Friday, April 01, 2005

Rest In Peace, Father Karol 

I've decided not to wait for the actual moment of Pope John Paul II's death to speak of him, although it would certainly be marvelous news should he recover enough to continue to live. Either way will be God's will. It's simply not possible to watch the scenes from St. Peter's Square and not be strongly moved by how good and decent humanity can sometimes actually be.

Forgive me for being political for a second, but I feel I have to say this: To Yasser Arafat and to both sides of the family in the Terri Schiavo tragedy, this is the proper, dignified way to die.

My strongest memory of the Pope relates to his appearance in Denver for the 1993 World Youth Day. It was all over the news, and I ended up watching one of the services on TV. While I meant to view only a few minutes, I ended up watching at least a half hour. It was strange and amazing, but I could feel the energy present at the event coming even through the television. I grew up agnostic, later to become Protestant. Still, watching TV that day, I could feel the presence of God at that event.

Tim Drake at National Catholic Register wrote about the effect World Youth Day had on Denver, even ten years later:

..."When the Pope came to Denver, many people were saying that the young of America would not care for the Pope … that the young here were very secular. Denver proved that that was baloney. The Pope received an extraordinary welcome," recalled Msgr. Edward Buelt, pastor of Our Lady of Loretto in Foxfield, Colo. More than 200,000 young people responded to the Holy Father's invitation to World Youth Day in Denver...

The spirit of the Pope and of the gathering led many to dedicate their lives to the Catholic Church:

...Perhaps the most obvious fruit of World Youth Day, however, has been vocations - vocations not only to Denver's seminaries, Redemptoris Mater Missionary Seminary and St. John Vianney Theological Seminary, but elsewhere as well.

At least five of the 37 sisters with the Ann Arbor, Mich.-based Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist and at least two of the 79 New York-based Franciscan Friars of the Renewal trace their vocations directly or indirectly to World Youth Day in Denver...

I'm 29 years old, so John Paul II is the only Pope I've ever known. To me, he's always been the personification of not only the Papacy, but all of Catholicism. Because of this, It often seems to me that I have a better opinion of the Catholic Church than many non-Catholics. There is a lot of ugly history regarding acts that specific Popes have sanctioned or not spoken out against: the Crusades, the Inquisition, and the Western Schism, where rivals claiming to be Pope excommunicated each other and their respective followers.

As an outsider, I've disagreed with many of its teachings. I'm a little uncomfortable with its focus on Mary, I see nothing wrong with married people using contraception (I think it's a great thing, actually), I was horrified at the disgusting Catholic priest sex abuse scandals, and I have always been somewhat baffled at the intricate rituals of the Church. Still, I have always had a more or less positive view of Catholicism, because John Paul II (Father Karol) who led it was obviously such a powerful man of God. Ever since 1990, I've tried to make a point of watching the midnight Christmas Mass on TV; I'm always struck at how beautiful the ceremony is.

I'm happy to say that I've had friends of Catholic faith all my life, and I offer my thoughts and prayers to them and all Catholics on this sad day.

UPDATE: 4:42 PM US Pacific time, 2:42 AM Vatican time: No news for several hours, the death watch continues. Angry in the Great White North informs us of what is to take place when a new Pope will need to be selected. The rituals are fascinating, especially considering this Information Age we live in. Here is a description of the gathering to choose the new Pope:

The Cardinals are cut off from the world. This tradition dates from 1274. Prior to that, elections could take months, as Cardinals came and went, wheeling and dealing (and sometimes fighting rivals with private armies). Now, no one gets in or out. No mobile phones or other communications devices are allowed (including laptops with wireless LAN cards -- no blogging Cardinals to keep us up to date [No blogging? Nuts! Ed.]). The Swiss Guard sweeps the area regularly for electronic bugs. The Cardinals sleep in a complex known as the Domus Sanctae Marthae, and when they walk the 300 yards or so from the Chapel to the dormitory, the Guards make sure no one is anywhere close enough to contact them. The Cardinals will be visible though, and Vatican watchers will be on the news debating the significance of the order in which the Cardinals are walking, who is walking with whom, and any facial expressions that might be picked up by cameras.

The ballots are burned in the Chapel furnace, and the smoke is coloured (in the old days, by adding wet straw, though now they use chemical pellets to ensure that there is no ambiguity) -- black smoke ("fumata nera") if no one has been selected, and white smoke ("fumata bianca") if the election is successful and the person elected accepts (see below). That chimney is easily the most filmed piece of roofing in the world.

Once someone has received the required votes, he is asked two questions. First, does he accept (if he doesn't, voting continues). Second, by what name does he wish to go by. Why do they change names? Because in 533 a Roman priest named Mercury was elected Pope. Since no one wanted a Pope whose name was that of a pagan god, he took the name John II, and the tradition stuck.

In which Chapel, exactly, does all this take place? In the Sistine Chapel before Michelangelo's Last Judgement. It is one scary painting .

Read the whole thing if you want to learn more regarding this centuries-old ritual.

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