Goodbye, My Favorite Pope

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Pope John Paul II was both a mystic and a mystery. Those are good qualities for a leader of the Roman Catholic Church.

The mystery is how a man who suffered as much as he did could emerge as a lover of God and of people. By the time he was 21, he was the sole survivor of his immediate family.

He lived through a vicious war fought in his homeland by two of the cruelest and most murderous totalitarian regimes the world has ever seen. Such a miserable environment saturated with death and destruction could easily be expected to produce at the least a cynic, if not a misanthrope. Yet it produced a man whose most signal characteristic was love for people.

"Be not afraid" was the message he often preached. Be not afraid to believe, to hope, to love, to have faith and to live. All of those things do require courage, especially in this age when the devil’s new religion, Scientism, tries to convince us all that there is no God and are no mysteries.

Such a religion is a joke to anyone who is familiar with the history of science, which has had to admit far more mistakes and errors than theology. It wasn’t that long ago when the "best scientific minds" thought bleeding was a cure for most diseases, and that malaria and yellow fever were caused by noxious gases arising from swamps. Even today, medicine deals mainly in palliative treatments rather than cures, and anthropologists imagine whole novels from a simple piece of bone.

True, religion is based on revelation not subject to proof by inductive reasoning. You either believe it or you don’t. Much of science, however, is based on speculation also not subject to proof by inductive reasoning. Evolution and the big bang are theories, not facts. To suppose that the millions of different and complex life forms came from a single cell in a primordial soup requires a great deal more blind faith than the belief in intelligent design. As for the big bang, maybe it happened and maybe it didn’t, but even if it did, it begs the question of where all the stuff that went bang came from.

There are plenty of mysteries in this world, including how so many seemingly educated people can believe in so many dumb ideas.

It’s a shame that the world’s press paid more attention to Pope John Paul II when he was dying than when he was living. At least, however, the attention has prompted many people to read his books and the biographies written about him.

Another great characteristic of the man was that he stuck to his guns on basic doctrine. He said no to the feminists clamoring to be ordained and no to the cafeteria Christians who want to pick and choose which parts of the revelation they believe. He criticized communism and he criticized capitalism, as any decent Christian must, for both sin against the human race. One sins out of a lust for power, and the other out of a lust for material gain.

His steadfastness attracted people who are disgusted by the universal flippy-floppiness and lies of politicians. No politician in the past or present has ever been able to draw the crowds Pope John Paul II has drawn. Even in death, he out-pulls all the celebrities in the world combined.

The next pope will have a hard row to hoe. He will be compared with John Paul, and that’s unfair. The Polish pope was a unique man, and we will never see his like again. It’s clear, though, that the future of the church lies, as John Paul was smart enough to see, in the Third World and not in Europe or North America. The people there have grown too secular and materialistic. The great cathedrals in Europe are largely empty, except for a few gray-hairs. Americans seem to be opting for a more emotional and fundamentalist religion. Some are even acting as if they are Christian jihadists.

Goodbye, my favorite pope. I will miss you.

Charley Reese [send him mail] has been a journalist for 49 years, reporting on everything from sports to politics. From 1969 to 1971, he worked as a campaign staffer for gubernatorial, senatorial and congressional races in several states. He was an editor, assistant to the publisher, and columnist for the Orlando Sentinel from 1971 to 2001. He now writes a syndicated column which is carried on Reese served two years active duty in the U.S. Army as a tank gunner. Write to Charley Reese at P.O. Box 2446, Orlando, FL 32802.

© 2005 by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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