To some he is a prince of peace and a compassionate humanitarian. To others he is an intolerant enforcer of orthodox theology, insensitive to change and to basic human needs. But despite the differing perceptions of Pope John Paul II and the controversy over his interpretation of Roman Catholic Church doctrine, observers agree that the pontiff is a tireless messenger of God’s word, ever-insistent on bringing that message directly to the people. Setbacks, such as the bullet wound he suffered in 1981 at the hand of a would-be assassin, apparently have had little effect on the 67-yearold pontiff’s energy or stamina or blunted his determination to reach out to his flock. Indeed, the 11-day tour to nine U.S. cities and to Fort Simpson, N.W.T., on which he embarks this week is the well-seasoned traveller’s 36th official trip abroad.
Since his election to St. Peter’s throne in October, 1978, the former Karol Cardinal Wojtyla of Krakow, Poland, has governed the Roman Catholic Church with a sure, strong and highly visible hand. In the process, he has become what one high-ranking Vatican official called the most popular man on earth: “No one else can bring out more than a million people, no one in the world.” But for some Catholics, the Pope’s relentless compulsion to communicate has a distinctly negative side. For all his open charm and left-wing social preferences, John Paul is inflexible in matters of church doctrine, reiterating to sometimes unwilling audiences the church’s traditional teachings on sensitive family issues such as birth control, divorce and, more recently, artificial insemination.
Myopic: His unwavering stance has also alienated many of the Church’s more progressive officials. Still, few churchmen believe that John Paul’s actions reflect an authoritarian personality. A high-level member of the Roman curia says that since his election, the Pope’s principal goal has been to bring doctrinal and theological cohesion to a church troubled by inner divisions that predated his papacy. “It is myopic to see him as some sort of a right-wing wacko,” he added.
Certainly both the pope’s critics and his supporters have an exceptional amount of information on which to base their judgments. With journalists
casting about for fresh background material as they monitor John Paul’s moves, the public has gained a solid impression of the man beneath the mitre: the sensitive scholar and linguist, the lover of sports and the stage, the author who has published several plays and books of poetry. But his colleagues say that the Pope’s trips are undertaken more as humble pilgrimages than to establish a power base through his celebrity. Says a Polish priest who works at the Vatican: “The Pope uses these trips to project the image of a shepherd rather than a majestic leader.” He added, “After John Paul, how will any other pope be able to stay at home?”
Delirious: The Pope’s peripatetic nature may in part be a reaction to his lonely and repressed early life. Karol Wojtyla was born on May 18, 1920, in the town of Wadowice, near Krakow, to a stern Polish army officer and a former schoolteacher. When the boy was eight, his mother died giving birth to her third child, a girl who was stillborn. Shortly after, Wojtyla’s brother Edward, a doctor 15 years his senior, died of scarlet fever. Wojtyla and his father then moved to Krakow; when the young man was 21, his father died of a heart attack.
Meanwhile, the deeply religious Wojtyla had enrolled at Krakow’s Jagellonian University as a philosophy student. He became passionately interested in the theatre and decided to become an actor and playwright.
When the Germans occupied Poland during the Second World War, they closed the university. But the young student and his colleagues continued to perform dramas, and they held poetry readings in secret. During that period an event occurred that he said changed the course of his life: he was hit by a truck and suffered a skull fracture. In a delirious state, he found himself thinking for the first time about the priesthood. A combination of youthful experiences “in some way boiled up in my soul,” he said, “and resulted in the priestly calling.”
It was a dangerous decision at a time when the Nazi regime punished all forms of religious study, but Wojtyla joined an underground group of students who were schooled in theology and philosophy. After Poland was liberated by Russian troops, Wojtyla was ordained on Nov.l,
1946, at age 26. Studies in Rome were followed by stints as a parish priest and a university lecturer, where his sociability and leadership qualities earned him the affectionate nickname “Uncle” among young people.
But he yearned to travel. Eager to study the interrelations of church and society in a freer environment than Poland’s, he took his first extended trip out of Poland —to France, Belgium and Holland—upon completion of his doctoral studies. Since he became pontiff, he has visited roughly 60 countries.
Under the Pope’s leadership, the Vatican has become skilled in bringing the pastor to his people with a minimum of confusion and cost. But Vatican organizers took more trouble than usual to arrange the U.S. trip —an acknowledgment, observers say, of the wealth and influence of the American Catholic Church —accommodating several last-minute schedule changes, including a stop in Miami. That was arranged to enable the Pope to meet—and presumably placate—Jewish leaders angered by his June 25 meeting with Austrian President Kurt Waldheim, who while serving as a Nazi army lieutenant during the Second World War, is accused of aiding in the deportation of Jews to death camps.
The Pope travels with an efficiently compact entourage composed of a hand-
ful of security men, valets, Vatican journalists, close friends and advisers. He travels light: his wardrobe, apart from the sacramental vestments, consists mainly of lightweight white wool cassocks, one for each day. He carries no special foods or medications: he has little interest in food and eats whatever is available, with the occasional glass of beer or wine. The one thing he is never without is a battered old briefcase, jammed with books on a variety of subjects in several languages. “When he is not praying, he is reading,” says Joaquin Navarro, a Vatican spokesman and tour veteran.
Meditation: A master of delegation, the Pope frees time for his travels by shifting onto others —including one of his closest advisers,
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger— the burden of Vatican administration. As a result, even when he is in Rome he is able to devote several hours every day to prayer and study. His precisely organized day, which begins at 5:30 a.m., includes celebrating mass. Other responsibilities include audiences with individuals or small groups and meetings with his colleagues, interspersed with private times during which he reads,
meditates, writes letters or studies a new language for a forthcoming trip. He always has guests at meals, but they are not social occasions. Lunch, served at 1:45, and dinner, at 8, afford the Pope the opportunity to invite peo-
ple from all walks of life to discuss various subjects. Said a priest who recently received a surprise invitation to a papal lunch: “He doesn’t ask you there for small talk.” Other recent
guests have included a group of nuclear physicists and the team of restorers who are cleaning the Sistine Chapel.
To relax, the Pope takes a daily walk and goes on an occasional skiing or hiking holiday. In summer he stays at the papal quarters in the Roman hill town of Castel Gandolfo, where he uses a newly installed swimming pool. But even his personal pleasures are carefully scheduled. One priest recalls that when he wanted a visiting aunt to get a glimpse of the Pope, a member of the papal household told him: “If you want to see the Pope on his way to the swimming pool, you must stand in a certain spot at 2:25 p.m. If you want to see him returning from the pool you must stand in the same spot at 3:05 p.m.”
Impact: Despite the criticism that he faces, there is already widespread agreement that, because of the firm position he has taken on several issues, many Roman Catholics who were confused by the liberalizing effect of the Second Vatican Council have regained their earlier sense of identity. The full impact of his papacy may not be realized for many years. But his high profile in a celebrity-worshipping age has already ensured Pope John Paul il a prominent place in history.
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