At the Beginning and End of His Ministry as Pope

Prof. George Menachery

This Pope-Watcher is struck by the contrast between the Pope when he was elected in 1978 and the pitiable yet unyielding John Paul II as he came through in TV clippings towards the end of his life.

The healthy robust figure of the mountain-climbing, kayak-rowing, play-acting, quarry-working Karol Joseph Cardinal Woyityla had impressed me immensely then in October 1978, both on the day the conclave started (Oct. 14.) and on the day he was elected Pope(Oct.16) and finally and especially on the day of the commencement of his ministry (Oct.22) and also in the following days and years.

Ever since he was admitted to the Gemelli Hospital at the beginning of February (2005) the BBC and the CNN - as well as other channels - had been giving a large amount of space to Pope John Paul II. The scene shown a few days before his demise where the doves refused to leave the pontiff alone in his room, and the scene broadcast again and again by the channel where the frail pontiff blesses the cardinals and the people with great difficulty naturally reminds one of the contrast between the John Paul II of 1978 and of recent months. These scenes brought to my memory the Pope energetically and enthusiastically parading the thirty-two steps of the portico of the St. Peter s Basilica in 1978, lightly carrying the heavy ( ten pounds) cross of the universal shepherd during the ceremonny for the commencement of his papal ministry when he was elected Pope at the age of fifty six.

However the Pope s refusal to surrender to sickness or death without a fight is a very miracle that exhibits his pro-life attitude much more strongly than his remarkably strong words and encyclicals, his books and articles.

To tell others how to suffer is easy enough, but John Paul showed in his life how one could convert suffering forming part of doing one's duty into a real joy - and how a Christian aught to suffer until the very end in a spirit of serenity and gladness. Hours before his death the youth of Rome and the world were singing and praying for the pope in the St. Peter s square. The Pope told the cardinal who was visiting him, All my life I was searching and seeking for the young people. Now they have come searching for me. . The days and years the Pope had spent in the company of the youth - singing, dancing, kayaking, skiing, ...he was showing that his hope for the Church was in the youth. And at the end the youth showed how they took him for a real companion and a friend and guide.

Again , hours before his death he summoned all the rev. sisters who were in the service of the papal household. And he admonished them saying There must be no tears . And the lakhs and lakhs of people who assembled in the Square during the last days of John Paul and during the burial services often danced and sang and clapped their hands - so much so Cardinal Ratzinger (now Benedict XVI) had a hell of a time trying to complete his funeral oration, as we all saw. It was a living demonstration for John Donne's poem "Death be not proud", who's afraid of you.

The huge crowd of heads of states (a president and two ex-presidents of the US among them) who attended the funeral ceremonies were doing
so not simply due to poitical custom, but because they felt here indeed was a person who was larger than life.

[For some of the changes made by John Paul II, and his predecessors in the secret election processes at the Vatican cf. the article Electing a New Pope: The Conclave and All Prof. Menachery, vide supra]