Saturday, April 09, 2005

The Pope passes - the Prince marries: As the empire turns


Franciscan Friars

Two ceremonial events took place at the end of this week that captured worldwide attention. The funeral of Pope John Paul II and the wedding of the United Kingdom’s heir to the throne offer contrasts in contemporary cultures and leadership styles.

This papacy was repeatedly analyzed on TV and in voluminous ink before the funeral of Pope John Paul II yesterday. In contrast, Prince Charles’ wedding to Camilla today failed to capture the interest of people outside of Britain.

While both the Roman Catholic Church and the British monarchy have waned in political influence in this era of democracy and freedom of religion, the personality of Pope John Paul II helped to draw international support and attention to the Church once again in a way that the heir to the British throne has failed to do for the monarchy.

Indicators show that people worldwide, especially in Latin America and Africa, are returning to the Church, while the British monarchy is judged by some to be irrelevant.

The Pope carved a place in history as a statesman while British leadership efforts have faded into the background.

Pope John Paul II had a consistent diplomatic strategy – talk to people in their country using their language. He was willing to engage in dialogue with world leaders, even when consensus was inachievable. He struggled to ameliorate the ideological polarization of international leaders, a phenomenon which Lead Our Leaders identifies as an impediment to successful cooperation towards solving our world’s problems. He was steadfast in his commitment to peace and justice.

The Pope’s ten-city visit to the United States in 1987 is an example of his cross-cultural effectiveness. He chose the multicultural city of Miami as his first stop. “I come as a friend. A friend of American and of all Americas: Catholics, Orthodox, Protestants and Jews, people of every religion and all men and women of goodwill,” he said at the airport on September 10.

It was John Paul’s legacy as an effective statesman that will earn him a place in history as a peacemaker. He appealed to non-Catholics and secular humanists who respected his immutable stance against injustice. Leach Walesa, former president of Poland credits the pope’s visit to Warsaw in 1979 as a catalyst for toppling communism in 1989.

In terms of interfaith relations, John Paul II was the conscience of the Roman Church. He was the first pope to visit a synagogue, and worked to establish relations between the Vatican and Israel. He honored victims of the Holocaust and condemned anti-Semitism as a sin against God and humankind. John Paul also sought to improve relations with the Muslim world. He was the first pope to step inside a mosque. More significantly, he apologized to a Damascus crowd in 2001 for misdeeds of the Christian church during the Crusades.

In marked contrast to the magnanimous concessions of the Catholic Church under John Paul II’s Papacy, Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles have yet to apologize for injustices suffered in countries they colonized.

In death, as well as in life, the Pope continued to bring people together. The 100 statesmen, diplomats, presidents and kings who gathered in St. Peter’s Cathedral for the funeral were testament to the Pope’s influence in the secular realm.

Outside, mourners in a crowd of 600,000 displayed banners in St. Peter’s Square that read “santo subito” – saint immediately. Church rule typically requires that a person be dead 25 years before sainthood can be conferred. Perhaps Pope John Paul II’s followers are so urgent for immediate beatifiction because they have already recognized his first Pope John Paul II’s first miracle– his ability to engage people worldwide in dialogue.

Aside from his stringent theological views, Pople John Paul II will be remembered for his historic role in the collapse of communism and his travels to second- and third-world countries where he advanced dialogue between disparate leaders.

In a time where many U.S. political groups have so polarized themselves as to render themselves impotent, we look to Pope John Paul II as a model of diplomacy.

The image of Israeli President Moshe Katsav shaking hands with the leaders of Israel’s arch-enemies, Iran’s Muhammad Khatami and Syria’s Bashr al-Assad, are proof of Pope John Paul II’s miracle.