Saturday, April 09, 2005

Farewell to John Paul 

Apologies for the lack of blogging yesterday; had problems accessing Blogger (again), so large parts of the post below was actually ready to go 24 hours ago - never mind, the links are still good and worthwhile.

I watched some of the funeral last night (it was 6pm my time) and I imagine I wasn't alone. As Reuters writes, "the funeral went well beyond Catholicism. It was watched in mainly Muslim Egypt, in Jewish Israel and even in Iran, where some ignored a ban on satellite dishes. 'This is an important historical event. I want to be part of the world and watch it,' said Arezu, a 38-year-old Shi'ite Muslim teacher in Tehran who declined to give her full name." I think very many people of other faiths and cultures around the world understand that you can put aside the Pope's Catholicism but still value his messages of life, freedom and human dignity.

I'm not sure about other stations, but my broadcast here on Australia's Channel 9 was frequently on split-screen with my hometown of Krakow, where some 800,000 people have gathered on a field where the Pope used to celebrate the mass, this time to watch his final journey on a huge screen.

In Vatican itself, AP writes that "when Bush's face appeared on giant screen TVs showing the ceremony, many in the crowds outside St. Peter's Square booed and whistled." I didn't catch that live last night, and while I'm skeptical of AP stories involving booing, if it did happen I apologize for the idiots involved. There are disagreements, and there are times and places to express them, but funerals aren't it. Syria's Assad, Iran's Khatami and Zimbabwe's Mugabe were also present and whatever I may think of them it would never cross my mind to be rude towards them at such an occasion.

Speaking of the above gentlemen, "the funeral even brought a hint of the reconciliation between nations that John Paul championed [that's a strange formulation - the Pope "championed" every nation without favoritism - AC]. Israeli President Moshe Katsav said he shook hands with President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, a country formally at war with Israel, and spoke to President Mohammad Khatami of Iran, which is also deeply hostile to the Jewish state. Earlier, Khatami told Corriere della Sera newspaper in an interview: 'Maybe today will make us hope of a future of peace, not of conflict and hatred'." And as the attending world leaders were sat in an alphabetical order - but in French! - the United States (Etats-Unis) found itself sitting next to France. To paraphrase the old Middle Eastern saying, from Khatami's mouth to God's ear. It would be truly be a marvelous farewell gift from the Pope, but I won't be holding my breath.

The media is still having fun: After the AFP story two days ago ("Bush pays homage to an anti-war advocate"), today Associated Press ("President Bush joined throngs of the faithful on Friday in paying final respects to Pope John Paul II, the pontiff whose stands on abortion and other social issues meshed with his but who criticized both him and his father for waging war with Iraq.") thinks that differences are somehow meaningful at state funerals.

Reuters, too, discovers geo-political variety at the Pope's farewell and dabbles in amateur moralizing:
"The 'Great Satan,' part of the 'axis of evil' and an 'outpost of tyranny' will gather for the funeral of Pope John Paul, who toiled for peace but whose mourners find it hard to forgive each other.

"At what is expected to be one of the biggest funerals ever, there will be heads of governments whose hostile exchanges have long dominated the headlines -- the United States and Iran, Israel and Syria, Zimbabwe and Britain among others."
Official funerals tend to do that; if Reuters has problems conceptualizing it, it could think of the Friday's gathering as the United Nations of Mourning.

As for finding it hard to forgive, it could be that many of the governments in question don't subscribe to such standards of morality and ethics in the first place; Marxist-Leninist Cuba certainly doesn't; Iran still operates under Khomeini's dictum: "Yes, we forgive our enemies, but only after we hang them." Or it could be that reconciliation with tyranny is impossible; something that the late Pope knew much about.

The Pope and the Jews: Two great pieces, by Jeff Jacoby in the "Boston Globe" and Roger Cohen in the "International Herald Tribune", recall two encounters from the distant past.

One jarring point in the Cohen piece, though: "I do not know what moved this young seminarian to save the life of a lost Jewish girl." As James Taranto writes, "Hmm, could it have been his religious faith?" To me, the subtext seems to be: "All Catholic Poles are virulent anti-Semites, so I don't know what motivated this young seminarian to save the life of a lost Jewish girl instead of turning her over to the Nazis or perhaps killing her himself." Or maybe I'm just a bit too sensitive.

The Pope and the end of communism: See Peggy Noonan in the "Opinion Journal" ("When John Paul II went to Poland, communism didn't have a prayer") and Anne Applebaum in the "Washington Post" explaining the Pope's role in modern history:
"Most of the time, these descriptions of the pope's role in the collapse of communism are vague, and perhaps as a result much confusion has crept into the conversation. An acquaintance this week had a telephone call from a reporter who wanted to talk about how the pope secretly negotiated the end of communism with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. In real life, the pope's role in the end of the communist regime was far less conspiratorial, but no less significant -- which is why it might be worth remembering what it was, actually, that he did."
And see also Thomas Joscelyn in the "Daily Standard" writing about "Crime of the Century: How the elite media and the CIA failed to Investigate the 1981 papal assassination attempt." We might finally be close to solving one of the great mysteries of modern history but the mainstream media is still asleep at the wheel.

The last will: "I leave no property behind me of which it is necessary to dispose."

But what legacy.

And this: "In a special way may Divine Providence be praised for this, that the period of the so-called "cold war" ended without violent nuclear conflict, the danger of which weighed on the world in the preceding period."



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