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Lessons from the life of the Pope April 11, 2005

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Lessons from the life of the Pope


Greetings, Saint Lucia, on this Monday Morning.

Now that the television coverage and commentary has abated for a short while at least, I invite you to join me in some sober reflections on the lessons which the life of Pope John Paul II has for all of us.

It is not very often that the life and death of a leader of a religious denomination, has such a tremendous impact on persons outside of his or her congregation. In fact, it is the first time that the life of a Pope has had such far-reaching implications for both Catholics and non-Catholics. The Pope reached out to all faiths, and the television scenes showed us Catholics and non Catholics alike who endured the heat and long lines to say their final farewell.


Among those on the long lines to view his body and indeed, among those who attended his funeral, were persons who did not always agree with the political views of Pope John Paul II or his doctrinal positions on a range of theological issues. Pope John Paul II openly disagreed with President Bush on the Iraq War, but yet, President Bush openly admired him. Likewise, the Pope vigorously opposed the views of former President Bill Clinton on abortion, yet there was mutual admiration and respect between them. And herein lies a simple lesson: Differences do not diminish greatness.

But, who was this remarkable man who did not ask for greatness but had it cast on him?


Born into extremely humble surroundings in Poland, his rise to the top of the Catholic Church is well documented. On this journey, on this trying journey during the period of the Second World War, he was persistent in his search for knowledge. He studied extensively. When he realised his calling to the Church, he focused on the study of theology and philosophy. He maintained his faith all this time to continue to study and teach the doctrines of the Catholic Church. But, there was one thing about him that stood out. Though deeply conservative in outlook, he was never blindly consumed by doctrine. In later years, this gave him the foundation and the courage to venture where others feared to tread.

Throughout his life he was perpetually driven by his own dictum “do not be afraid”


Pope John Paul II was a great communicator. His formal training and practical engagement in theatre and the arts, equipped him with the creative skills to handle the many turbulent issues during his tenure as head of the Catholic Church. This grounding gave him the communications skills to become the excellent global diplomat, which he was. He lived a full life. And we must also recall that while he studied at universities in Poland and in Rome, he continued his pastoral work with grassroots and poor communities in these countries.

Most of the world will not know, however, that his parents and his only brother all passed away by 1941, long before he became Pope. In time, the entire world became his family. The Papacy provided him the opportunity to share his life with his family, the citizens of the world. He quickly embraced the world to explore and shape our collective humanity.


It was this journey, which brought him to the shores of Saint Lucia in 1986. Like the apostle Simon Peter, he came to share in his own faith. His impact on the people of Saint Lucia is long lasting. He reached out to the poor people on the roadsides. The Archdiocese of Castries has recorded the numerous cases where Pope John Paul’s simple acts of kindness, his short conversations and his blessings touched the lives of many.

At the Eucharistic Mass at Rodney Bay on a piece of barren reclaimed land in the north of the island, John Paul blessed thousands of Saint Lucians from all walks of life, of all classes, of all creeds and of all colours. It was there he reached out to all Saint Lucians in Kwéyňl and said, “Zanfan Bondye, pwan kouwaj, mete konfyans ou an Bondye”. Children of God, take courage, put your trust in God.

Since 1986, this barren piece of land has been reclaimed with a new blessing and is now known as the Pope’s Site. This is only one of the legacies of the visit of John Paul to Saint Lucia. But the instances of the Pope reaching out to touch many of the hundreds of children who lined the streets, the blessings of some of the poor and sick and the sharing of the Eucharist will forever linger in the hearts and minds of our people, especially our Catholic community.


When he addressed Saint Lucians on the theme of World Peace, he said “I know that as a nation, you are committed to this lofty goal. Your own history, once marked by repeated struggles between different Governments, has without a doubt made even more firm your commitment and determination in this regard. You are well aware of the need to seek peaceful solutions to conflicts and to promote dialogue and trust between peoples”.

These words should be lessons for all of us as we continue to face local and global challenges to our communities, to our nation and to our own faith and beliefs.


When I reflect on this visit, I feel a quiet satisfaction that His Excellency, Ambassador Julian Hunte was able to secure Observer Status at the United Nations for the Vatican during his tenure as President of the General Assembly. In a curious way, it appears that St. Lucia was saying “thank you” for the visit by His Holiness.


But back to John Paul II. He always reached out. He was bold and progressive. He was never imprisoned by his faith and the doctrine of the church.

Perhaps one of the major lessons from the life of this pontiff was the character of his leadership. As a head of state, he travelled the world trying to unite peoples and bring peace. His compassion translated into the skill of listening and reaching out. He reached out to all non-Christian faiths and organisations in their own troubled spots around the world; he spoke to leaders of all political ideologies, from the far right to the far left. He left the walls of St. Peter’s Square to come to Cuba to dialogue with Fidel Castro.

His humanity led him to change what others have been attempting to change for decades through war and confrontation. He understood the horrors of war. He understood too, suffering, discrimination and the plight of the poor and marginalised.


The death of His Holiness has induced many to be reflective about their lives, their spirituality, their humanity and their beliefs. Inevitably, we are drawn to reflect on the life of Pope John Paul II to cast our own judgment.

As for me, I admired his humility, his intense intellect and his agenda of social compassion. There are moments when I wish that some among us, particularly those in the priesthood today, would reflect on the gentle, calm humility of Pope John Paul II and wash the feet of the poor in symbolic expression of faith, mission and belief.


As we continue to reflect on the lessons of his life, caring and courageous leadership, humility, unswerving faith and belief in his chosen mission, I also invite all Saint Lucians to reflect on our own earthly insignificance. As we all watched the pictures of the masses of persons filing pass his body, the greatest impact on our emotions was on the sheer mass of people moving together, not as individuals but as a mass. No class, no creed, no colour as they moved in and out of the square. They were not afraid. They were peaceful.

My heart goes out to all who share in the loss of this great world leader, this spiritual father and this symbol of world peace.

Have a peaceful day.

Take care, be of good cheer and God Bless!


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