CREDOS : Heroic papacy — II

George Weigel:

In his homily, John Paul II challenged the Church to regain its evangelical fervor and its nerve, particularly in defending the fundamental human right of religious freedom throughout the world. After the three-hour ceremony ended, he refused to retreat into the Vatican basilica but walked toward the vast throng in the Square, waving his papal crozier as if it were a great sword of the spirit. When a small boy burst through the security cordon to present him with flowers, fussy local clergy tried to shoo him away; John Paul II swept him up in an embrace. The crowds refused to leave until John Paul told them, “It’s time for everyone to eat lunch, even the Pope!”

The stylistic surprises continued throughout his pontificate. John Paul acted as he thought a pastor should act, rather than according to the venerable script written by the traditional managers of popes. He invited guests to his private Mass and his meals, every day. He visited more of Italy and Rome than any of his Italian predecessors. He held seminars in his summer residence with agnostic and atheist philosophers. His world travels — wearing a tribal headdress in Kenya in 1980, holding a koala bear in Australia in 1986, gathering the largest crowd in human history in Manila in January 1995, improvising a Polish Christmas carol in New York nine months later, commemorating the Holocaust in Jerusalem in 2000 — made him the most visible pope in history.

It would be a serious mistake to think of this as the showmanship of an accomplished actor. John Paul II’s conduct of the papacy, however surprising it was to some, was based on a firmly held set of convictions. —