Today marks the fourth anniversary of the passing from this world of the late Servant of God: Pope John Paul II. Acclaimed by some already as “the Great” Pope John Paul II was undoubtedly one of the most charismatic and influential Pontiffs of the Church during the Twentieth Century. One of his most endearing qualities was his ability to relate to, inspire, and identify with young people.
World Youth Day, the global youth convention of his creation held every few years, was his primary venue for unleashing his enthusiastic encouragement towards youths. The essence of Pope John Paul’s message was always that Jesus Christ is the only way to true fulfillment in one’s life. The Catholic Church as well as all Christian traditions proclaims Jesus Christ as the Way, the Truth, and the Life. However, some of Pope John Paul’s methods and interpretations of this “Truth”
Pope John Paul II, as charming and appealing as he was, was ‘in essence’ a theological conservative. Throughout his pontificate this unwavering, rigid interpretation of many issues caused uproar among many. While it isn’t necessary to be as harshly critical as some progressive thinkers have been regarding Pope John Paul (such as Fr. Hans Kung, with whom I share many viewpoints and opinions). It can’t be ignored that some of his decisions prevented progressive reforms that the Universal Church could have benefited significantly from.
The Pope closed the door on women’s ordination, and continued to reaffirm the traditional “orthodox” (yet not scientifically based) outlooks on human sexuality. His Theology of the Body was hailed as a beautiful and poignant interpretation of human sexuality in its fullness. But really, when it is read in its full context, it’s just a fancy, pragmatically toned re-delivery of the evaluation of sexuality by the Magisterium. That sexual intercourse is only meant to be enjoyed within the confines of Sacramental Matrimony and that all sexual activities are to be carried out with the “intention and possibility of creating human life.” Thus, Pope Paul VI’s ban on birth control is re-enforced again. With the publication of the encyclical Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life) abortion in all circumstances was once again condemned as “murder” and excommunication was imposed upon all those who admitted to taking part in the procedure. In recent days, we have seen how firmly cemented this unsympathetic, prohibition remains within ecclesiastical life.
So who are these young people who make up the so called “JP2 generation?” Whose voices contribute to that refrain, “John Paul 2 we love you!”? A recent article from October of last year in the National Catholic Reporter speaks about a poll that was taken by the group Faith in Public Life that showed that younger Catholics are starkly more progressive than their older parents when it comes to social issues such as abortion and gay marriage. However, other studies have shown that the generation of men entering the priesthood taken from this age group more blatantly more conservative than their counterparts who were young whipper-snappers during Vatican II. What does this dichotomy mean? Perhaps it can’t fully be explained or understood… I happen to have a personal account that might help put a unique perspective on all of these issues.
Last year in the months before World Youth Day was due to be celebrated in Sydney, Australia in July, a new Catholic social networking site was created under the direction of Cardinal Pell: Archbishop of Sydney, to promote the celebrations that were to take place in the following months. It’s called xt3 and is a wonderful tool for connecting with other young Catholics all over the world. When discussions are had about general spirituality, theology, and Biblical topics they’re always warm toned and civil. But when it came to politics things became particularly nasty. When I let it be known that I was an Obama supporter I was denounced as a heretic and a “sellout” Catholic. When I even tried to explain myself and my points of view on issues like sexuality, abortion, contraception, and women’s ordination, everyone attacked me as being a hypocrite because my positions didn’t agree with the official stances of the Vatican. Is this what being a “faithful” Catholic has come to? Belonging to the Republican Party and agreeing 100% with everything that comes from the mouth of the Pope or the Holy See? I guess, this is what being a faithful “JP2” Catholic is…
Karol Wojtyla was in many ways a “great” Pope. He generally continued the fraternal attitude towards other Christian traditions, which was initiated in the wake of Vatican II. He even reconciled the fact that the papacy, as it is currently understood, might have to be redefined so that might be compatible with all Christians as well as the way the Bishop of Rome’s primacy was understood in the First Millennium. He was also very open and inclusive towards other religions, especially our elder Jewish brethren, and made it clear that Jews, Christians, and Muslims all adore the same God of Abraham. The Polish Pope was also of course considerably instrumental in implementing efforts of world peace, even indirectly aiding in the collapse of the Soviet Union. But do all of these “great” things overshadow or eradicate the injustices that were allowed to be overlooked during his pontificate? We cannot be certain, ultimately, only God and history will tell. But I can be certain that today I have prayed these words on his behalf with sincere fervor, “Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May he rest in peace.”
Phillip Clark is a 19-year-old college student in Baltimore, Maryland. His interests include politics, theology (particularly Catholicism), history, current events and world affairs, gay rights, shopping, and writing. He ultimately would love to go to Loyola College here in Maryland because to him its one of the bastions of Catholic free thought offered to us within the Jesuit tradition.