John Paul II the Great
This is the front-page editorial which appeared in The Southern Cross special edition, released on April 4, 2005, two days after the death of Pope John Paul II. The editorial was written by editor-in-chief Gunther Simmermacher.
It somehow seems apt that the death of the most public of popes should have been played out before a waiting world. His death, apparently serene, became a public drama, with saturation coverage on news channels and in newspapers.
The death of Pope John Paul II was a media spectacle not only because it was a big story, but because he was a leader of all humankind, as the coverage amply showed.
South African Catholics will have been struck at observing just how significant the Catholic Church really is in world affairs, contrary to the impression created by the secular media here.
In the pantheon of great leaders of the 20th century, John Paul will stand as a giant. In that bloodiest of centuries, he epitomised by word and deed the pursuit for peace. In that, he stands alongside the likes of Gandhi, King and Mandela. With icons of peace and human rights such as these, John Paul provided a counterweight to the century’s evils of Hitler and Stalin, and to the horrors of Bosnia and Rwanda.
In a world that increasingly has lost its moral direction, John Paul provided an ethical compass. He spoke from convictions that not everybody shared, but his moral stature demanded that he and the Church he led be heard.
A conservative on doctrinal issues and a progressive on social justice, John Paul attracted criticism from many within the Church. Some objected to his preferential option for the poor or his ecumenical initiatives (some of which failed to meet with the approval even of his own doctrinal chief, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger), others were opposed to issues of Church governance or certain inflexible positions in moral teachings.
And yet, Catholics are united in deeply mourning this pope whose leadership touched the lives not only of all Catholics, but also of people of many other faiths and none around the world.
It seems barely credible that he, like any of us, only had 24 hours a day in which to perform the many elements of his mission. People will remember John Paul in many ways: the people’s pope, the Polish pope, the African pope, the pilgrim pope, the teacher pope, the pope of the youth, the Marian pope, the media pope, the pope of peace, the evangelising pope, the pope of social justice, the saint-maker pope, the writer pope, the pro-life pope, the innovator pope, the suffering pope
All, however, will agree on one thing: he was the holy pope. It will be fitting when the pope who created more saints than all of his predecessors combined shall one day formally enter the College of Saints himself.