ROUND ROCK, Texas, Jan. 22, 2011 — I became a Catholic in 2001, just a short four years before the death of Pope John Paul II. It’s a shame that I missed much of his leadership, because, in fact, the man was a rock star.
On May 1, roughly six years after his death, John Paul II will be beatified as Blessed John Paul II by Pope Benedict XVI. Beatification is the first step in the process of canonization, or sainthood. Individuals who are beatified are called “blessed” until they are canonized and then called “saint.”
His pathway to sainthood is on the fast track (the fastest, to be exact), much like the progressive man himself, after a team of medical and theological experts declared a miracle healing from Parkinson’s disease of a French nun, Sister Marie Simon-Pierre, who had prayed for John Paul II’s holy intercession shortly after his death April 2, 2005. The investigation took a little more than five years.
It should be noted that sainthood is a celebration of a Christ-like life led by an individual; it is not a report card on their leadership.
Even before I was Catholic, I had heard of him, recognized him and even studied his encyclicals, official letters addressing modern theological or moral issues of the day. He was a pop culture icon throughout the ’80s. He set new standards for the papal position with his diplomatic policies and his public appearances. Some considered him among the most recognizable public figures during his papacy, an honor resulting from his frequent travels to well over 100 countries. Seven of his trips were to the United States, including one to accept the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2004. He remains the most-travelled pope, and it is likely that the current pope, Benedict XVI, will not surpass John Paul II’s record.
Among the more charming and saintly moments in the life of John Paul II: his use of the popemobile; the forgiveness of his would-be assassin, Mehmet Ali Agca, in 1983; the unprecedented prayers at Rome’s main synagogue in 1986; attending World Youth Day in Denver in 1993; and the list goes on.
Pope John Paul II was a great leader and sought hard to establish diplomatic relations between the Vatican and political powers. He held various meetings with notorious public leaders to establish peace, spread religious freedom and avert wars.
He was an avid defender of the Catholic faith’s core principles, especially in regard to the sanctity and dignity of human life. He denounced the “culture of death” in reference to abortion and euthanasia in 1995 in his 11th encyclical.
He also worked hard to mend relations between Christians and Jews, by praying at the Western Wall in Jerusalem and by leaving a written note in 2000 asking for forgiveness of Christian persecution of Jews. He was the first pope, in 2001, to enter a mosque, and he greatly valued ecumenism, or great interfaith dialogue and progression of unity.
He welcomed and cherished the Catholic youth, too, through a founding of World Youth Day, the largest international gathering of Catholic young people, which began in 1986. Some rumors insist that a few of the pope’s last words may have been addressed to the youth collectively.
He’s also the only pope to date with his own Marvel comic book.
Perhaps John Paul II also had something else going for him: the media spotlight. Instead of shunning new technologies, he embraced them. And the world, in return, embraced him.
The Holy Soap Opera is on Facebook.
Erica Bonnell is a displaced Houstonian who currently resides in Round Rock, Texas. Aside from volunteering and educating, she spends much of her spare time in theological pursuits. Her personal adventures with faith and divorce are regularly blogged at http://writtenstraw.wordpress.com.
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