It may seem pictures of Pope John Paul II over the last several years painted the portrait of a man who was rapidly succumbing to the ravages of age and illness and even more rapidly losing touch with the people of the 21st century. But it’s important to get past the fruitless and ill-informed discussions of a possible resignation and accusations of an authoritarian hold on the papacy that peppered the last years of the pope’s life. An examination of his teaching shows John Paul II, who died Saturday at age 84, was a revolutionary in hope. He lived through the greatest evils of the 20th century and used the lessons he learned to teach the world — specifically young people — that the only way to be progressive in the 21st century is to value the dignity of each human being.
John Paul was born Karol Wojtyla in Poland in 1920. His mother died when he was eight, and he lost the rest of his immediate family — his father and brother — by the time he was 21. He supported himself for several years by working in a stone quarry and covertly studied for the priesthood during the Nazi occupation of Poland. The man who loved skiing, hiking, theater and languages (he spoke eight fluently) became a bishop during harsh Communist rule of his homeland and ascended to the papacy when he was 58. It was the events of his formative years that shaped the rest of his life and his papacy and should teach important lessons to university students.
A disclaimer: I am The Diamondback’s Opinion page editor and also a devout Catholic. I love the Church and its teachings. I also recognize my responsibility to readers of this newspaper and to its staff to present the opinions of members of the campus community as they are and not as I may wish them to be. I strive to give a great reign to the staff columnists, editorial cartoonists and readers who contribute to this section and to make sure my fellow editors keep me in check. That said, I’ll continue with my thoughts.
Pope John Paul II was not being regressive or totalitarian when he proclaimed the Gospel of Life and rejected abortion, euthanasia, birth control, embryonic stem cell research and in many cases, the death penalty. He preached that each human life has value irrespective of any talents or function that person could perform in society. Somehow, society has twisted this truth to make it appear as a lie and twisted lies to make them appear as truth, he said. Methods and tools that destroy the life of one person to make it more “convenient” for others is not humanitarian, the pope proclaimed, and it is up to young people to take back the culture that has tried to skew this truth for too long.
One of the most important contributions the Holy Father made to people our age (beside the World Youth Days he established) is his teachings on human sexuality. His book, Love and Responsibility, and the work The Theology of the Body are honest — and sometimes explicit — discussions of the meaning of human love and intimacy. Contrary to what some people think the Church teaches, sex is not bad or dirty. It is inherently good when practiced in the right context and is of such great importance that when used improperly, it creates the most devastating effects on individual lives and society one can imagine.
If you think this pope and his teachings turned young people off, drop by the Catholic Student Center on Guilford Road and see what effects they’ve had. See that Mass attendance has doubled in the last five years and that hundreds of people turn out for two daily Masses. See that 70 people attended a recent retreat and more than 90 people are signed up for an upcoming Eucharist Congress. See that four alumni have entered the seminary in the last two years, two more are entering this fall and one woman entered a cloistered convent. See the joy that pervades the lives of the students who find their strength there. And then talk to them and see who, after God himself, shaped their hopeful outlook on life. I guarantee their response will be Pope John Paul II.