John Paul IICame into the office today, checked nytimes.com, and read the headline "Pope in 'Very Grave' Condition." Of course this isn't much of a suprise given the constant news the past two weeks of his declining health. And it seems like since I can remember caring about the Pope on a deeper level (roughly the late '90s) he has always been about to go.
I'll admit for a Catholic I probably don't know as much about John Paul II as I should (maybe I'll check out a biography on tape, and listen to it on my way to school). My knowledge of the Pope is that he was profound in intelect, passionate in action, and deep in prayer. As the pontif he wrote more encyclicals, traveled to rare locations, stood up to what he considered the greatest evils of the time, and was constantly seen in prayer. Some more specifics that can be asigned to his life are as follows: he constantly promoted the dignity of all human life in his letters, documents and decrees. In fact human dignity could be viewed as his measuring reed for all his decisions (not to say all the decisions were correct). His most accepted teaching and pronouncements came against Communism and abortion, while his most controversial opposed Liberation Theology and a more inclusive clergy. In traveling he was the first Pope to visit both a Jewish Synagogue and Islamic Mosque as well as the gravesite of Ghandi (big time stuff for a church who used to say only Catholics were saved by God). There is no doubt he helped change the world (in a time were change was immanent), and there is no doubt his actions have been controversial. It's only recently that he has become the "grampa" of the world, admired and looked up to by Catholics and non-Catholics alike, previously (70's-early 90's) he ruffled quite a few feathers. These people can give a better (and fairly balanced) history than what I just provided: american catholic and national catholic reporter .
My experience of John Paul II is certainly one of admiration, but also, in recent years, of frustration as well. During college John Paul was my hero. When it was a very unpopular to be Catholic he provided me reassurance. Since becoming a minister in the church and feeling the influence of his leadership a bit more I find myself frustrated- at times extremely frustrated... Yet, I am Catholic, and he is my "Holy Father". I'll miss him.
So where to we go from here (and why do my posts always get so frickin' long)? For a good, and brief, explanation of the election process go here. The basic thing is that the Cardinal's debate and converse about who should be the next Pope, and don't come out until they find consensus. Unfortunately it is probably very political, but if you muster up enough idealism you can believe the Spirit is working in the process. Lots of people want to predict the next pope, but I think this guy has the better idea. Pesonally, I would like to see a person from Asia, Africa or South America in Peter's seat, but it's not my call. I am excited for the next Pope because it seems that John Paul fulfilled his commission, and now is a ripe time (socio-political world environment) for the next successor to lead the Catholic community of Christians.