A remarkable presence

 

John Paul II, who marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of his papacy October 16, has been the only pope many, perhaps most, Catholics now alive have ever known. His influence, like his enormous energy, will, and conviction, has been extraordinary. By one estimate, no other person in history has been seen-or at least glimpsed-by more people than the peripatetic Karol Wojtyla. Five million in the Philippines. A million in Chicago. How many millions in Poland? It adds up. John Paul has shaped the church and the world in incontestable ways, from what he has written to “strengthen the brethren,” to the dramatic and crucial role he played in the fall of Soviet communism and the liberation of his beloved homeland. He has transformed the papacy, keeping it free from political entanglements while making it a unique moral voice on the world stage. Whatever complaints Catholics have about the pope’s lack of tolerance for theological pluralism or dissent, he has been a steady and impassioned voice for human dignity and rights, for the sacredness of all human life, and for the transcendent nature of the human person. He has placed the church firmly on the side of political freedom and at the side of the poor, the oppressed, and the disenfranchised. In a tumultuous time, this unselfconsciously pious pope has been a remarkable presence even among those who look askance at the idea of the sacred and spiritual. It is a daunting...

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