Pope John Paul II is dead.
I couldn't quite believe it when I heard it during Mass this morning, and it was only upon my return home, listening to the BBC World Service special on the Pope that the news sank in.
I truly did not expect to feel as sad as I do now. I didn't know him at all; I didn't know his policies, his views, his life, nothing. I mean, of course I knew the stance of the Catholic Church on issues such as abortion and euthanasia, but I didn't know anything at all of the other kinds of policies he pushed through. All I knew of him is that he was Polish, used to be a goalkeeper in his youth, that someone tried to assassinate him once and was a very learned man and that he visited us in 1986. It's only today, after his death, that I learnt he had a special place in his heart for the developing nations, that he used to be a trained stage actor, that he lost both of his parents before the age of 20.
And yet, despite my woefully unforgivable ignorance, I felt greatly blessed to have had the opportunity to see this great man, the head of the Catholic Church, the head of my Church, the most powerful religious leader in the world, before he passed awayduring my visit to the Vatican three years ago. Even though I knew virtually nothing, I was just happy to have seen him, to have attended a Mass over which he presided, even if he looked frail and weak, and his voice was quavering throughout.
Now, in spite of my continued pronouncements of "he's old! It's bound to happen sooner or later!" over the past few weeks, I really am slightly shocked and deeply saddened at his passing. If I were one of the thousands in St. Peter's Square or in Krakow, I, too, would have shed tears.
He was a great man, loved by many, who touched countless lives, Catholic and non-Catholic.
Eternal rest grant unto Pope John Paul, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May he rest in peace. Amen.
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