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Notes from Exile

John Paul's Passover Of The Threshold Of Hope, Above The Right And The Left
Posted by David Irby on Apr 17, 2005 - 7:40:00 PM

VATICAN CITY—His timing was always perfect, even to the last.  Eastertide is the high point of the Christian year, the Feast of the “Passover” of Jesus Christ. 

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

And so it was that, in what became an Eastertide counterpoint; John Paul II played out his own Passion.  On Good Friday he appeared by video-link only, with his back to the camera, apparently clasping a cross in his hands.  On Easter Sunday, he appeared at his balcony and tried to speak but could not, and delivered instead, a feeble sign of the cross. 


And then he turned into his apartment, from which he was seen in this life no more. 


During the next two weeks, hundreds of thousands, and then many millions, began to gather as close as they could to that apartment as the news of each further decline in his health flashed across the globe. 


And then at last, on the very eve of an Easter-related feast called “Divine Mercy,” which he proclaimed himself, John Paul received his own “divine mercy” release from his long physical suffering and 26 years in what may be the most arduous job on Earth, which has the title “Vicar of Christ.”


At first, here in “Catholic Ireland” it seemed as if little had changed.  Sunday Mass in Dingle was hardly unusual.  The priest, who had obviously prepared to preach on “Divine Mercy” seemed to mention the Pope’s death only as an afterthought.  And Ireland's Prime Minister made an internationally reported gaffe when he failed to declare the Pope’s funeral day a “National Day of Mourning.”


But then the people began to speak out for a proper Mourning Day, the churches began to fill for special Masses and commemorations, and pictures of the Pope were displayed while the airwaves filled with reminiscences from people who were “great” and also those who were only "ordinary."


And those who could, especially young people, found ways to join the millions who would attend what would be the biggest funeral in all of history.  This made someone quip, “He always knew how to draw a crowd!”


He certainly did!  Two million for one of his “Youth Days” and 4 million at one mass in the Philippines, while the numbers in the Church have swelled by over 40 percent to more than 1 billion during his pontificate.


But numbers are not the whole story, nor are the (supposed) “issues” which the media repeats ad nauseam, as if the Catholic Church was some sort of a super political party; abortion, contraception, as if these were some sort of a “personal agenda” of his and not the unchangeable teachings that they are. 


But people (especially those miserable pipsqueaks who most seek to stand in the glow of his aura, such as George W. Bush) like to forget this was always in the context of a radical commitment to his “Gospel of Life,” which included radical opposition to such unjust wars as Bush’s Iraq invasion. 


This pope was really neither of the right nor of the left, but merely the best representative that he could be of his Lord, Jesus Christ.


Christ, all Christians believe, literally rose from the dead.  Pope John Paul II has only risen from the dead figuratively, but perhaps it is closer than anyone in history has ever come; he did so in the millions who have streamed in and out of Rome bodily and the hundreds of millions more have done so in spirit. 


John Paul's life was rooted in prayer. In death as in life, he has quite literally made a prayer of his own suffering body, knitting together a vast portion of the world, not only Catholic Christians, but Eastern Orthodox Christians and Protestants also.


And Jews, as well.  This was a man, who in the midst of Hitler’s persecution of himself and of his own Polish people, risked his own life to save Jews, who recognized the Israeli state and named Rome's Chief Rabbi uniquely in his spiritual “Will and Testament.” 


He also gathered Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and even those who profess belief in nothing at all.  All turned their eyes to Rome and to John Paul in his time of death even more than in his life.  This is a triumph of resurrection, which mirrors that literal Resurrection of John Paul’s Blessed Lord.


A Westwood native, David Irby is a writer and social justice activist, who is now based in beautiful Dingle, Ireland.  Contact him via


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