"Pope John Paul II was unquestionably the most influential voice for morality and peace in the world during the last 100 years. His extraordinary gifts, his strong Catholic faith, and his experience of human tyranny and suffering in his native Poland all shaped him, and yet he was respected by men and women from every conceivable background across the world. He was truly one of those rare individuals whose legacy will endure long after he has gone.
"It was my privilege to meet with him at the Vatican on various occasions, and I will always remember his personal warmth to me and his deep interest in our ministry. In his own way, he saw himself as an evangelist, traveling far more than any other Pope to rally the faithful and call non-believers to commitment. He was convinced that the complex problems of our world are ultimately moral and spiritual in nature, and only Christ can set us free from the shackles of sin and greed and violence. His courage and perseverance in the face of advancing age and illness were an inspiration to millions - including me.
"I have been invited to attend the funeral service for Pope John Paul II, but I will not be able to go for health reasons. I have asked a member of my family and one of my long-time associates to represent me at that service.
"May his death remind each of us that some day we too must die and enter into God's presence - and may we each commit ourselves afresh to Jesus Christ, who died and rose again for our salvation."
With millions of others around the world, FutureChurch offers prayers of gratitude for Pope John Paul's dedicated life and particularly for the serene and graceful way he chose to meet death. As resurrection people, we celebrate Karol Wotjyla's entry into eternity and rejoice with him that he has at last been joined even more intimately to the God for whom and to whom he gave his life.
Pope John Paul leaves an impressive legacy. He played an important, perhaps indispensable, role in the normalization of relationships between the Soviet Union and the West. His frequent and uncompromising calls for justice and peace, most recently regarding the war in Iraq, were both challenging to secular powers and consoling to the oppressed. His healing outreach to the Jewish community worked to assuage still lingering anti-Jewish prejudice. His personal piety and prayerfulness inspired millions, particularly the young.
All papacies have both strengths and weaknesses. Within the Church itself, John Paul II implemented the centralized, authoritarian style of governance that served him so well in helping the Polish Church survive Communism. While this governance style may have given greater security to some Catholics, it has also limited worldwide Catholicism's ability to creatively meet the challenges of the 21st century. Perhaps foremost among internal challenges is the severe shortage of priests at a time when numbers of Catholics are rapidly expanding.
With other members of our Catholic family, we share a sense of sadness and loss at Pope John Paul II's passing. At the same time, we trust God's continued guidance of the Church in the upcoming conclave and years to come.
To Pope John Paul II, the Bishop of Rome, we echo Jesus words in Matthew 25:14-30: "Well done, good and faithful servant, come share your Master's joy."
Fr. Frank Pavone, National Director of Priests for Life
"Today we bid farewell to Pope John Paul the Great, the Pope of Life. His teachings will guide and nourish the Church for centuries. In particular, his teachings on the sanctity of life, especially the unborn, will continue to stir our consciences to build a culture of life."
Chuck Colson, Founder and President of Prison Fellowship
"Pope John Paul II was one of the truly heroic figures of the 20th century"
"Pope John Paul II was one of the truly heroic figures of the 20th century. He will be remembered not only as a great leader, but as one of the handful of people singularly responsible for the collapse of the Soviet empire. Stalin once derisively asked, 'How many divisions does the Pope have?' John Paul II answered that question and changed the world.
"I had the honor of meeting his Holiness, and I have actively been a part of a collaborative fellowship called Evangelicals and Catholics Together. The Pope's willingness to reach out to Christians outside of the Roman Catholic faith was critical to promoting unity across the Christian family. His vision, his determination, and his loving spirit will be missed by Christians around the world."
Tony Perkins, President of Family Research Council
"Pope John Paul II helped win the Cold War and was a champion for cultural issues throughout the world. With the loss of this amazing figure the world is missing one of the greatest men of our time, but for all of us touched by his time here on earth, we are consoled in the knowledge that we are strengthened by his legacy.
"Karol Wojtyla had a lifetime of service to this world. He provided leadership throughout the Cold War, which led to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end to modern communism in Eastern Europe.
"His passion brought leadership on many cultural issues, including traditional marriage and the protection of unborn children. He also took a strong stance against embryonic stem cell research and human cloning. "The Pope must be recognized for his prolific writings, his gift for language, and his outspoken affirmation life that we enjoy from our Creator, from conception to natural death.
"I only have admiration for this godly man who championed freedom and peace, human life, and prayer. He will be missed."
Thomas J. Reese, Editor of America
John Paul II presided over the Catholic Church for 26 and a half years, longer than any other pope except St. Peter and Blessed Pius IX. For about half the people living today, he is the only pope they have ever known. During those 26 years, he visited over 130 countries, published more than 50 major documents, canonized hundreds of saints and appointed most of the church's active bishops.
But these numbers are only part of the story. Pope John Paul II will go down in history as the most important world leader in the second half of the 20th century. He changed the course of history and helped bring an end to the Cold War though his support of Solidarity and the Polish freedom movement. This started the landslide that wiped out Communism in Eastern Europe and eventually the Soviet Union. He was the right man in the right place at the right time to shape world history. For those of us who grew up under the terror of the mushroom-shaped cloud, this was an extraordinary achievement. And he brought it all about as a nonviolent revolution without shedding blood, proving foolish the conservative hawks who had counseled violent confrontation and first strikes, which would have cost the lives of millions.
But John Paul's care for the world was not just centered on Eastern Europe. He also was a prophet for peace and justice elsewhere, especially the Middle East and the third world. He balanced concern for the rights of Palestinians with his condemnation of terror. He supported humanitarian intervention but opposed preemptive war. He worried about the impact of economic globalization on the poor in the third world, and urged rich countries like the United States to give more generously to development. In a world of competing economic and national self interest, he was a prophetic voice for humanity and reconciliation. He admired the American people but was not afraid to challenge government policies that were contrary to moral values whether it was the Clinton administration's population policies or both Bush administrations' wars against Iraq.
John Paul will also be remembered for tremendously improving relations between Catholics and Jews. Long after people forget what Communism was, there will still be Catholics and Jews who will look back at the end of the 20th century as a turning point in their relationship. Disagreements and controversies will continue, but they will be disputes among brothers and sisters not enemies. Likewise, he began a dialogue with Muslims which hopefully will bear fruit in the years ahead. These were actions of millennial importance. But John Paul's vision of himself was not as a politician or diplomat but as a teacher, not surprising since he had once been a university professor. No pope other than perhaps Pius XII has left such a large corpus of writings and documents on such a variety of topics. His writing ran the gambit from poetic musings to scholarly tomes. He came to the papacy with firm convictions about how Vatican II should be interpreted. He felt there was a need for stability and calm after the tumultuous days that followed Vatican II. He saw his responsibility as protecting the deposit of faith while at the same time applying it to the needs and concerns of the day. That not everyone accepted his teaching must have been one of his severest disappointments.
But John Paul was often mislabeled as a conservative. True, he stressed traditional church teaching. He also allowed his subordinates to silence and remove theologians from teaching positions. But anyone who listened to him carefully realized that he did not fit into the normal liberal-conservative boxes of American politics and culture. True he opposed abortion, the use of condoms, gay marriage, women priests and a married clergy. But he was to the left of liberal Democrats when it came to opposing capital punishment and the war in Iraq and supporting foreign aid and the United Nations. And while he opposed women's ordination, he also opened practically every other church position to women, from altar servers to diocesan chancellors.
John Paul will also be remembered for his incredibly successful pastoral visits to every corner of the world. People by the millions came out to pray with him and hear him preach. "What did they come out to see? A reed shaken by the wind?" They came to see a holy man, a man of conviction and principle, a man who cared about them and a man who had changed the course of history. In this day of world leaders who tell us what their handlers think we want to hear, who don't open their mouths without checking the polls and focus groups, John Paul was clearly different. He spoke with conviction, he was principled, he challenged us and said hard things. Even those who disagreed with him admired his honesty and conviction. He will be sorely missed; he will be a hard act to follow. May he rest in Peace.
Rev. Louis P. Sheldon, Chairman of Traditional Values Coalition
"The death of Pope John Paul II is a cause for mourning worldwide. Throughout his leadership of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Paul's theme has always been `Be not afraid.' He lived this belief and serves as an inspiration to millions of Christians."
Rev. Sheldon observed of Pope Paul, "He was unafraid to challenge the Nazi regime and later the Communists in Poland and stood strong with President Reagan and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher when they worked together to bring about the collapse of the Soviet Union. His faith in Jesus Christ was what motivated him to speak out fearlessly about tyranny and to always defend the right to life of the unborn and those who could not speak for themselves.
"Pope John Paul's own physical illnesses had slowed him down during the past few years, but during those times, his strong faith in Jesus Christ gave him the strength to carry on with dignity.
"He was a man who played a significant role in liberating millions from the slavery of Communism and was deeply concerned about the third-world countries and the millions who went to bed hungry and had nothing but poverty in their way of life.
"Pope John Paul was a man of peace; always concerned when there was physical conflict and violence. So much so that he even visited and blessed the man that attempted to murder him at one time.
"He was also a man of righteousness, never wavering in his belief that the Holy Scriptures were to be obeyed in matters of morals and human sexuality. He spoke out clearly that homosexuality was not a gift from God, but could be healed through the Gospel.
"He will go down in history as one of the world's greatest leaders. His character and vision for freedom will be sorely missed.
"I join with millions of Christians around the world in mourning his passing, yet we also rejoice in what his life and vision meant to all of us."
Condolences to our many Catholic readers and members of The Tikkun Community on the passing of the Pope.
From the standpoint of progressive spiritual people outside the Catholic world, this pope played both a positive and negative role. On the positive side, he continued and reaffirmed the strong Catholic teachings on the importance of social justice. He advanced the connection between Catholics and Jews and took some important steps to symbolically affirm the sisterhood of Christianity and Judaism. He made symbolic gestures of recognition of Islam. He courageously stood up to communist dictators in Poland and the military junta in Brazil, pleaded for an end to the conflict between Catholics and Protestants in Ireland, went to Japan and denounced nuclear war. He took a step toward modeling forgiveness by visiting in jail the person who tried to kill him. He called for reconciliation between Israel and Palestine. And this is only the tip of the iceberg of many good deeds and positive values he espoused.
It is the Jewish tradition that in remembering the dead, we talk honestly and not just say the good things. In fact, we consider it more of a respecting of the dead to acknowledge the full picture, and not only say what we admired, but also what challenged us. And we do that starting with the first times that we talk about the dead, in the eulogy, and during the period of mourning. Our tradition teaches us that it is this honest accounting that allows us to return from sadness in a healthy way, rather than by covering up parts that disappointed us or hurt us.
So, to talk the truth, we must say that this pope played a distressing role in undermining within the Church the voices of progressives, particularly but not only those who were at the forefront of liberation theology (officially silencing one of its most creative leaders, Rev. Leonardo Boff, silencing Matthew Fox in the U.S., and elevating church leaders who sided with the status quo rather than those who sided with the poor and the oppressed), those who sought to build upon the progressive spirit intended by the Vatican Council II in the mid 1960s. Rather than widening and building on that spirit of liberalization by taking actions like including women in the priesthood, allowing priests to marry, welcoming homosexuals into the church, this pope not only reaffirmed the most sexually repressive aspects of his tradition (few of them actually based in biblical texts) but also elevated these issues into the central issues of loyalty to the church (e.g. in insisting that the docrtiine of ordaininly only men was a position that required full loyalty from the faithful), condemning moves to open the church to homosexuals, and rebuffing attempts by women to gain more influence in the church.
In 2003 his last encyclical insisted that divorced Cathlics who remarry cannot receive communion--a position that reenforces the Catholic Church's opposition to divorce in a way that is in striking contrast to the more humane attitudes of the Torah on this question and of most post-patriarchal societies and humane religious traditions.
He elevated into positions of leadership the most conservative and least socially conscious elements in the Catholic world, ensuring that the Church will continue to play a repressive and reactionary role in these matters.
Many progressive Catholics see the various moves that the pope made to centralize power and silence dissent (including from among progressive Cathlics in the US) as a counter-revolution to the advances made at the Vatican II, institutionalized when one of the more reactionary voices in the Church, Cardinal Ratzinger, was brought in by the popeto head the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
Faced with the dramatic environmental challeges of population growth and the corresponding mass starvation that led to the death of tens of millions of people during his papacy, this pope stuck by teachings against birth control that have no foundation in the Bible and are destructive to the human race. The Pope mobilized the energy of the Çatholic Church to challenge the United Nations conference in Caairo in 1994 which was aimed at addressing the problem of population explosion--and to head off a reosution favoring abortion rights, contraception and other measures supported by experts in population control.
Even if one thinks, "well, he was just sticking with tradition and didn't have the courage to challenge it and was surrounding by other reactionaries in the Vatican who wouldn't allow him to think outside that box" one still can be very disturbed that he went further, allowing and at times encouraging others in the Church to make the sexual issues the litmus test of seriousness and commitment to Catholic principles, so that American Catholics could then allow some of their most reactionary leaders to state during an election that they would not offer Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry the right to take sacraments in their church because he did not support the Catholic position on making abortion illegal. Why did they not take that same position in regard to supporting capital punishment, voting for wars, voting to give more funding to military preparations than to helping the poor?
The decision to privilege the sexual issues over the social justice issues was a response to the spirit of this papacy, and it was a moral disgrace to the Catholic world on the same level as the uncritical support for Israel's treatment of the Palestinian people has been a moral disgrace for the Jewish world or the lack of criticism of anti-Semitism and terrorism has been a moral disgrace for much of the Islamic world.
In this regard, we should identify and support those elements inside the Catholic world who have spoken out with a moral clarity and challenged the Pope on these issues, rather than pretend that the Catholic world is one and united behind the thrust of the leadership and vision that this pope represented. It is not, any more than all Jews are respresented by those who speak on our behalf and support morally obnoxious positions in the Middle East or all Muslims are represnted by those who spew hatred at Jews or who remain silent in the face of the growth of a violent voice in the Islamic world.
We at Tikkun organized a demonstration against this pope when he visited San Francisco shortly after he had met with former Nazi soldier and later president of Austria Kurt Waldheim. We protested when then mayor, now senator Diane Feinstein, ignoring the moral outrage of that visit, used her personal wealth and family connections to raise money for the pope's visit--a precursor to her own opportunistic future as a moral compromiser par excellence. We add with great sorrow that this pope contributed to making Pope Pius XII a saint--the pope who made a concordat with Hitler and who did pathetically little to save the Jewish people when we were being massacred in Europe. Though merely symbolic, that action symbolizes an unwillingness of the church to really take account of its disgraceful role not only with Hitler but with many other dictators in making accommodations to the most oppressive regimes in the modern world rather than fighting those regimes with every inch of its moral authority.
I know that it is possible that in raising these issues as friends of the Catholic Church and as people who have great respect for the Catholic tradition, I could nevertheless be misperceived as lacking that respect. But I speak as a Jew who has consistently critiqued the religious leaders of my own community, consistently watched them distort the highest values of the Jewish tradition as they sided with repressive policies toward the Palestinian people, challenged them when they took repressive policies toward homosexuals, challenged them to end sexism and racism, challenged them to join with Tikkun in the fight for peace and social justice, challenged them when they were silent about the Iraq war, for example, challenged them to stop using the Holocaust as a cover for their own lack of sensitivity to the role that global capital plays in creating a global economy within which over ten million people die each year from malnutrition and preventable diseases. So it is actually only because I feel a strong solidarity, an intrinsic connection, between my own connection to God and the connection to God of the Catholic world, and a strong affirmation of all that is deeply beautiful and moving in the Cahtolic tradition, that I feel a need to speak the deepest truth that I know as we witness a global mourning that partly obscures the reality of this pope and his legacy. But let me hasten to add that I critique some of his policies, but do not pretend to have any right to judge this person as a human being beyond the political impact he had on the world. I imagine that he was faced with immense pressures and constraints, that he moved as far as he could within the worldview that he inherited, and that his fundamental reality was that of a decent and good human being trying his best to serve God and humanity. You see that in his statements against war and violence. You see that in his attempts at ecumenicism with other branches of Christianity. You see that in his statements on behalf of the downtrodden. So I pray this he will rest in eternal peace and be remembered also for all the good that he did.
Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf of the ASMA Society
On the occasion of the passing of Pope John Paul II, we wish to express our deepest condolences to all our Catholic friends.
Muslims share with Christians the belief that the real goal of life is the eternal life in the hereafter, and we pray that Pope John Paul's soul be welcomed into the best and highest rank in that eternal life.
Pope John Paul was in many respects a 21st century Pope. He saw the papacy transformed, and helped transform it, from one presiding over a smaller and more Western and European demographic to an increasingly international one. He worked diligently to further interfaith dialogue called for in Nostra Aetate, which reads: "The Church also has a high regard for the Muslims, who worship one God, living and subsistent, merciful and compassionate, the Creator of heaven and earth;" adding that "the Council has also called for the Church to have a dialogue with followers of the Prophet;" adding that "even if over the course of centuries Christians and Muslims have had more than a few dissensions and quarrels, this sacred Council now urges all to forget the past and to work toward mutual understanding as well as toward the preservation and promotion of social justice, moral welfare, peace, and freedom for the benefit of all mankind." (Nostra Aetate 3)
His pro-activity in this regard was notable. He prayed for peace in Bosnia, in Palestine and Israel. He was the first pope to visit a mosque, most notably the mosque of John the Baptist in Damascus, Syria, a site holy both to Muslims and Christians. His concern with building relationships with Muslims broke new ground, and in his best selling book, Crossing the Threshold of Hope, took pride in his unforgettable "encounter with the young people at Casablanca Stadium in 1985." "As a result of their monotheism," Pope John writes, "believers in Allah are particularly close to us." He respected the "religiosity of Muslims," admitting that "it is impossible not to admire their fidelity to prayer. The image of believers in Allah who, without caring about time or place, fall to their knees and immerse themselves in prayer remains a model for all those who invoke the true God, in particular for those Christians who, having deserted their magnificent Cathedrals, pray only a little or not at all." [p. 93]
Because he came from Poland, a country that suffered under Communist totalitarian rule, he used the moral power of his office; and in the process of freeing his people, played a major role in hastening the demise of Communism. It is noteworthy that Lech Walesa awards Pope John Paul 50% of the credit for freeing Poland and splits the balance: 30% to Solidarity and the Poles, and 20% to the then political leaders Gorbachev, Yeltsin, Reagan, Thatcher and Kohl.
Perhaps what is less on the radar screen of most people is the role the Catholic Church played during the Reagan Administration in the ending of the authoritarian regime of Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines, and in bringing forth a peaceful transition to the nascent democracy of Corazon Aquino.
Non-Muslims are not generally aware that this was an example of the use of the power of religion to bring about political freedom, and further the aspirations of a deeply believing Catholic population for better economic and social welfare, and participation in self-determination- what we in the West call "democracy." This paralleled the phenomena the world witnessed in Iran, and is now witnessing in other parts of the Muslim world.
We pray that the next pope will continue furthering Christian-Muslim relations, and will use the power of his papacy to urge for social justice, moral welfare, political freedom and self-determination that Muslims in many parts of the world long for so much. The Quran informs Muslims that the nearest in friendship to Muslims are Christians; and that the reason for this is because there are among them priests and monks, i.e. those who have given themselves humbly up for the cause of God. We can think of no greater cause today in the way of God than that the next Pope will continue the legacy of Pope John Paul II, and work towards a greater understanding of the positive role that religion-all religion- can play in a shrunken global society, in order to build the "kingdom of heaven on earth," the Biblical "City on the Hill" that has space in it for adherents of all faiths, including those who in their spiritual journey, are still at the stage of finding no need for faith at all.
May God's peace, mercy and blessings be upon us all.
Gary L. Bauer, Chairman for the Campaign for Working Families
All of us at Campaign for Working Families were deeply saddened to learn of the death of Pope John Paul II on Saturday at the age of 84. He will be remembered not only for his genuine faith, infinite hope and deep love, but also for his tireless efforts on behalf of Christian values and against the onslaught of tyranny and the culture of death.
Elected in 1978, the leader of the world's more than one billion Roman Catholics revolutionized the office of the modern pope.
Perhaps John Paul II's most enduring legacy will be his rallying of the Catholic Church on the crucial issues of our day, including the sanctity of life, the importance of marriage and the family, and the true meaning of human sexuality. He was never afraid to raise his voice against the contemporary evil of the culture of death.
He also worked unceasingly toward Christian reconciliation with Jews. As a young man in Poland, he saw firsthand the terrible effects of authoritarian governments as many of his Jewish friends were exterminated in the
Holocaust. His experiences as a youth emboldened him to a lifelong commitment to form a better dialogue and understanding between Christians and Jews. As pope, he often met and prayed with Jewish leaders, referred to Jews as "our older brothers in faith," and made a historic apology to the Jews on behalf of the Catholic Church for not doing enough to combat fascism in Europe during the holocaust.
John Paul II was also a catalyst in the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe. First as a bishop and cardinal in Poland, then as pope, he boldly and bravely spoke out against the evils of communism and provided influence and inspiration for the non-violent collapse of communism in Poland and Eastern Europe in 1989.
I can tell you that in the Reagan White House all of us, but President Reagan especially, saw him as a hero in the struggle between freedom and slavery. Acknowledging this pope's place in history, the White House has indicated that President Bush will become the first American president to attend the funeral of a pope.
An avid outdoorsman, poet, playwright, intellectual, author, and philosopher, John Paul II will certainly be viewed as one of the most virtuous and beloved leaders in modern history; a man who, by his devoutness, charisma, hope and love, touched the lives not only of Catholics, but of all of humanity.
Even in his final years, as he suffered the painful effects of Parkinson's disease and other ailments, he demonstrated to the world the redemptive power of an abiding and hopeful faith. Pope John Paul II will be deeply missed.