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Popes Brandeis ties

Published: April 8, 2005
Section: News


On April 2, 2005, 9:37 PM Pope John Paul II died after a long struggle with Parkinsons Disease. Born into humble circumstances in 1920 as Koral Wojtyla, he had risen from being an unknown priest from a small Polish town to the highest religious office in the Catholic Church and spiritual leader to an estimated 1.1 billion Catholics around the world.

His death has touched off a wave of sorrow and reflection among many of those in the Catholic community. In a phone interview with The Hoot, Brandeis Catholic Chaplain Father David Michael described the late Pope as an electric, stunning figure who inspired him from the very beginning of Michaels entry into the seminary.

Michael recalls meeting the Pope after a private mass: He said to me, in that deep voice of his, Where are you fro-o-m, Father? Michael recalls, laughing. I said I was from Boston. I was so nervous and overwhelmed I forget to tell him we shared a birthday.

During his lifetime, many had criticized the Pope on issues ranging from his refusal to rescind or moderate Catholic teachings on homosexuality and birth control to what was perceived as the Popes ineffectiveness in combating abuse by priests. Michael, however, responded to those charges by saying you cannot hold one man accountable for everything that went wrong in the Church. The Pope was a preacher and a philosopher, not a bureaucrat [I]f I had it to do over again, Id still have him be a genuine spiritual leader instead of a politician.

Yet even longtime critics of the Popes policies count John Pauls conciliatory attitude towards the Jewish people and those of other religions as one of his great strengths. Historically, the Catholic Church has a reputation for religious intolerance, but John Paul worked to actively distance himself from that tradition.

His closest friend from childhood was a Polish Jew named Jerzy Kluger, and the Pope has apologized for the Crusades, visited synagogues around the world, declared anti-Semitism a sin and prayed at the Wailing Wall, leaving a note between the stones asking for forgiveness for his errors and those of the Catholic Church throughout history.

This dedication to interfaith understanding did not go unnoticed by the Brandeis community;

in an interview for the Boston Globe, President Jehuda Reinharz lauded the Popes achievements as an ecumenicist by saying In June of 1979, he went to Auschwitz and declared that no one can look on the Nazi murder of the Jews with indifference. That was huge news at the time.

Some have complained this was too little, too late, but Brandeis University Conservative Organization (BUCO) president Lianna Levine 06 did not see it that way.

We really have to understand it as the glass half full, she said. Its only been 40 years since the blame of Jesus Christs death has officially been taken away from Jews [in the encyclical Nostra Aetate], and thats such a short span of time in relation to the centuries and centuries of Jewish persecution under papal rule. It takes time to mend wounds that reach back so far.

Karol Wojtyla was the first Polish person to attain the Papacy in its 2,000-year history, and the first non-Italian in over 500 years. His appointment was taken by many as a direct challenge to the Soviet Union, which still held dominance over Poland at the time of John Pauls appointment in 1979. In fact, the Pope worked strenuously against the Communist regime in the Soviet Union through support of labor unions and human rights groups.

After nine days of mourning and six days to assemble together, the College of Cardinals begins its deliberations, and is expected to choose a new Pope within the week. The papal elections are kept secret, and all cardinals are technically eligible, but rumored favorites include Joseph Ratzinger, a conservative cardinal from Germany, Cardinal Francis Arinze of Nigeria, Archbishop Dionigi Tettamanzi of Milan and Argentine Cardinal Jorge Borgoglio. As always, a rift between tradition and modernity is expected to play a large part when the next Pope is chosen.

As custom demands, following a Popes death his ring is symbolically crushed, his apartment is sealed off and all the top officials in the Vatican lose their jobs except the chamberlain and two other officials who oversee day-to-day operations.

Over 100,000 pilgrims flooded the Vatican to pay their respects to the body of the late Pope as it was born through St. Peters Square, and 2 million more are expected for the funeral and entombment.