April 1st, 2005

A Secular Appreciation for Pope John Paul II

Pope John Paul II

A version of this blog post appeared in the Utica Observer-Dispatch (April 3, 2005) and was noted on the Hamilton College Web site (April 3, 2005).

During junior high I traveled to away swim meets with the Listers. I never knew it until later, but they were devout Catholics, and what I remember most about my best friend’s family is something Margo Lister once told my mother, which my mom recounted to me. Seeing Pope John Paul II in the flesh in Newark, NJ, she said, was a divine experience. His skin appeared translucent, and she felt that he had reached into her soul.

I never understood this connection, but as time passed I began to appreciate the special influence the faithful reserved in their hearts for this pontiff. I recognized it in the politics of another friend in sport, Matt, with whom I went to Italy for a Latin class trip. I saw it in Jerry, a college friend who aspires, more than anyone I know, to live a life of uncompromised Catholic principles. And I learned to respect it—because the Pope earned these feelings not through divisions, which Stalin famously mocked the Vatican for lacking, but through moral leadership.

This is not to say that one need subscribe to the teachings of the Church, but that disagreement does not diminish John Paul’s weighty contributions to humanity—of all faiths.

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