Heart and Soul

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

A FOND FAREWELL FOR THE AGES

It was a colorful pageant equal to the greatest Hollywood extravaganza. It was a major political summit uniting allies and enemies from around the world. It was a multi-cultural rally embracing citizens from all points of the earth. It was a world wide spiritual retreat from relentless global pressures and disasters.

It was a moment in time when the world literally seemed to stop… to pay tribute to the man known as Pope John Paul II.

In viewing the Pope’s funeral, it was somewhat of a challenge to define the singular element that made it so significant. Clearly the attendance of 70 world leaders, 5 kings, and 3 queens lent a quality of importance. The worldwide status and power of the Papacy also demanded a certain respect.

The flawless execution of the logistically overwhelming occasion, seemingly tailor made for terrorist tragedy, made it riveting. The Vatican’s picture perfect backdrop, complete with tolling bells and angelic choirs, made it entrancing. The pageantry and ceremony of the outdoor funeral mass, made it awe-inspiring.

Yet when all was said and done, Pope John Paul’s final farewell was compelling for the same reason that his papacy was so forceful…because of the people.

The sea of humanity endlessly flowing through Vatican City and into St. Peter’s Basilica was stunning, not only in it’s size and scope, but in it’s demeanor and purpose. Media reports detailed 24-hour line-ups, dehydration, exhaustion, and physical collapse, all willingly exchanged for a brief mourner’s moment and distanced glimpse of the man who touched so many, so often.

The hundreds of thousands of pilgrims who gathered provided the perfect formulary for possible jostling, fighting, rioting, and even stampeding. Yet, from start to finish, those who made the pilgrimage completely exemplified the spirit of humility and love that characterized John Paul’s papal reign.

From young to old, black to white, nationality to nationality, not a mourner gave evidence of self-importance or a demand to be considered before another. Rather they were united as one in the wish to simply share in their fabled pontiff’s last public moments.

What made this outpouring of devotion even more remarkable was that it was purely true. No director was organizing the tens of thousands gathered. No computer was enhancing their appearance. When a flag was waved, a cheer given, or applause delivered, the action flowed directly from the hearts and souls of the tens of thousands of total strangers, standing together in love and devotion to their Pope.

Without a doubt, it was one of the most amazing displays of humanity to occur in generations, if ever. Without a doubt, it was also evidence enough that during the course of his life, John Paul II truly earned the title of, "Great."
 
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