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I was never a “fan” of Pop John Paul II. But I should have been.

Even though I practice Roman Catholicism, I’ve never been a papist. I figured any pope would be looked up to and respected (or hated) because of the office itself and what it represented for good and bad over the centuries.

I never really got to know the man at all until he went on his final pilgrimage home. I was always level-headed about church politics in that I weighed various proclamations and writings that came out of the Vatican as they were by themselves, enlightened by some, and disappointed by others. I never considered the influence of one man on the largest part of Christ’s body here on Earth. Since I was young, he was the only pope I knew of firsthand – excepting his predecessor who in some people’s beleif was promptly poisoned by the Cardinals after instatement.

I didn’t realize he WAS the church in a concrete way in the same way that Christ was to the Apostles, or any Shepherd to its flock. Just the Bishop of Rome, I thought – a political title heaped upon the rest. Only now am I starting to realize it was his vision that I share about healing the wounds between the different parts of the Body of Christ, be it Orthodoxy, Coptic Rites, Protestantism, and even reaching out to Judaism and Islam as spiritual brothers under Abraham. I didn’t see the forest for the trees – the progress that has been made.

Would the apologies for our church’s past have come from another Vatican under a different pope? Would any other have gone to so many places to touch the lives of the poor and outcast? But just as many will praise any pope just for wearing the hat, there are those who can’t help themselves but despise him for the same reason. I am sad for those who do the latter, but sad for myself that I will have to wait for my own return to Canaan to say,

“Dziekuje, Karol, brat.”