What is the legacy of Pope John Paul II?

Tony Cox

Among the questions that the world has been asking for the past four days, it is possible that this one will be the most frequently discussed, and there are more answers than there are beads on a rosary.

The history books will most likely determine that the pope’s greatest achievement was toppling Soviet communism. More than any other world leader — yes, even more than Ronald Reagan — John Paul was the leading advocate for the liberation of peoples under totalitarian regimes.

Religious traditionalists will see him as the great defender of the faith. He was assailed by those who considered him too old-fashioned, too out of touch with the demands of the modern world. Yet he was a staunch defender of Catholic doctrine and refused to succumb to those who would desire to strip Catholicism of its moral integrity.

Multiculturalists will likely view him as the man who brought the papacy to the people. He built bridges between the world’s great religious traditions and brought together peoples who had never considered the possibility that living in harmony did not necessarily mean sacrificing tradition. John Paul II was capable of striking that most delicate of balances: He was a man in the world without becoming a man of the world.

Even so, he was not flawless. It is difficult not to wince at those who are already suggesting the idea of sainthood. There can be little doubt that Pope John Paul II was a giant among men, but counting him among the Church Triumphant may be slightly premature. After all, it is possible that he could have done more to combat priestly sexual molestation. And for all his noble talk, it’s possible that he did not do enough to curb the weekly liturgical abuse that occurs daily throughout the United States and the world. We should not consider only the diplomatic aspects of his papacy and discount possible failures as the chief administrator of the Church. Only a close examination of his life by the officials of the Roman Catholic Church will be able to determine whether Catholics ought to be praying to St. John Paul.

But whatever his failings might have been, they do not diminish his overall greatness. To me, John Paul’s greatest legacy is his strength. As a young man, he saw friends and family executed by the Nazis, yet he was active in the Polish underground resistance. He lived most of his life under a harshly anti-Christian communist government, and yet he became one of the most beloved clerics in Poland’s history. When he ascended to the papacy, he confronted the evils of secularism and materialism, taking a sledge-hammer to bogus modern notions of justice and replacing them with tried-and-true Christian ethics. He was a man who looked some of history’s greatest evils straight in the eye and didn’t blink.

Catholics the world over can only pray that the next pontifex maximus can live up to the standard which the humble Polish cardinal established.

Pope John Paul II, resquiescat in pace.

Tony Cox is a junior philosophy major and a columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].