silence, then tears, and then applause. This was coined as a farewell applause by a former Mayor of Boston, Ray Flynn. This applause was a spontaneous outpouring of love and remembrance. What made John Paul II so popular? What can mental health workers learn from his lifestyle? I will answer those questions by summarizing some of the information we have all heard on television, and I will add some of my own reactions.

(1) Pope John Paul II lived an authentic life. He embodied his own belief system. In terms of practicing the Roman Catholic doctrine and fulfilling his role as Pope, he was a self-actualized person. He realized his human potential, something which Maslow claimed that fewer than one percent of people ever achieve. He was a whole person: intellectually, emotionally, spiritually. The Secretary of State, Condoleeza Rice, said that he walked with the Lord in all phases of life.

(2) He communicated with people. He was known as the Pope of the People and the Pilgrim Pope. He spoke eight languages. He traveled and spoke to people in their own language and in their own country. People felt valued by this courtesy and effort. When he got off an airplane, he would kiss the earth of the country he had landed in. This was a gesture of respect for the country and for the soil which God created.

(3) The Pope's vitality and love of life enabled him to connect with the world's youth. He upheld morals, had high expectations, and believed in the positive potential of young people. He happily wore the white sneakers with yellow laces which a group of youth gave him. The youth were thrilled and honored by his acceptance. The Pope's background in drama afforded him a creativity to excite crowds as much as any rock star. He utilized the modern world while maintaining his strict religious values.

(4) The Pope's capacity for suffering enabled him to connect with the older generation, the frail, and the disabled. He believed, and exemplified, that we all serve a purpose in life. He invented the phrase, culture of life, which has become a part of our everyday vocabulary. He survived an assassination attempt and coped with the ravages of Parkinson's Disease. As one reporter said, it was as though his soul was pulling his body along. He continued to perform his duties through sheer will. Finally, he decided his journey on earth was over.

(5) He fought against the political oppression of totalitarian governments. He had experienced the Nazi occupation of his native Poland, and he was greatly responsible for bringing an end to the reign of communism in Eastern Europe. His political intervention was a form of evangelism. He believed that God intended for people to be free. As we struggle in today's era of terrorism, his admonition, be not afraid, teaches us how we are to live. He role-modeled extreme courage and personal power.

(6) Karol Józef Wojtyla became Pope John Paul II at age 58. He then served as Pope for the next 26 years. That's a quarter of a century. Although he was among the youngest of Popes, age 58 is not a time when most of us would begin a new career. The Pope worked on his job until the very last days of his papacy. There was no retirement--he loved what he did. When he died at age 84 he had not fully accomplished all his goals (he was only human), but he had nevertheless mastered the art of papacy.

(7) The Pope was a multicultural Pope. He was the first non-Italian Pope. He adapted to a new life while never forgetting his Polish heritage. A Polish bishop, Piotr Jarecki, said, "The birth of such a Pope was the fruit of God's love for us. Only one thing remains--for us to be as loyal and true to his legacy as we can." The Pope was able also to reach beyond the Catholic religion and populations and to inspire a global audience. He was a shepherd to many: diplomats, scholars, and common people. He listened to others, and the world listened to his words of wisdom and devotion. There will be another Pope, but there will never be another family member like Pope John Paul II.

Some of us did not agree with the Pope on everything, but those areas are not the focus of today's essay. Today we preserve the memory of his contributions. Some of his last words were reportedly to the youth outside his window, "I came for you, now it is you who have come to me. I thank you." In my heart I stood outside his window with the crowd. I applaud the well-lived life and I hope for the continued journey to an eternal destination. (Written 04/04/05)

Until we meet again..............stay sane.

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Copyright 2005 Natalia J. Garland