The New York Times: The Great Unifier
This afternoon I put on "Abba Pater," a CD Vatican Radio made right before the Jubliee year of 2000 that combines excerpts of the Holy Father's sermons with New Agey sort of backgound music. I bought it when I first converted five years ago, and it was actually the first time I'd ever heard the Pope's voice. When I pushed the play button on my CD player today, I suddenly started crying. I was rather suprised. I didn't realize how much he meant to me.
I had just finished reading the above article, which I read courtesy of Philocrites. In it, Jaroslav Pelikan, one of the most respected scholars of the Orthodox Church and its relationship with the Church of Rome, talked about John Paul's efforts to repair the 1000+ years of disunity between East and West. "Western Christendom has been breathing with one lung," he told Pelikan. In Orientale Lumen, John Paul encouraged the Church -- both East and West -- to breathe with both lungs. Recently he returned the relics of St. John Chrysostom and St. Gregory Nazianzen to Istanbul, where Crusaders looted them during the sack of Constantinople in 1204, as well as the icon of the Mother of Kazan to Russia, which mysteriously found its way to the Vatican after disappearing during the Bolshivik Revolution. Throughout his papacy he sought to put everything that divides the two churches on the table, including the filioque (the part of the Nicene Creed where you say "And I believe in the Holy Spirit...who precedes from the Father" -- and if you're Roman Catholic -- "and the Son") and the issue of primacy. As Pelikan states, "one cannot escape the feeling that everyone has missed a great opportunity."
I know that it will take more than a few mea culpas and returned relics to heal the deep wounds that have been made over the millennia of anathamas and Crusades and missionaries. The Eastern Church has a great deal to be pissed off with Rome about even now as they squabble over churches and proselytes. I know that my own church, the Byzantine Catholic rite, was not created in a spirit of spiritual unity so much as it was the result of aggressive efforts on the part of Rome to steal away as many Orthodox believers as possible using dubious church politics to do so. But, "the greatest of these is love." And John Paul did much to show that love should be our guiding principle rather than theological or political pedantry.
Everyone seems to be focusing on how conservative John Paul was. And certainly his rigid stands on birth control and homosexuality in particular where both disheartening and painful for me and people very close to me. But, on peace and social justice issues, he was as liberal as they come. He talked a great deal about the evils of war and unrestrained capitalism. He condemned the war in Iraq as "a crime against peace" and a "defeat for humanity." He was the first pope to pray in a mosque. He met with the Dalai Lama. No one can doubt his commitment to peace.
Including spiritual peace. A peace that can only come when the Church breathes with both of its lungs. Something that, as a Byzantine Catholic, I ache to do. Just like my beloved Holy Papa.