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Sunday, April 03, 2005

Be Not Afraid - My thoughts on the passing of John Paul the Great

From Al Hurd

I'm not ashamed to say that I actually called FOX News yesterday and basically told them to "shut up and let the pictures speak for themselves." I mean, how many times can they repeat the same thing when there are actual events going on that tell the story far better than some talking head?

Well done that man.

The media know, I think, their fundamental unimportance. They hate that, hate knowing that ultimately it will be the men and women and events that they are talking about that will be remembered, and not they themselves. Sometimes journalists might cross the line to take part in the great events - Bernstein and Woodward - but for the most part they are insignificant in the long-term. So they chatter and blather, yet another sign of their impotence, their failure of comphrehension. They are ultimatley shallow, which is why they cannot appreciate the gravity of these moments.

This morning I stumbled across Euronews, a channel I rarely even bother checking, and it was showing the Requiem Mass at St Peters with a minimum of commentary, just a little translation of the Italian here and there. Often not even that. It was bliss, to feel in communion with my brothers and sisters in faith there in Rome. The media might be the curse of modern communications technology, but the blessing runs pure.

However, reading across the internet in so many places, I also feel a tremendous communion with so many - Catholics, Protestant, Jews, and others. Pope John Paul II was consistent in his preaching of universal humanity, and in his death as in his life he has brought and is bringing people from all races, all creeds, and all places together. He was truly transcendant, and for him there were no boundaries. Just as he was loved by Catholics, he was loved by non-Catholics - as Tony Blair said "by those of all faiths, and none". He was not afraid to confront the darkness of the Church's past, not afraid to preach the Gospel of Life to a self-important West, and not afraid to preach peace in a time of war. In short, he was not afraid about being unpopular - such questions of popularity simply did not concern him. Rather, he was only concerned about doing what he believed to be right. He said when was elected "Be not afraid", and those words defined his life. There are few battle-crys more apt, I think, for our troubled times.

Of course, there were disagreements. I myself disagreed with the Pope's stand against the war in Iraq. Any man who holds such a principled stand, particularly a stand that rebukes the culture of the West so fundamentally, is going to create disagreements and opposition. From a personal perspective I am not a pacifist, and John Paul was. I admit, I do not have the courage to believe that pacificism, true pacifism as he preached, is enough. I loved him all the more that he did.

One of his greatest acts however was his relationship with Mehmet Ali Agca - the man who tried to kill him. He went beyond forgiveness and formed a friendship with that troubled soul, and corresponded with members of the man's family. I did hear on Euronews that the man's brother has said that Mehmet was grief-stricken at the death of John Paul. The onus Christ places on us to forgive, to love our enemy, is one of the aspects of Christianity I wrestle with the most.

The Pope is the successor of Peter, but he is also the successor of Paul, the Great Apostle, that the Pope echoed with his many travels. One of the Pope's titles is Pontifex Maxumus - Chief Priest. It is a title of the Roman Republic, and might well be able to make a claim for the longest-surviving human office. The word 'Pontifex' means bridge-builder, as priests are a bridge between heavan and earth, between God (or originally gods) and humanity. John Paul was also a bridge-builder, beween peoples, between faiths.

Those with him when he died said, that just before he passed away, he seemed to hear the sounds of the people in the piazza praying the Rosary. He made a few movements that seemed to be an attempt to make a blessing in the direction of the crowd, and then at the end of the prayer, after great effort, said Amen. Then he went beyond this world.

Looking at the dates I think I might just have been conceived when Karol Wojtyla was elevated to the Papacy. I have known no other Pope, and this is now a strange time, and also a little frightening. One of the great lights of this world has gone out, and the world seems for the moment to be very dark, and path ahead treacherous and difficult to see. And yet, those three words have been ringing in my head since Friday night. Be not afraid. So, having paused to mark his passing I shall continue again along the way, holding those words close to my heart.

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