Today, this blog joins the world in mourning the passing of Pope John Paul II. Along with Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, this great man helped raise the Iron Curtain and liberate tens of millions who had previously suffered under the yoke of Communism.
But, he did so much more than that. The Catholic pontiff built bridges to other religions. As a Jew, I was touched by his sensitivity to my faith. When his native land, Poland, was ravished by the Nazis, he witnessed the suffering — and extermination — of his Jewish fellow citizens. He was well aware of the plight of my people.
I read once that it is only a few thousand (or was it just a few hundred?) meters from Saint Peter’s to a prominent synagogue in Rome. Pope John Paul II was the first pope to traverse what is only a short distance in terms of physical measurement, but represented a huge symbolic step in building understanding between two faiths closely linked spiritually, but, over the centuries, often at odds, frequently brutally so.
When I flipped on the news and Fox showed Saint Peter’s Square, I heard mourners singing a Hebrew song, “Haveninu Shalom Aleichem.” It seemed a sign that at the one moment in a busy day when I would turn on the TV, I would be witness to fellow Jews in Rome singing to remember this great man.
I did not agree with all that he said or did. But, there is no doubt in my mind that he was a great man who did great things. He helped bring down the Berlin Wall by appealing to the yearning for freedom that beats in the heart of every human being. Through his faith, he brought hope to tens, perhaps, hundreds of millions of men, women and children. He reminded us all of the significance of our spiritual nature. And he reminded us of the incredible value of human life.
Rest in Peace, Karol Wojtyla, John Paul II. And thank you. Thank you.
-Dan (AKA GayPatriotWest): GayPatriotWest@aol.com
UPDATE: Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein shares his thoughts here on Pope John Paul II.