CREDOS: Heroic papacy — IV

George Weigel

The Pope was also attractive to the young because he defied the cultural conventions of our age and didn’t pander to them. Rather, he challenged them to moral grandeur. While virtually every other authority figure in the world was lowering the bar of moral expectation, John Paul II held it high. You are capable of moral heroism, he told young people. Of course you will fail from time to time; that is human. But don’t demean yourself by holding your lives to a lower standard. Get up from your failures, seek forgiveness and reconciliation, try again. That, he insisted, is the path to the fulfillment all young people seek. And they listened. Not all of them agreed. But they came, in their millions, and listened. There is little doubt that many were changed by the encounter.

John Paul II, the Pope from intensely Catholic Poland, also surprised many by his ecumenical initiatives and the passion of his commitment to a new relationship between Catholicism and living Judaism. No Pope since the split between Rome and the Christian East in 1054 did as much to close that first massive breach in the unity of the Church. No Pope since the Reformation spent more time in dialogue with Protestant Christians. No Pope ever asked Orthodox and Protestants leaders and theologians to help him think through an exercise of the papacy that would serve their needs. None of this bore immediate fruit. After an immensely difficult twentieth century, Orthodox Christianity was in no condition to respond to John Paul’s suggestion that he sought no jurisdictional role in the East and that it ought to be possible to return to the way things were before 1054. —