It was oceanside, in Santa Monica, California, at the home of friends in 1978, that I first heard of the election of Karol Józef Wojtya, Pope John Paul II as head of the Catholic church. It was delightful to learn that he was of Polish nationality, roots that I share on my mother's side, a second generation American whose Polish-Catholic mother, father, aunts, uncles, and cousins, immigrated from Warsaw in the 1920's-30's, to Chicago, Illinois, a haven from the brewing oppression in Europe.
In the 1995 encyclical Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life) Pope John Paul II reasserted the church's condemnation of abortion, euthanasia, and capital punishment, calling them all a part of the "culture of death" that is pervasive in the modern world.
One of the few popes to have grown up in a climate of flourishing Jewish culture, in Wadowice, Southern Poland, his interest in the Jewish culture dated from early youth. His visit to the Synagogue of Rome was the first by a pope since the founding of the Catholic Church. John Paul II has written and delivered a number of speeches on the subject of the Church's relationship with Jews, and has often paid homage to the victims of the Holocaust in many nations.
Through the years, although not a Catholic, I have found Pope John Paul II to be a warm inspiration, someone who followed his heart in a difficult transitional period in world history. During his reign, Pope John Paul II made more foreign trips than all previous popes combined. His charisma, his benevolent reaching out to so many in his travels, his anti-communist efforts that helped to bring liberation to Mother Poland, among others, brought a rarely found love and respect among all nations of people of the world who now sadly mourn his passing.
Farewell, Beloved Papa, we miss you.
Gerry M. Kaye.
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"Pope John Paul II, 1920-2005" (c) Copyright 2005 by Gerry M. Kaye.