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.
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.
Until we meet