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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Pope John Paul II, miracle worker

It was recently reported that Pope John Paul II has passed the first step toward sainthood. He has been “beatified” based on “proof” that he performed a miracle. A nun who claimed to be suffering from Parkinson’s Disease was “cured” after praying to him to intercede.

At first this struck me as rather anachronistic, a throwback to an earlier age when people believed in miracles. And then I thought again — more kindly this time.

For one thing, sainthood is merely the Church’s Hall of Fame. The rules for admission are similar. There is a 5 year waiting period from the end of the applicant’s career before eligibility. The requirements are stringent, demanding exceptional works in the chosen profession. A “miracle” is kind of like winning the batting title, home run record, career .300 average or 300 wins for a pitcher.

For another thing, Pope John Paul II seemed to be a kindly old man. He had a grandfatherly smile, and looked the way I thought a pope should look.

Unlike a majority of popes throughout history, he was not Italian. He was a Pole, his birth name was Karol Józef Wojtyła and although he lived under Nazi occupation at a time when many Poles were virulently anti-Semitic and cheerfully collaborated with the Nazi efforts to solve the “Jewish Problem”, he has been given a pass from the Bnai’ Brith, a watchdog group that checks into such things. The young priest, Father Wojtyla, was credited with acts of kindness toward and even saving a number of Jews.

When he became the pope, he had to deal with the controversial issues that beset all Catholic leaders. His philosophy was conservative, so he made gays and abortion rights advocates queasy.

But he was known for issuing a string of 100 apologies to make up for centuries of “mistakes” made by or ratified by or at least tolerated by the Catholic Church.

He apologized to Galileo Galilei for calling him a heretic for claiming that the earth revolved around the sun, which was contrary to Catholic dogma.

He acknowledged that the Inquisition may possibly have gone too far in torturing and executing innocent people.

He apologized to Jews for the blood libel, pogroms, and silence of the Church during the Holocaust and to Muslims who were killed by Crusaders.

He was sorry for burning Protestants, sorry for the Church’s violation of womens’ rights.

He apologized for Catholics who participated in the slave trade, and for Spanish Catholics who forcibly converted native South and Central Americans, killing and exploiting many.

These were the real miracles he performed and are the acts for which he should be remembered.

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