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One Reporter's Opinion - An Unwavering Pope for All Nations

Thursday, 07 April 2005 12:00 AM

Karol Jozef, born May 18, 1920, in a nondescript little village in Poland, fitted the pattern to a T. His family lived at times in poverty in a second-floor apartment owned by a Jewish family. Before he turned 9 years old, his beloved mother died of heart and kidney ailments. Three years later his older brother Edmund died of scarlet fever.

When Wojtyla was 18, he and his father moved to Krakow, Poland, where Wojtyla continued his studies secretly and began underground activities. Upon the death of his father, he was left all alone in the world, with only his great faith in God.

Being 90 years of age, this reporter recalls the last day of August 1939, when, as a young reporter, I stood before the teletypes at the NBC newsroom in New York and repeated the threatening words of Adolf Hitler. Hitler told the world that he had lost patience with British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, that in the morning the planes would fly, the tanks would roll, the troops would march, and the Nazis' Blitzkrieg would begin against Poland.

At this point, Karol Wojtyla was working in a rock quarry while continuing his studies. In 1942, while studying for the priesthood, he was put on the Nazi blacklist. The rest, of course, is brilliant history: how he became ordained as a priest, earned a doctorate in theology, became auxiliary bishop of Krakow, was appointed archbishop, and in 1978 this heroic young Polish boy was elected pope to preside over more than a billion Catholics throughout the world.

His was almost never an easy road.

Yet this pope never wavered. Let's look at the record. He allowed girls to participate as altar servers but spelled out his opposition to the ordination of women. He condemned euthanasia as intrinsically evil regardless of well-meaning motives. He repeatedly attacked abortion, even as barriers to the procedure crumbled in one Catholic nation after another, and his opponents belittled the pope's edict against the death penalty.

He was fearless and strong in every situation in which he was tested and even outlived an assassination attempt. And let us not forget how he went to the cell of his would-be assassin and forgave him, noting that he believed the Virgin Mary had saved his life.

HIS vision of the church is that of a disciplined army combating the evils of the world. He ran into much opposition in suppressing Marxist variations of liberation theology pursued by many leftist priests in Latin America. In 1989 more than 400 European theologians signed the Cologne Declaration complaining that John Paul was appointing conservative bishops without respecting the wishes of local churches, that he was "overstepping his proper competence in the field of doctrinal teaching."

John Paul responded sharply, insisting that there could be no room in the church for an alternative teaching authority.

Hans Kung, a liberal Swiss theologian, called the pope a "disaster for the church," saying that he had a closed mind. Pope John Paul stood his ground. He reached out to the Jews, Islam and other world religions. In the United States, the pope's orders forced one of the nation's most prominent liberal voices, Father Robert Drinan, to relinquish his seat in Congress. Later, Father Charles Curran, a Catholic University professor who questioned church doctrine on homosexuality and contraception, was prohibited from teaching.

But there were times, too, when the pope surprised - such as the apostolic letter to women in June 1995 affirming their equality in marriage and the workplace and intellectual achievements. He called for equal pay for equal work and lamented that too often women had been left behind.

Take another look at the charge that Pope John Paul was "out of touch with the times." In the words of my friend Phil Brennan, we are looking at "2,000 years of dogma, and no pope can change such doctrines. They are written in stone, like the Ten Commandments, and they will survive the times. ... This was not the soured warning of an antimodern scold; this was the sage counsel of a man who had given his life to freedom's cause" - not only to Catholics, but for all of us.

What a man - John Paul, the Great!

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Karol Jozef, born May 18, 1920, in a nondescript little village in Poland, fitted the pattern to a T.His family lived at times in poverty in a second-floor apartment owned by a Jewish family.Before he turned 9 years old, his beloved mother died of heart and kidney...
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Thursday, 07 April 2005 12:00 AM
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