Since the pope first went into the hospital last month, his health has dominated the Polish press. He is Poland’s first son and a very unifying force here in Poland.
Over the weekend, vigils have been kept nonstop in most of the churches across the country. I just heard a radio report from Zakopane, the tourist town in the Tatra Mountains in the south of the country, and the reporter said that the town is empty — the ski lifts deserted, all the streets empty. Everyone’s in church or at home, hovering around the television and radio for the latest news, said the reporter.
The man is a giant. Poland today can be called free in large measure to the actions and support John Paul gave to the anti-communist underground in Poland. Despite Reagan’s minion’s claims, John Paul’s constant opposition to communism in the 1980s was not part of some dual-prong, economic spiritual/philosophical attack. It was born out of a passionate belief in the dignity of all people and a deep spiritual belief.
The man is a giant. Who else could have, lying on his deathbed, been the subject such a worldwide outpouring of sympathy and prayer? About whom else could we say, “All religions are praying for him at his time of death?”
That’s the irony of John Paul II. Even though he is profoundly Catholic, he somehow seems to represent some spiritual thing much larger. And not his only paradox: while he was an unceasing critic of communism, he equally hated Reagan/Bush style, unchecked capitalism.
Reigning now twenty-six years, beatifying more saints than any other pope, uniting people of all religions with a sense of hope that things can be better — it’s doubtful we’ll see anyone else like him in our lifetime.