Sunday, April 03, 2005

Pope John Paul II: 1920 - 2005

Yesterday, Pope John Paul II passed away at the age of 84, after a protracted battle with Parkinson's Disease. Today, I still cannot quite bring myself to the realization that he is gone - he has been the Pope since as far back as I can remember.

Pope John Paul II was the first non-Italian pope in 450 years. He spoke several languages fluently, and did a great deal of traveling to different parts of the world. John Paul's caring and non-confrontational style allowed him to establish him to build bridges between various Christian denominations, and even with Muslims and Jews. During a visit to Syria, he made the first official visit by a Pope to a mosque: one in Damascus housing the tomb of John the Baptist (a man revered by both Islam and Christianity). During a visit to Israel, he made headlines by stopping by the Western Wall and saying a prayer of forgiveness for the poor treatment Christians have often lumped on Jews throughout history.

This morning's news headlines showed a rare unity in the world, showing how universally Pope John Paul II was respected in life, and how universally he is being mourned in his death. It was particularly interesting to read the headlines from the politically-charged Middle East, where official statements came from the likes of Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon, Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas, Iranian president Mohammed Khatami, and even the Palestinian militant group Hamas. It is truly illustrative of the Pope's success in bridge-building that these people, who rarely agree on anything, would be united in mourning his loss.

Yesterday, the world lost a man of peace. Pope John Paul II was a great man, who did many great things in furthering peace in this world. John Paul's shoes will be very difficult to fill - I only hope the Catholic Church is successful in finding a successor who will continue the mission of peace that John Paul II was so adept at.