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By George J. Church. Reported by Roland Flamini and Barry Kalb/Rome
A Gift for Wordy Drama and Symbol
John Paul has placed his firm mark on the papacy
"I appeal to you, in language of passionate pleading. On my knees I beg you to turn away from the paths of violence and to return to the ways of peace. You may claim to seek justice. I too believe in justice and seek justice. But violence only delays the day of justice. Violence destroys the work of justice."
He spoke on a blustery October day to an Irish throng within earshot of the border of Northern Ireland, where Roman Catholics and Protestants are engaged in tribal bloodshed. Now John Paul II, apostle of peace and justice, is himself a victim of terrorism. The killing continues in Northern Ireland and elsewhere. But if his words often go unheeded, the explosion of grief and affection as the Pope lay in a Rome hospital showed the extraordinary impact he has made, not just upon 700 million Catholics but on the world.
No prior Pope, not even John XXIII, has touched so many people of all creeds. Indeed, during an era that knows great political leaders only in memory Churchill, Gandhi, Mao, Roosevelt he is the premier personality on the international stage. Like those more conventional statesmen, he has a gift for word, drama and symbol, and an indefinable charisma. Unlike them, he has been a traveling celebrity seen in person by millions, his impact multiplied many times over, like loaves and fishes, through television and the press.
Though he is only 31 months into his reign, John Paul is clearly on the way to making his mark in history. In an age of doubt and relativism he has compellingly set forth a philosophy of individual man as a sacred, significant and hopeful creation of God, and advocated human rights and economic justice for the poor. As a priestly catalyst he has changed the internal politics of his homeland, Communist Poland. Within the Roman Catholic Church he has striven dramatically to end the era of flux, confusion and experimentation that followed the Second Vatican Council of 1962-65. He is also ebulliently engaged in transforming the image, and even the function, of the venerable office that he holds. At 61 this week, he is still young for a reigning Pope. He has the physique of a former quarryman, chemical factory hand and outdoorsman. If his strength carries him through this crisis, he is likely to use that vigor once again as a traveling evangelist on behalf of the joy of the Christian life.
Says Boston College President J. Donald Monan: "He has come to personify the most appealing values of Christianity. Its compassion, its understanding, its courage." In Rio, which the Pope visited in 1980, a resident spoke last week with corrupted theology but purity of spirit: "Everything improved here after his visit. He was a father to the people, a real god." But to liberated priests and nuns, to lay Catholics vexed over divorce and birth control, to political autocrats and to affluent, secularized Westerners, he has also been a bearer of razor-edged messages.
From the tropical jungles of Zaire to the snowscapes of Anchorage, the Pope has shown an ability to make people applaud, laugh, cry and sing. Shedding the reserve of his predecessors, he has hummed along on the folk tunes, or joshed the crowds who would not let him go. In Cracow, Poland, as