I’m not Catholic, but I was married in the Catholic Church and I’ve worked for the past six years at a pair of Catholic-affiliated organizations, of which the current one (C+CC) is also home to full-service Catholic parish, so I have far more than a casual layman’s understanding of the Catholic Church and its practices.
The death of Pope John Paul II this week is obviously a huge milestone in the life of the church. On a mundane local level, we have redecorated the altar area of the C+CC with images of the man once known to his parents as Karol Wojtyla, as well as candles and other materials bearing his Papal seal, the templates to which were ceremonially destroyed after his death. On Thursday night, we will be holding a special memorial mass in his honor (right between an art opening and a poetry reading, for the full service C+CC experience).
On a macro level, we obviously await the appointment of the new Pope with interest. John Allen, the Vatican correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter, has spoken here at the C+CC twice since I’ve been here, and he has offered us some great insights into both what’s going on the Vatican now, and who the more likely candidates for the papacy (the so-called “papabile”) might be. John is a great, insightful writer, and I recommend his column to you, particularly in the weeks ahead.
The first time John spoke here, he was promoting his book Conclave: The Politics, Personalities, and Process of the Next Papal Election, a good read, again especially in light of current events. Based on reading his book, hearing him speak, reading other sources and my own perspective, if I had to guess (and that’s all any of us can do) who the next pope would be, I would guess that it would be an Italian again (lots of people are expecting a Latin American Pope, and while there are more Catholics there than anywhere else in the world, there are fewer Latin American Cardinals than there are European Cardinals, and Latin American Liberation Theology is still troubling to many of the old guard), someone fairly conservative, someone with close contacts to and a pre-existing understanding of the politics inside the Vatican, and someone older than John Paul II was at the time of his installation.
You want a name? Here’s my prediction: Dionigi Tettamanzi, Archbishop of Milan.
Take that for what it’s worth, which is not much . . . unless I’m right, in which case I gloat with the best of them for being so clever and insightful.
On a personal front, I was very moved by the Pope’s final weeks. He offered us all a primer on dying with dignity, and doing the best that you can do for as long as you can do it. The people who surrounded him closely also win my admiration for making it possible for him to die with dignity . . . what a blessing it is, in the era of over-saturation and personal invasion by the media, that his doctors, friends and advisors didn’t spend all their time in front of television cameras, sharing every intimate detail of the Pope’s declining health. His well-being or lack thereof was obviously newsworthy, but was handled with dignity and respect: his counselors and advisors offered short news releases when they needed to, and didn’t offer reams fodder for the odious talking heads and pundits to gnaw on. Bravo!
The last time a Pope died (well, the last two times, actually, given John Paul I’s short reign), I had just moved to Long Island, a largely Catholic area, after spending most of my life before then in the primarily Protestant South. I didn’t quite get what all the fuss was about at the time accordingly. Twenty-six years later, though, I get it. While I may not agree with all of Pope John Paul’s liturgical and ideological positions, I certainly admire him as one of the greatest, most accomplished and charismatic public figures of my lifetime. I’m glad his struggle here on Earth is over. He’s certainly earned his great reward.