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The role of the pope today

Luke Wake / Columnist

"John Paul II, we love you." This is what I remember cheering with thousands of onlookers from around the world when I had the joy of seeing the Holy Father, during 2002 World Youth Day in Toronto. I was one of a million youth gathered to see him and there was a great outpouring of genuine love for mankind both from him and from the gathered Catholics of the world on that day. That same genuine love for mankind, which seemed to be the theme of John Paul's papacy, was alive even till his death and in his death the world mourned a great loss. John Paul II was a remarkable leader not only for the church but also for the world, and in his death, we saw a somber, but joyful, outpouring of love for him, a man had done so much for the world.

John Paul II played a great role in the fall of communism, the encouragement of peace and in showing solidarity for the downtrodden of the world. Even in American politics, John Paul has played a great role, as both a spiritual leader for thousands of American Catholics and as world leader who has been eager to meet with our presidents and encourage our leaders to be morally responsible. This relationship between the Vatican and the United States was new and ground breaking, because until Regan appointed an ambassador the United States had no diplomatic relations with the Vatican. It then is quite natural for Americans, non-Catholics as well, to question, what will John Paul's successor mean to us?

As a Catholic I can say that the pope is, first and foremost, the head of a living and breathing body, a universal church with the moral authority of an apostolic succession handed down by Christ to Peter, the first pope. His role is spiritual, he is guided by the Holy Spirit and his role is to lead the church through the trials of time and the issues it presents; the pope's job is to interpret and apply scripture to the issues the world is faced with today. In this respect he may have effects upon the world, but he is not meant to be, nor is he, a political figure in the sense that non-Catholic Americans often presume him to be.

The question should not be: what will the next pope mean to America, but rather to the world. I am not one of those conservatives who will tell you, America is the center of the universe; we must recognize that our problems veil in comparison to those of the third world. The pope may likely come from Africa or Latin America, which would be wonderful because it could provide them encouragement and perhaps help focus the world's attention to the downtrodden. Surely the next pope, who ever he will be, shall be faced with many problems in the third world and he will stand as a great symbol of solidarity to all the peoples of the world.

For the west, and America in particular, the church must battle our materialistic and secularist culture. Our society is burdened with many problems as well, but namely moral decay and this will have to be addressed by the next pope. But if you ask what issue is of utmost concern in the west, the answer is clear. Our greatest problem is the legalization of abortion and a lack of respect for human life. As I have said before, in quoting John Paul II, "abortion is the greatest ongoing human rights crisis in the world." This was a point of contention between Bill Clinton and the Holy Father and you should expect the Vatican and American Catholics, to continue applying pressures on the civil authorities to end the practice. I pray the next pope will inspire American Catholics to learn, understand and adhere to church teachings and to finally unite in solidarity for life.

May the next pope be as instrumental in promoting love and good works, throughout the world, as our beloved John Paul II. He shall guide us through these troubling times and hopefully be an inspiration for many souls.

Contact Luke Wake at pendulum@elon.edu or 278-7247.