You don’t normally see the names Pope Francis and Robin Williams in the same sentence, but here goes.
Early in his career, the brilliant comedian and actor Robin Williams scored big with a performance called Reality—What a Concept. This wonderful play on words came to mind when I heard a few lines from one of Pope Francis’ talks during his visit to the Philippines earlier this year. They gained little attention, but are critical to understanding how he wants to enliven the church and the world. “Reality,” he told a large group of young people, “is superior to ideas.”
In his apostolic letter Tertio Millennio Adveniente (1994), Pope John Paul II called upon Roman Catholics to prepare for the new millennium through an examination of conscience, an honest review of how Catholic Christians have betrayed the gospel and have caused harm even when acting in the name of Jesus Christ.
When it became clear that we did not yet have a president-elect, I determined not to waste time glued to the television set trying to follow the meandering route that will eventually give us our new president. Better to use the time, I thought, to reflect on the nature of democracy and the character of holders of public office.
Pope John Paul II has issued a mea culpa for 2,000 years of his church’s history, a millennium wrap-up that apologizes for sins of omission like the Holocaust, before which the Catholic Church remained silent, and sins of commission like the Inquisition, the persecution of learning (Galileo) and the Crusades.
In an issue of the magazine devoted to themes of spiritual renewal, we would underscore the significance of Pope John Paul II’s dramatic effort to renew and purify the Roman Catholic Church through repentance. In celebrating mass on March 12, the first Sunday of Lent, John Paul took the unprecedented step of publicly confessing the sins of the church.
During John Paul II’s pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 2000, the frail pontiff visited the Western Wall, the remnant of the ancient Jewish Temple. With quivering hands he placed in a crevice of the wall a piece of paper on which he had written a prayer.
It is said that death waits for no one and makes no appointments. That was the case for the 1,000 people killed by Hurricane Katrina, the 70,000 dead in the Pakistan earthquake, and the 181,000 lives claimed by the Asian tsunami that hit in late 2004, overshadowing the dawn of 2005.
Italy named a mountain peak for PopeJohnPaulII on what would have been his 85th birthday May 18. At the same time, some 12,285 people have signed an online petition to call the late pope “John Paul the Great,” even as his potential sainthood has been approved for fast-track status by his successor, Pope Benedict XVI. John Paul died April 2 at age 84.
Do protestants need the papacy? Given the recent fascination with the pontificate of John Paul II and with the election of Benedict XVI, it would seem that the papacy is on the Protestant horizon in a way that would have been unthinkable even a generation ago. This may be the result of savvy marketing, the omnipresence of CNN, the celebrity status of John Paul II or a penchant for the exotic.