It has been almost one year now since John Paul has died. Right here in Krakow there is a more or less continuous vigil at his former home, the archbishop's residence. It was a poingnant thing. I have some pictures that I will add to the blog, if I can figure out how to upload them.
It's difficult to describe all the angles of his cultural impact. He was sort of a real-life Forrest Gump of the 20th century: whereever life was lived in our violent, turbulent time, he was there, as if to grace us with his presence. He dodged the Nazis as a young seminarian, and the Soviets as a bishop. He had a special connection with the vocation of the old, the young, women, married people, intellectuals, priests, and laymen. He is widely loved in his native Poland, of course, but also in Latin America and Africa. Who is it that one man could be so many things to so many people. Well, one gift of leadership is the ability to speak to many people, and have each person in the audience perceive that he is being spoken to directly, in the tenderness of our hearts. John Paul had that gift.
Very early in his pontificate, John Paul visited Des Moines, Iowa, my hometown. The local television news sent a crew to my elementary school to interview us tykes. Most of the students were completely ignorant of who the pope was, and truth be told I didn't know very much either, except that I was willing to talk to the TV camera for a couple minutes or so. As it happened everything I said was true. Except that the correspondent woman asked me if I were Catholic. I said that I was, but I wasn't, until a couple of decades later.
Whatever else might be said of JPII, we always recall his gift to touch people whereever they were. He was sort of man who would visit Des Moines, Iowa (just the name of it sounds like the very definition of nowhere in particular) just because.