Catholics, world lose a leader

In a divided world, Pope John Paul II transcended differences with grace.

With the passing of Pope John Paul II, Roman Catholics around the world lost their leader. Many Catholics, including Archbishop Harry Flynn, of St. Paul and Minneapolis, feel the pope will be seen by history as one of “the greats,” of which there are currently two. This would seem altogether possible. This pope was a supreme diplomat, conciliator and head of state; not to mention his seemingly unending well of compassion. The entire world lost a leader with his passing.

The pope has so many accomplishments; to list them all here is impossible. His support democracy helped hasten the end of totalitarian communism in Europe and with it the Cold War. He supported the Solidarity movement in his native Poland, urging on the reforms that peacefully brought democracy to that country. His unique relationship with former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, one of a friend with high expectations, encouraged Gorbachev’s reform efforts in the Soviet Union.

Another priority of the pope was relations between different faiths, especially Judaism and Islam. He was the first pope to visit a mosque and the first to set foot in a synagogue. Those who remember these events likely remember his sincerity. Such actions from many leaders would seem solely symbolic gestures, but from this man, they were much more.

This man, who seemed ever in thought, and his numerous writings on theology, philosophy and humanity in general, provided us with more of those thoughts than most leaders. Nothing was relegated to mere symbolism.

Outside of that sincerity, the pope did everything with grace and magnanimity. Even when rebuking leaders such as Gorbachev about religion in communist Russia or President George W. Bush about pre-emptive war, it never felt like politics but, again, advice from a friend with high expectations.

The pope has left an enormous void, inside and outside the church. His shoes are impossible to fill, but we hope his successor is chosen wisely. There are real divisions in the Catholic Church, as there would be in any body that includes so many people from so many different cultures. The pope was the force that held everything not just together but united. In a world as divided as ours, it’s that ability to transcend difference and unite people that we will most miss from the pope.