Wednesday, February 02, 2005

viva papa.

i was up for much of the night, being feverish and restless, unable to get comfortable and settle for sleep.
i was watching tv.
or at least trying too.
the nightly tv offerings were poor (shopping tv, fake court shows, stripping to stings "desert rose" on dsf), so i ended up watching cnn, finding out about pope john paul ii's admission into hospital a few hours earlier for respiratory distress.

i'm by no means your textbook roman-catholic these days. i guess i probably never was. but i still like the pope.

yes, from a purely intellectual point of view, i disagree with his and the roman catholic churches views on so many things. on contraception. on women in the church. on celibacy for priests. on homosexualiry. i disagree with all this and more, and do so strongly.
these opinions are part of the reasons while i don't really consider myself catholic anymore.
what i am instead, i'm not sure. not fully buddhist (yet), but on the path there. christian-buddhist, maybe. whatever.
who needs a lable?

despite the above mentioned things i disagree with, i'm fond of john paul ii. nonetheless.
i admire him for suffering so publicly these last years in a world were suffering and weakness are usually hidden. i admire him for always taking a stand for the poor. i admire him for always standing up for peace, non-violence and democracy. i admire him for forgiving mehmet ali agca. i admire his efforts in regards to inter-religious communication. i admire his efforts to keep the spiritual, mysterious side of catholicsm alive.

john paul ii. was a strong figure in my childhood. - my grandparents were very actively catholic, and a picture of the pope was in their bedroom.
i remember that sometime in the early 80's the pope visited kevelaer, a place of pilgrimage near my hometown, and my brother and grandparents went to see him. - i was too young to come along, but they brought a giant popsicle with the pope's image for me, which i of course did not eat, but disolayed in my room where it stayed for years. papal lollies - doubtlessly the kind of things only catholics can come up with.
my grandma's brother paul was a catholic priest, and he, too, admired the pope muchly: or so it seeemed to me as a kid. my grandparents often took me along when visiting him on the weekends, and he reminded me of the pope, with his white hair and round head, his age and connections to the bishop. i don't know: the logics of a small kid.

of course i didn't understand that the john paul ii. of the early 1980s was a revolutionary pope, political, travelling, changing the job he had, adapting it to the times. i thought it was funky that he kissed the ground when arriving somewhere. - i didn't know that no pope before him had travelled that much, seen that many people.
he was one of the grand fatherly figures, larger than life, of my childhood. with him, there were ronald reagan, the first president i ever consciously perceived (not understanding his politics, obviously) and helmut kohl, the eternal chancellor.
of the three, he's the only one who still got his job from back then.

in 1996, i went to rome on a schooltrip and went to a mass on st.peter's square, too. i had never expected to react in any way to seeing the pope, but when he came across the square, i was very excited.
maybe it was the waiting in st.peter's square. maybe it was the great mood of the other visitors from all over the world chanting "viva papa!". i was moved that day, by the spirit of an old man with whom i disagreed on many things, hundreds of meters away.

in 1997, i travelled to the international youth meeting in paris, a meeting of catholic youth from across the globe. and again, i cought papal fever. it was elating to be in the company of people from all over the world, coming together in peace. paris -empty of parisians in august- was packed to the brim with young people. they were sitting in parks and on streets, singing taizé chants, talking, discussing, queuing for food - and always laughing. we had taken over the city.

i saw the pope twice, then, once during the opening event on the champs de mars, and on the closing event at the racetrack at longchamps.
the latter was unbelievable: i don't think i was ever in a crowd that large, ever in a crowd that peaceful. there was singing and performance on the stage and a nightly vigil of prayer.
there was chanting throughout the night, and conversation. it was uncomfortable that night out in longchamps, in many ways (too few port-a-loos, noise, people everywhere), but it was inspiring, too, and a deeply emotional experience.
i was with friends in a group of polish youth, and their excitement as the pope passed by in his papa-mobil was genuine, hearfelt, simple, innocent. next to us were groups from libanon and spain. talk about bringing the world together.

i was chanting "vive le pape" with young people from across the globe, too, waving my pilgrim's shawl.
what it was that made me do this, i don't know exactly. it wasn't just because being in a large crowd makes you think less and act the same as everyone: i think i was amazed and thankful that an old, fragile man could bring that many people together in a peaceful way, could spark conversation between people so diverse.

seeing the pope still moves me.
it's not a conscious response to him, it's purely emotional.
i make a point out of watching "urbi et orbi" each year. i always watch easter mass celebrated by the pope, too. i'm planning to be at the international youth meeting in cologne this summer, at least for a day.
maybe it's largely because john paul ii. is that strong childhood figure i had, but it's also because i am amazed by his resilience to his aging body, his strength despite his body's failing.
he's a dying old man, yet heads of state bow before him. even though it is not my belief anymore that he represents, what he represents seems to be larger than anything else that is of importance in this world.
he shares this with the dalai lama.

last night, cnn kept showing the footage of earlier this week with the pope and the kids on the balcony, releasing doves. one dove keeps flying back into st.peter's.
should you happen to see that footage again, look at the face of the little boy on the right. look into the pope's face as the dove flies back in once, twice, finally out and away.
see the joy on the face of the boy, see the smile on john paul ii. face.

an old man, laughing at a symbolic scene not quite working out.
you'll see his power.

i hope you'll feel better soon, karol wojtyla. i'm sending energy your way.