03 April 2005


Karol Józef Wojtyła

Pope John Paul II

I followed Pope John Paul II only well enough to know that I don't have a coherent opinion about him. Ken MacLeod is similarly ambivalent, and also makes an interesting observation.

Like the Dalai Lama and Nelson Mandela, he became a figurehead of an inchoate global humanism that has little to do with what he (and the others) specifically stand for. Fidel Castro is an awkward fourth in that company, but --- like it or not --- he belongs in it. All four of these old men have their roots in the Cold War, of which they are the last men standing. It's a measure of the strangeness of the New World Order that they all, in very contradictory ways, have become icons of its discontents.

Christopher Hitchens, of course, says nasty things about him.

But, again, I try to hold to tradition and speak kindly of the dead, at least in the moment when I learn of their passing. So let me praise an odd and inspired project of his papacy: he wanted every living Catholic to have an opportunity to lay eyes on him in person if they wished. Which gave rise to the seemingly endless public appearances around the world, and meant that he was seen by an estimated billion human beings — far more than any other person who has ever lived. A strangely modern acheivement for the leader of such a midæval institution.

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