Catholics Reflect on Pope’s Death

The pontificate of John Paul II stretched 26 years, 5 months and 17
days — longer than most CMU students have been alive.

For those Catholic students on campus, he is the only pope they have
ever known and it is because of this that many students are saddened by
his death, yet excited about the process of selecting a new pope.

Lansing senior Pat Tucker never met John Paul but considered him a
role model, “someone to respect and look up to.” While Tucker, like
most of the rest of the world, knew the pope’s death was imminent, he
said he still was shocked and saddened after hearing the news of his
death on Saturday.

“His impact is so widespread,” he said after attending mass Sunday
at St. Mary’s Parish, 1405 S. Washington St. “You can’t deny he is a
powerful presence.”

John Paul died Saturday after weeks of hospitalization, medical
treatment and deep concern from the more than 1 billion members of his
church. He was 84.

Public mourning for the pope begins Monday. After that, the 117
cardinals eligible to vote for the new pope will meet at the earliest
15 days from his death and 20 days at the latest.

The democratic vote is highly ritual and confidential. The cardinals
with be in conclave and not be allowed to speak to anyone other than
those in the conclave with them.

The winner must receive two-thirds of the vote to become pope.

“I’ve never seen the process like this before,” Tucker said. “I have
seen presidential elections, local elections and other such things.
This is just a world-wide event.”

David Smith, a philosophy and religion professor, said the impact
John Paul had on the United States is two-fold. In one hand he helped
strengthen the numbers of the church and re-energize its base and on
the other hand polarized the views of liberal and conservative

He said the pope’s hard line stance on gay-marriage, contraception
and other social issues that many Americans are passionate about,
created some controversy for Catholics.

“Ideologically, the church is probably more divided than it has been
for generations,” he said.

Still, Smith said, “he gets a lot of personal allegiance. Even those
who don’t necessary feel comfortable with the kind of stands he had

During John Paul’s reign as pope, the Catholic church grew from 750
million to more than 1 billion followers. Smith said this globalization
of the church will likely be his greatest legacy.

Much of the church’s population is now centered in the third world.
In fact, Cardinal Francis Arinze, a Nigerian, is often mentioned as a
popular successor to the papacy.

“It will be interesting to see how much influence the non-Europeans
have over the selection,” Smith said. Roman Catholicism has
traditionally been dominated by Europeans and their traditions.

At the end of his pontificate, John Paul leaves behind an American
church uplifted by his piety, yet struggling with several of the same
problems that preceded him.

“He was seen as an extraordinarily prayerful pope. There was a
kindness to him that seemed to come through,” said James Davidson, a
Purdue University sociologist who specializes in Catholicism.

In five visits to the United States, more than any of his
predecessors, he gained religious celebrity, especially among young
people. When he arrived at New York’s Madison Square Garden in 1979, a
school band welcomed him with the theme from “Rocky.”

John Paul traveled to 129 countries in 104 different trips, making
him one of the most traveled pope’s of all time.

His 26 years as pope is the second longest in the history of the

Father Jeffrey Donner of St. Mary’s preached to a full house at the
parish at the Sunday night service. Donner asked the young
congregation, made up mostly of college-aged students, to raise their
hands if John Paul was the only pope they had ever known.

Most of the church attendees raised their hands.

“He traveled all over the world, he held dying people in his arms,”
Donner said about the pope’s endless charge to speak the gospel. “For
religious and political leaders, he told them to do something about the
suffering people of the world — and he would say the same thing to us.”

More than anything though, Donner said John Paul’s greatest legacy
is his “absolute commitment to peace.”

“The guy was absolutely like a laser beam focused on it,” said
Donner, who was ordained in the same year John Paul became pope. “Not
just war, but for the dignity of all peoples.

“He used the power of his office to change the world,” he added.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.