By Pastor George Kelly
The decade of the 1980s and the early part of the 1990s marked a watershed moment in the cause of freedom and the fall of Soviet sponsored Communism throughout the globe.
Three world-class leaders Pope John-Paul II, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and President Ronald Wilson Reagan all arrived on the world scene within 4 years of each other (1978-1981).
These three powerful statesmen / stateswoman began their tenures while facing what appeared to be insurmountable odds. Yet, these leaders not only tackled the obstacles that they faced with great gravitas and grace, but they conducted themselves in such a way that they left us with unique paradigms which assist us with viewing the crises in which we face.
When Pope John-Paul II arrived at the Vatican, much of the Roman Catholic faithful were enslaved in Europe under the aegis of Soviet sponsored communism. Furthermore, “liberation theology” (Catholic theology combined with Marxist overtones) was gaining strength in Latin America.
And to make matters worse, the Catholic Church’s influence in both Europe and American was dwindling as the two continents drifted into a lapsed Spiritual Consciousness that scholars have referred to as Postmodernism.
Briefly stated, “postmodernism” is a concept which describes the phenomenon that the “Judeo-Christian value system” (which is championed by all three branches of Christendom: Roman Catholicism; Greek and Russian Orthodox; and Evangelical Protestantism) – no longer drives the ethics, morality and thinking of the culture.
This is no small occurrence once one considers that Christian thought infused the lifeblood of Western Civilization for nearly 2,000 years!
Fortunately for Europe and America, the second Pontiff selected in 1978, a Polish Cardinal named Karol Józef Wojtyła became the 264th Pope of the Roman Catholic Church; we refer to him by the name that he chose: Pope John Paul II.
Pope John Paul II ascended to the Roman Pontificate less than two months after the Pope that preceded him John Paul I died after only serving his church for 34 days! (This writer remembers these events vividly as he was born, baptized, and raised in the Catholic faith. My fellow Catholic brethren waited with eager anticipation to find out who would be the next “Holy Father” of our beloved Church.)
Pope John Paul II did not disappoint.
It is important for us to remember that every Pope possesses his own unique “spiritual signature.” By this it is meant that each Pope brings his own set of unique experiences, educational attainments; spiritual acumen and clairvoyant foresight into the office that he is appointed to. John Paul II was no different.
John Paul II’s life and character was forged under the violent crucibles of the carnage of World War II and the Soviet dominated Communism that ensnared his beloved Poland for a great many years. While he was a young man growing up in Poland, Karol Józef Wojtyła had Jewish friends among his circle of cherished relationships.
Karol Wojtyła witnessed anti-Semitism in its worse forms. Futhermore, while he was a bishop, archbishop and later a Cardinal in Poland, he saw through the nature of communism for what it was – an empty, agnostic, and violent belief system that paraded itself as the champion of the poor and dispossessed but in reality made the poor worse off spiritually, mentally, and economically.
While contrasting the free enterprise system with the Soviet command economy, the late Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill once remarked that “the greatest fault that one has with capitalism is that it leads to an unequal sharing of blessings. The greatest virtue of socialism is that it leads to an equal sharing of misery.”
Perhaps the greatest legacy of Karol Józef Wojtyła is that once he became the Pontiff he never forgot those who were enslaved behind the Soviet sponsored “Iron-Curtain” or those in Latin America who could not discern that much of what posed for the “liberation theology” that swept through South America was nothing more than Marxist-Leninist (agnostic) thought dressed up in theological drag.
Pope John Paul II made it his life mission to speak up for the oppressed and for those who had no voice and who could not speak up for themselves. Two Scriptures (and there are many more) come to mind when describing the zeal of this Pope who like the prophets of old “spoke truth to the worldly powers”:
Proverbs 31.8-9 – 8“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves,
for the rights of all who are destitute. 9 Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.”
Isaiah 58.5-7 – “5Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for people to humble themselves? Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed and for lying in sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord?
6 “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? 7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter— when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Perhaps a look at the immediate Popes that preceded him will enable us to view him in his proper historical context: Pope John the XXIII revolutionized the Catholic Church and led her into the modern world when he commenced Vatican II in the late early 1960s; Pope Paul VI steadily guided the Catholic Church as it moved away from being the Tridentine Church (1546 to 1966) and into what theologians have dubbed “The Pilgrim Church” (1966 to the present day).
John Paul II inspired many youth to embrace the Catholic Faith and to come to accept Christ as Savior and accept the teaching of the Catholic Church in order to experience true inward peace on earth – and in the world to come eternal life. Pope John Paul II inspired millions of people with his example of Christ’s love that manifests itself to all people with open and outstretched arms.
The pope’s life reflected truths that were spoken by Christ and witnessed and recorded by Saint John the Evangelist: 16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” (John 3.16-17).
Karol Józef Wojtyła, the world is a much better place because of the extraordinary life of faith and conviction that you lived and modeled before a watching world. We salute and graciously thank you.
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