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INSIDE TRACK ON WORLD NEWS
by international syndicated columnist & broadcaster Eric Margolis
JOHN PAUL THE GREATCopyright: Eric S. Margolis, 2005
April 4, 2005
ROME Ė `Our Papa has died,í a heartbroken Italian said to me, his eyes brimming with tears.
Here, and around the entire globe, people of all faiths including this agnostic writer are mourning the passing of John Paul II, without doubt the greatest pope in 500 years, a champion of the oppressed, and the finest human being of our era.
No future pope will likely achieve John Paulís monumental feats, nor equal him as a man of the highest culture, erudition, and nobility of character who could communicate as happily with a child as heads of state.
This Polish prelate played a major role in destroying the most murderous evil in history, the Soviet communist system. John Paulís rallying of Poles to rise up against their Soviet rulers, and his secret funding of Polandís Solidarity movement and other East European anti-communist movements, delivered a fatal blow to the Soviet Empire.
John Paul changed modern history by helping convince another of our eraís greatest humanists, Russian reformer Mikhail Gorbachev, to drive a stake into the heart of communism.
This Polish warrior pope delivered the ultimate answer to Stalinís sneering taunt, `how many divisions does the Pope have?í In the end, the Vaticanís Swiss Guard proved mightier than the Red Armyís 100 divisions.
John Paul and the other hero who brought down the Soviet Imperium, Pakistanís Zia ul-Haq, were both targeted for death by the Kremlin. Zia was murdered; John Paul gravely wounded and permanently weakened.
When Cardinal Karol Wojtyla became pope in 1978, he inherited a church riven by doctrinal feuds, regional rebellions, political intrigues, low morale and deep uncertainty over how to deal with a modern world that demanded abortion, divorce, contraception, female priests and an end to priestly celibacy. Worse, the Mother Church was being undermined from within by powerful factions of Marxist priests.
In a decade of Herculean achievement, John Paul purged the church of its leftist subversives, rebuilt morale, established a dialogue with young people everywhere, and restored respect for the battered institution. He taught that true religion is not about superstition, cant, or ritual, but promoting human decency and enlightenment. John Paulís amazing mastery of languages allowed the world to understand his message of strong, vital faith and goodness.
Equally important, Pope John Paul II became a true crusader for political and social justice, concepts all too neglected these days. He championed the cause of peoples who had no voice: Africaís starving; the oppressed Muslims and Catholics of Palestine, Bosnia, Albania, and the Chechen. He battled the ancient evil of Christian anti-semitism. Right after helping defeat communism, he turned to blast capitalism for neglecting the old, sick and weak. Agree with him or not, he fought for the rights of the unborn, and rebuked American for naked aggression in Iraq.
John Paul refused to bend his faith to every whim and fashion of times. Instead, he launched a conservative counter-revolution that restored the churchís spiritual vitality and cohesion, even if it lost adherents. He named 117 of the Vaticanís 120 cardinals, ensuring his robust influence will be felt for many decades and the Mother Church will not become a comical religious parody, like the effete, limp-wristed Church of England.
John Paulís most significant failing was not rooting out sexual molesters infesting Americaís clergy. But the pope is not an all-powerful dictator: he is supreme guide of an immensely complex and highly diversified world organization that ardently resists change. He did everything humanely possible to reform the inert mass of the church.
Italian cardinals, who ruled the Vatican for the past 450 years, will likely re-assert their authority and elect one of their own, though there are calls for a new pope from growth areas like Latin American, Asia, or Africa.
Following the mighty John Paul will be daunting. Weak, compromise caretakers often replace strong popes. His successor will face revolts, schisms and demands for everything from contraception to regional autonomy.
John Paul II died as he lived, a gallant, indomitable Polish warrior. We will not see his like again.
History, I believe - and hope - will call him John Paul the Great.
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