Monday, April 04, 2005

John Paul II

In the Fall of 2000 as a part of the Jubileum I was invited as a speaker at a convocation of academics. The Vatican held a series of conferences celebrating the 2000th anniversary of Christ's birth. The academic one was a series of convocations held by various orders to discuss academic mission. The one I went to was an interesting meeting. The proceedings were published in a book about Globalization and Higher Education.

As part of the event we were given two opportunities to see the Pope. The first, on a Saturday, was held in a hall behind St. Peter's. We got a good seat so when John Paul came in - we were close. He looked, as a walked in, very frail. He sat in a white chair - similar to the ones you the pontiff in with heads of state. But when he sat down and began to speak he commanded the room. He asked, what is the purpose of a university? He answered - to find truth. He then asked how can a university fail in its mission? The first way was to fail to seek the truth. The second was to wander into "endless meanderings of erudition." Luckily, although he gave the homily in Italian, I had someone next to me who could translate. His speech was simple but powerful. He showed his true commitment to the academic life.

The next day, we went to a mass in the square. Again, because of who I was with, I was able to get preferred seating. I was struck again with how frail his form was but how absolutely powerful his presence was. In this instance he spoke haltingly - but his message was clear and forthright.

I am not a Catholic. But I was struck on those two days, that I had been in the presence of a holy man with a powerful intellect and other gifts that transcended his physical conditions. It was truly an inspiration.

In the last few days the "but-monkeys" have begun to come out. John Paul II was a great pope but...... What struck me about these comments is how little they were compared to the substance I saw in the two times I encountered him directly.

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