By Dr. John O. Hunter
I attended the funeral of Pope John Paul II in Rome and experienced first hand the deep love of this man by thousands present from all over the world. History will remember him as spiritual guardian of the sanctity of life and great moral leader and teacher of the salvific power of faith. I was especially impressed by the large number of young people who attended.: A 20-year-old boy flew to the Vatican and slept in the street. Asked why he was there, he replied, “to pay my respects to the Pope. If I don’t see him today I’ll be back tomorrow.” A beautiful young girl from Kraków, Poland said,” I don’t know how we can go on without him. He was my Father.”
Hope is always present as a measure of faith in a loving God. We cannot know for certain how God may intervene and through what instruments, revealed as opportunities. Even when things are most bewildering, there are spiritual, moral, and intellectual forces which can be marshaled.
The evidence of things hoped for and made manifest is revealed in the faith and work of John Paul II. He understood that, despite Europe’s Christophobia, it was Christianity that brought the values of human dignity and laid the foundation for the ideas of democracy and liberty.
In Ecclesia Europa, John Paul called his fellow Europeans to courage and hope:
“Do not be afraid! The gospel is not against you but for you… Throughout the vicissitudes of your history, yesterday and today, it is the light which illuminates and directs your way. It is the strength which sustains you in trials. It is the prophecy of a new world, the sign of a new beginning. It is the invitation to everyone, believers and unbelievers alike, to blaze trails leading to a Europe of the spirit in order to make the continent a true, common home filled with the joy of life.”(Quoted in George Weigel, The Cube and the Cathedral, 2005)
This message is universal. Those who are ready to give up on the complexity of our situation, those who cannot see beyond the next day or even the next hour, can find renewal in serious reflection of it.
It was John Paul, more than any other leader, including Ronald Reagan, who was responsible for the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe and ultimately the demise of the Soviet Union. When Europe had forgotten God and started on its path of hopelessness, the, communist empire was in its ascendancy. The new religion of communism counted all power in material terms. When Stalin was asked if he should be concerned about what the Pope had to say, his response was classic: ” How many divisions does Pope have?”
In the 1990’s ,John Paul was joined by Billy Graham. Though different in style, both were powerful, influential voices in spreading a message of hope, much needed in Europe.
Europe is now struggling and may not survive in the wake of 20th century reliance on relativism, secularism and materialism. The enemy at the gate is homegrown, inbred Islamist terrorists, justified by ardent corruption of true Islam. This barbarism can be defeated, but Europe does not know how ; it’s possible that America does not know how either, having already breathed in Europe’s problem. But I believe that America can remain the best hope of the world.
Visits to London and Scotland used to be a restorative pleasure for me. I enjoyed chatting with the “natives” there and could feel the pride in their culture, but no longer. I worry mainly that Britain does not have a residual spirit of traditional values that I can still see in American youth, if it faces up to its own ideolgical threats.
It has always been when things look their darkest that new leadership emerges, as for example, when Patrick again finally reached the shores of Ireland, destined to become the savior of classical antiquity in a dark age. Behind him was the break of day!
John Paul reminds us that Christ is calling us now as He did Patrick, and that God’s gifts of beauty and unfailing love and healing power are with us!
My heart goes out to those young people yearning for freedom in places like Iran, Syria, and Russia. Let’s not discount the possibility of spiritual intervention.
We face a dark complexity in a split world. Yet, despite our bewilderment, I believe the balance will swing again. Our part, friends, is to summon the courage to continue facing up to the challenge, that, after all, is not an excuse for slinking off and doing nothing.