The challenge of Pope John Paul II

Pope John Paul II [Karol Wojtyla]  died on April 2, 2005. I’ve found him an enigmatic figure. He said enough to disturb almost everyone, though mostly more liberal Catholics have found him problematic.

He was formed in the totalitarian environment of Nazism and Soviet Communism and so tended to see most of the world from this perspective. I think that because of this he was very suspicious of Latin American liberation theology. Yet he told the Brazilian bishops that “it was not only useful but also necessary.”

When he went to the Latin American Bishops’ conference meeting in 1979 his prepared remarks seemed fairly critical of the bishops’ activism in support of the poor. Yet when he visited the indigenous people he spoke warmly of the need to protect their rights.

Some US Catholics have thus used Pope John Paul II to support a libertarian political and social agenda. But it is not clear that that was his stand.Many of these same Catholics also ignore his stand against the death penalty and his opposition to the Gulf War and the Iraq war.

But these words of Pope John Paul II at Yankee Stadium on October 2, 1979, are a continual challenge to the US and its treatment of the poor and ought to be central to our faith:

The poor of the United States and of the world are your brothers and sisters in Christ. You must never be content to leave them just the crumbs from the feast. You must take of your substance and not just of your abundance in order to help them. And you must treat them like guests at your family table.


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