Sunday, October 19, 2003

John Paul II: Pope's 25th year

A frail, very sick Pope John Paul II celebrated his 25th anniversary last week with his usual resolve to shape the course of his worldwide church.

Twenty-five years ago, the former Polish Cardinal Karol Wojtyla set a vigorous papal course to advance solidarity, peace and human dignity. Neither Parkinson's disease, age nor an assassin's bullet has shaken that resolve. He was the first non-Italian pope in 455 years, and his papacy makes it all the easier for the College of Cardinals to pick another non-Italian as his successor. John Paul II backed the banned Polish trade union Solidarity and urged fellow Poles to reject the oppressive ideology of Communism. That resistance began the unraveling of the Soviet Union.

He's been called the "media pope." Since Oct. 16, 1978, he has made 102 foreign trips outside Italy. He was the first pope to visit a mosque, the first to visit a synagogue. He spoke for centuries of Christianity with an unprecedented "confession of sins against the people of Israel." He remains a globally admired defender of moral values.

President Bush's written tribute hailed John Paul's "worldwide efforts to develop a new culture of life that values and protects the lives of innocent children waiting to be born."

The Pope opposed Bush's war to remove Iraq's regime, but neither man dodges unpopular stands. The pope has rebuffed blocs of Catholics with his traditional messages: opposition to abortion, opposition to artificial birth control, opposition to women priests, opposition to married priests, opposition to same-sex marriages. He has denounced child sex abuse by priests as a grave evil and betrayal of their vows, but the scandals and cover-ups occurred on his watch. It may require a different pope to bring more transparency to the church. But few popes have had such far-reaching impact on world events. We wish him good health and Godspeed.

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