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April 06, 2005

Death of Pope John Paul II

The outpouring of emotion and reflection following the death of Pope John Paul II has been quite amazing. The volume of newspaper space, alongside the electronic media has been most positive towards the Pope. This pontiff generated an enormous reservoir of goodwill around the world, having invested a lot of time in travelling and meeting people of all backgrounds.

Which stands in stark contrast to key elements of his teaching and 'politics'. Over the length of this papacy there has been much public hand-wringing in relation to the attitude of Rome towards women, and AIDS sufferers. An increasing lament about the overall direction of the Catholic Church under this Pope's tutelage has been evident, with the increasing shift towards conservative stances.

That this has remained in the background in the public memory in the immediate aftermath of his death highlights an interesting paradox: the Pope was much-loved for his pastoral skills, but not for the content of his teaching.

This, in some sense, ought not surprise, with the increasing emphasis on relationships for their importance, over against doctrine and dogma. It is more important in contemporary eyes to be seen as a nice person than the fined nuancing of teaching.

This is not to say that teaching is not important. There are boundaries of tolerance which once approached - or even transgressed - eat into that reservoir of acceptance. But this Pope's commitment to the people has been the key point of his papacy, and that for which he is immediately remembered.

There are those in the faith communities who would lament such a shift, and others who would deny it, preferring to believe that the Pope's legacy is the doctrine (which isn't untrue). Yet clearly people want to known that you care about them first and foremost. When convinced of this they are much more likely to hear you out on other matters, and much more gracious in accepting difference.

In one sense this is the essence of Jesus' ministry. His key message "The kingdom of God" found its strongest place amongst those who encountered Jesus as loving and compassionate.

Perhaps we need to remember that purity of doctrine is much less important than the expression of love and compassion.

Posted by gary at April 6, 2005 07:43 PM

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