Faculty remember Catholic Church's charismatic leader at symposium
The legacy of Pope John Paul II will be debated in the coming weeks and months as a new pope is elected to lead the Catholic Church. But University faculty and experts agree that John Paul II was a charismatic leader who guided the church during some of the world's toughest times.
Faculty members from history, sociology, political science and Near Eastern studies joined a campus pastor April 6 for the symposium, "Pope John Paul II: A Retrospective." They discussed the significant events of a papal reign that lasted more than a quarter of a century, and speculated how the Pontiff will be rememberedboth good and bad.
"He was a tornado, an earthquake, an explosion of energy that could not be contained," said Gabriele Boccaccini, associate professor in the Department of Near Eastern Studies. "He was very conservative and it was clear he was the boss; he was in charge. I do not envy his successor."
Boccaccini, who said he had the privilege of meeting John Paul II on several occasions, said the pope was the first to praise women and make them feel part of the church. He also will be remembered, Boccaccini said, for visiting the Great Synagogue of Rome and reaching out to those of the Jewish faith.
Several speakers discussed the pope's popularity in his native Poland. Brian Porter, associate professor of history, said more than 2 million Polish residents were expected to attend last Friday's funeral service. He said news of the pope's death April 2 brought that country to a standstill.
"Nearly everyone in Poland praises the pope as one of the greatest figures in the country's history," Porter said. Outside of Poland, views of John Paul II are mixed, he said, but Poland's love for him is as universal as it gets. "He changed the face of the papacy," said Porter, noting that John Paul II made more than 100 trips to nearly 130 countries.
The pope's passing has the potential to spark a religious renewal in Poland, but also could further an institutional crisis in the Catholic Church in that country, said Genevieve Zubrzycki, assistant professor of sociology.
"He was first and foremost a very authoritative figure," she said. "Now that he is gone, the glue is beginning to lose some of its binding power."
Anna Grzymala-Busse, associate professor of political science, said the pope's reign featured three paradoxes. While John Paul II was a champion of freedom, he also clamped down on dissention in the church, she said. The pope often criticized a world of excess, but also relied on the tools of modernityespecially television.
Although John Paul II fought injustices in the world, he did not do enough close to homein his own church, Grzymala-Busse said. She cited the Catholic Church's handling of its sexual abuse scandals.
"He stirred the emotions of his supporters and his critics," she said. "It remains to be seen if his successor can solve these paradoxes."
Michael Kennedy, professor of sociology and former director of the International Institute, said it is hard to see during this time of reverence for the pope, but there are many people who did not like John Paul II.
"But, there was so much more to the pope than this anger that some people have," he said. "He not only knew the historical sins of his church; he apologized for them."
The Rev. Tom McClain, pastor at St. Mary Student Parish, said the pope's trips to the United States allowed him to see the vitality of faith in this country. "He saw church and faith alive in America," McClain said. "A friendship with the U.S. grew on him, but he struggled with how to make it happen."