More than 1 billion Catholics around the world are turning toward the Vatican for the beatification of the late Pope John Paul II—one step away from his eventual canonization as a saint officially recognized by the Roman Catholic Church. As Editor of ReadTheSpirit online magazine, I draw on decades of religion newswriting for American newspapers, including thousands of miles logged over those years in covering Pope John Paul II’s remarkable career. Yes, there were lots of controversies during John Paul’s reign, but he also ranked as one of the most remarkable religious leaders in the 20th Century.
The Vatican has set up an extensive online gateway for the beatification of John Paul II, including links to download a PDF of the worship booklet that will be used during the beatification—and lots of links to the life and teachings of John Paul II. The big problem is that John Paul II’s pontificate from 1978 to 2005 produced an ocean of texts, talks and teaching documents. No one, short of a scholar or biographer, can hope to read it all! So, today, we highlight just a few “Greatest Hits” of Pope John Paul II from the perspective of David Crumm, now Editor in Chief of ReadTheSpirit online magazine.
A Few of John Paul II’s Overlooked Greatest Hits
JOHN PAUL II AND JUDAISM: Everyone knows that John Paul II was a pioneer in healing the historic wounds between Judaism and Christianity. You’ll easily find texts on this issue on the Vatican site.
JOHN PAUL II AND ISLAM: Many people also are aware that John Paul II had a special interest in healing the centuries-old rifts with Islam, as well. For example, John Paul II made sure that the massive new Catechism of the Catholic Church, completed under his reign at the Vatican, included this key line: “The Church’s relationship with the Muslims: The plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in the first place amongst whom are the Muslims; these profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, mankind’s judge on the last day.” In other words, Pope John Paul II put the entire Catholic church on record as affirming that Christians and Muslims worship the same God—similar to the affirmation John Paul II repeatedly made about Judaism.
JOHN PAUL II ON IMMIGRANTS, THE POOR AND WORKERS’ RIGHTS: As pontiff, John Paul II hammered home these themes so many times that it’s hard to imagine anyone missing these messages. John Paul II taught that our commitment to help the poor is foundational. We’re not doing anyone a favor by helping the poor, he argued—God requires us to help the poor. The good resources we receive in this life aren’t truly ours; they’re God’s. The poor deserve a share of those resources. Our salvation depends on sharing, John Paul II taught. Similarly, he saw all the world’s people as a family, so he was a strong advocate of immigrants’ rights—and workers’ rights. It’s hard to imagine a John Paul II Catholic supporting recent political moves in the U.S. to bust unions. Wondering about that final point? Re-read John Paul II’s landmark encyclical “Laborem exercens (On Human Work),” which is a heavy-duty affirmation of workers’ human rights, including the right to organize and to strike.
SO WHAT IS “OVERLOOKED”? THE TEXTS FROM JOHN PAUL II’S AMERICAN TOUR! The Vatican now has an extensive public archive of all the talks John Paul II delivered in his 1987 tour of North America. During that period, he truly was in his intellectual and spiritual prime. Communism hadn’t yet collapsed. The looming power of the Internet wasn’t obvious. Several major wars and revolutions had yet to materialize. But John Paul II kept talking about a huge urgency he felt in the movement of history. Here are all of Pope John Paul II’s texts and talks from the 1987 U.S. and Canadian tour.
EXCERPT OF POPE JOHN PAUL II ON THE U.S. CANADA BORDER IN 1987
How prophetic was this pontiff? Well, here is just a tiny excerpt from the talk he delivered in 1987, standing near the Detroit River border between the U.S. and Canada:
All major problems that concern the life of the human person in society have become world problems. Any decision that is envisaged in the political, economic or social sphere must be considered within the context of its worldwide repercussions. What now most deeply affects any debate on social progress and human development is the fact of worldwide interdependence. …
(In the 1970s and 1980s, we have seen) the emergence on the political scene of peoples who, after centuries of colonial domination and dependence, demanded ever more forcefully their rightful place among the nations and in international decision-making. … There exists an increasingly interdependent economy.
The continuing existence of millions of people who suffer hunger or malnutrition and the growing realization that the natural resources are limited make clear that humanity forms a single whole. Pollution of air and water threatens more and more the delicate balance of the biosphere on which present and future generations depend and makes us realize that we all share a common ecological environment. Instant communication has linked finance and trade in worldwide dependence.
The poorer nations of the world are inclined to view this interdependence as a continuing pattern of economic domination by the more developed countries, while the latter sometimes view interdependence as the opening up of new opportunities for commerce and export. Interdependence clearly demands that relations between nations be seen in this new context and that the social question needs an appropriate ethic.
Nobody can say anymore: “Let others be concerned with the rest of the world!”
The world is each one of us! …
New ethical choices are necessary; a new world conscience must be created; each of us, without denying his origin and the roots of his family, his people and his nation, or the obligations arising therefrom, must regard himself as a member of this great family, the world community. This means that the worldwide common good requires a new solidarity without frontiers. …
Dear friends: America is a very powerful country. The amount and quality of your achievements are staggering. But virtue of your unique position, as citizens of this nation, you are placed before a choice and you must choose. You may choose to close in on yourselves, to enjoy the fruits of your own form of progress and to try to forget about the rest of the world. Or, as you become more and more aware of your gifts and your capacity to serve, you may choose to live up to the responsibilities that your own history and accomplishments place on your shoulders. By choosing this latter course, you acknowledge interdependence, and opt for solidarity. This, dear friends, is truly a human vocation, a Christian vocation, and for you as Americans it is a worthy national vocation.
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Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online journal covering religion and cultural diversity.