MUCH has been said and written about the late Pope John Paul II following his death.
Although he was certainly not a stranger from news reports, particularly from the secular press in criticism of his moral stance on various issues, little has been written in the mainstream media either during his life or after his death about the Pope’s central message.
Several years ago, I had the privilege of studying in Rome and lived within five minutes walk of the Pope’s residence, which adjoins St Peter’s Basilica.
Although I never met him personally, I was able to observe the leader of the Catholic Church and listen to his weekly addresses delivered from his window.
At times, I had difficulty agreeing with everything the pontiff said on a range of topics, but I am firmly convinced that Pope John Paul’s call to the world to ‘be not afraid’ is a maxim that people of every race, religion and social status must take on board to ensure the survival of humanity.
The Pope was elected in 1978, during the Cold War, and at the time fear engulfed many people as the nuclear superpowers of Russia and the United States jostled silently for supremacy.
In his first address as pontiff, Pope John Paul called on the world to ‘be not afraid’ — of each other and of trusting in the Divine Mercy and Providence of God.
When you break human actions down to their basic level, we ground every decision we make on the emotions of love or fear.
If we love something or someone, we strive to get it or do the best we can for that person or thing.
Conversely, if we fear something or someone, we either try to run from it, remove it or destroy it.
Every conflict — be it on a personal, national or international scale — is created from a reaction based on these two emotions.
To move forward and not surrender to either fear or misguided love, a person must exercise courage and strive to say and do what is best for both himself and for the community.
When the Pope called on the world to ‘be not afraid’ for the sake of peace, he put his own teaching into practice only a few years later when he forgave the man who attempted to assassinate him.
After being shot, it would have been easy for the Pope to give in to fear, lock himself away in the Vatican and run the Church from his office as many of his predecessors had done.
Instead, Pope John Paul visited his assailant in prison, forgave him and went on to become the most travelled pontiff in history, taking the Good News of Jesus Christ to every continent except Antarctica.
I think the message and example of Christ was the motivating force behind Pope John Paul’s actions and strength of character.
He loved Christ and was willing to live and die for him and do everything he could to promote God’s message and moral law to the entire world.
The Church now needs to listen to the legacy of its late leader and ‘be not afraid’ in moving forward into the 21st century.
The Church must listen, first and foremost, to God in her members’ prayers and meditations, but it must also examine the signs of the times.
It is now 40 years since the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council in which the Church opened its doors to the possibility of change and fresh dialogue with the world, other religions and its own members.
I believe the Church needs to re-examine the way it carries out its mission and look at its current priorities.
While the Church’s hierarchy and lay members bicker internally about things like changes to worship texts, clerical celibacy or whether one is ‘conservative’ or ‘progressive’, they are not carrying out their duty to make God present to others in the way in which they live.
While it must not compromise the Gospel of Christ, the hierarchy of the Catholic Church must examine the way it relates to the world, the media, other religions and its own lay people in order to effectively carry out Christ’s command to ‘preach the Gospel to all nations’.
From a business point of view, the Church has the most important ‘product’ in the world — if only she knew how to market it.
Pope John Paul II took major steps following the Second Vatican Council to spread the message of Christ and now it is up to both the clerical government and the members of the Church to ‘be not afraid’ to share God’s love with the world in ways which will benefit all people.
Wagga Wagga, NSW