Campus, world mourn Pope John Paul II’s death

by Kori Koch

Marking the life and accomplishments of Pope John Paul II, many in the University community and around the world honored and prayed for the late pontiff, who died Saturday in Vatican City. He was 84 years old.

His health fleeting in recent weeks, the pope was the most traveled pontiff in history, visiting 125 countries since obtaining the position in 1978.

For years, his strength and condition appeared to deteriorate from multiple ailments and the onset of Parkinson’s disease.

His death Saturday induced sadness, relief and reflection from many of the approximately 1 billion Catholics around the world who entered a nine-day period of mourning before the next pope is determined.

Several University students and neighboring family members slowly filtered into St. Lawrence Catholic Church and Newman Center near campus Sunday morning for a service led by the Rev. Don Andre.

Many students involved in the church reflected on the pope’s life after hearing news of his death.

“I’m relieved to know his physical suffering is finally over,” said MaryAnne Bedtke, a Catholic College Student Group officer.

Jackie Oeth, a member of the group, said she’s sad for the pope’s death but not surprised.

“Status of the pope’s health was heavily covered in the news. I’m not horribly depressed; it’s almost comforting,” she said.

Petra Duecker, a group officer, said she believed the pope had a global influence on all Christian denominations.

“I think he’ll be remembered as a pope who fought for social justice. He pushed to make that a worldwide priority,” she said.

Ryan Justen, another group member, said many people will remember the pope as well-traveled.

“The pope sought to bring people of third-world countries closer to God,” he said.

Justen said he will spend time reflecting on the late pope’s accomplishments as well as contemplating what will happen in the coming days.

Duecker said most young adults are very concerned about the future of the Roman Catholic Church.

First-year student Andrea Ahneman attends St. Lawrence Catholic Church and Newman Center weekly. She said she is uncertain how to react or what to expect because this was the only pope she ever knew.

John Watkins, a University English professor who is catholic, said he expects a new pope will be determined within two weeks.

“Modern conclaves (the traditional election procedure) are fairly short,” he said.

All eligible cardinals will assemble in Rome’s Sistine Chapel to vote on the next leader of the church. The voting will be based on a supermajority, which is two-thirds of the voters or more. If that doesn’t work after voting 20 times, the number of voting cardinals will be cut in half to try to get two-thirds of the smaller group to agree on a candidate.

Intense media surveillance in the final days of the pope’s life was not invasive, Watkins said.

“It was his last great lesson,” he said. “For ordinary Catholics living in first-world countries, death isn’t something typically seen. The media provided intimacy and openness, both of which I think the pope would have wanted.”

Oeth said the pope’s life should be celebrated.

“He left a long legacy of morals throughout his papacy,” she said. “He will be remembered as a moral leader across many religions, cultures and political parties.”

Oliver Nicholson, a professor of classical and Near Eastern studies, said the pope’s unique history separated him from nearly all his predecessors.

Nicholson, who is not a Roman Catholic, said he was speaking “as a sympathetic observer rather than an insider.”

“(The pope) had suffered deeply as a young man in Nazi-occupied Poland and then in Poland when it was behind the Iron Curtain,” Nicholson said. “His life experience, therefore, is different from that of any pope going back to the counter-reformation.”

Nicholson said the pope was also a man of great intellectual presence and was one of only a few non-Italians to hold the position.

Western Christians might have categorized the pope as particularly conservative, Nicholson said, but many did not understand the profoundly different experiences he was subject to.

“He has been a most remarkable man, and he’s shown immense strength,” Nicholson said.