Monday, Dec. 19, 2005

Pope John Paul II

He Knew How to Pope
A Protestant onlooker at one of Karol Wojtyla's 104 road trips once cracked, "You got a Pope who knows how to pope." And then some. Before his 26-year papacy's illness-plagued dénouement, John Paul II expanded his role to include media star, mega-evangelist and (after meeting a would-be assassin) model of forgiveness. Yet his deeds, rooted in personal history, outstripped his image. The childhood playmate of subsequent Holocaust victims later cemented his church's new stance as a friend to Jews. The cleric from communist Poland became co-architect of the Soviet Empire's peaceful fall. The product of both a rigorous university education and the conservative Polish hierarchy decisively — and eloquently — turned the Roman Catholic Church rightward, embittering liberation theologians, women aspiring to the priesthood and those Western Catholics who had come to see freedom of conscience as a sometime counterweight to obedience. Thus some will never subscribe to the posthumous movement dubbing him "John Paul the Great." But John Paul the Significant would be understatement.