On this day before the funeral of the Pope, here are some thoughts and observations that have struck me about this man, his life, and the incredible whirlwind surrounding the Vatican over the past few days:
I am awestruck and amazed at the hundreds of thousands of people who have converged on the Vatican to pay their last respects to Pope John Paul II. I am struck most by the inner motivation - be it faith, curiosity, or simply frenzy - that an individual finds to wait in line for what has easily been over 15 hours, to pay their final respects and catch a last glimpse of this man.
As an American, it is easy to criticize and speak, as an example, of the Pope's stand on women in the church or of the seemingly endless stream of people leaving the Church, but those Western views somehow become tempered by looking at the faces of those waiting in this amazing line.
On the other hand, I was sickened to see Katie Couric and Chris Matthews reporting live from the Vatican, feebly attempting to interview people as they waited in line. This morning, in particular, found Ms. Couric trying desperately to speak with those in the queue, but unable to communicate due to language barriers.
With all of the attention being paid to the Pope and his life in the last few days, I am struck by the pictures of him as a young man. He was a remarkably good-looking man in his youth, and these pictures display a sharp contrast from the older, infirmed man we think of when speaking of the Pope.
Critics of the Vatican have been speaking in the last few days of the arrogance of this Pope... of his unwillingness to relinquish his post, despite his failing health. According to his will, which was just released today, he speaks of his consideration of a resignation in 2000. The question this raises for me is simple - to those who criticize him for not stepping down I ask - what makes you think he WANTED to remain in his position? By this I mean that perhaps it was a larger sense of faith, responsibility, and sacrifice which kept him in the position.
Finally, I smiled at stories that highlighted this Pope's humanity. Of course, it is far too easy to see images of the Pope with breakdancers and make the easy joke. But I believe that this Pope was fully aware of the images he was presenting to the world. Bono shares a story about John Paul II and the famed "shades incident", and this is a man who was an actor in his youth - the first Pope who came to the position in the height of the media spotlight - and a man who had the recognition to say that "if it didn't happen on TV, it didn't happen."
While I sincerely hope that as the process of selecting a new Pope begins, that they find a person with the sense to move the Catholic Church forward, but who also has the sense of humor and grace that this man possessed. And while there are those who believe the next Pope will once again be an Italian, I would remind them that John Paul II was a big surprise, and the Catholic Church must now find a way to bring someone to this position who will bring "joy" to the Church. I would not be surprised at all to find our next Pope coming from Africa or South America. Regardless of their place of birth, let us hope that they move the Church forward, and find a way to reconcile a True sense of "Christianity" with the man-made rules of the Church.