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Cardinal Pell on John Paul II

4/8/2005 - 6:00 AM PST

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"He's Moved on a Stage That's Absolutely Gigantic"

ROME, APRIL 8, 2005 (Zenit) - On the eve of John Paul II's funeral, Cardinal George Pell of Sydney, Australia, shared with us his views about the life of the Pope.

Q: What was your first reaction upon hearing the news of Pope John Paul II's death?

Cardinal Pell: My reactions were mixed. I was with a group of Neocatechumenal leaders, seminary rectors in the Holy Land, at the beautiful Domus Galilee up in the Mountain of the Beatitudes overlooking the Sea of Galilee.

We were saddened by the loss of this extraordinary leader, [yet] we were relieved that his suffering was over and aware that we were Christian people who believed in life after death. But there was certainly sadness and an awareness of a great loss.

Q: Within Australia -- which is "in between the U.S. and Britain" when it comes to religiosity and practice of the faith -- what did Pope John Paul II mean for the people of Australia and for Catholics there?

Cardinal Pell: Well, that's two questions right there: Just as I was driving back to where I am staying in Trastevere, on one of the main roads, there are big posters up with the Pope's photo of him already at an old age with the simple heading saying, "Un Bravo Uomo" -- a great man -- and I think for the overwhelming majority of Australians they would have said that -- a good man and a great Catholic.

Those that followed current affairs would be aware of his views on many matters and aware of his pivotal role in the overthrow of communism.

Now for the Catholics, regular practicing ones in the mainstream of the Church, I think Peggy Noonan, who writes a column for the Wall Street Journal and was a speechwriter for President Reagan, summed it up very well in an article about two or three years ago when she said that Pope John Paul II made her, and many, many Catholics feel secure that the Church was in good hands -- that they were safe. Not from external threat or misadventure or scandals or crises, but as far as the leadership could deal with these things, the Pope had a very safe pair of hands.

This is exactly the way I felt -- from the first time I heard him in his inaugural sermon.

Q: Now, turning to the Holy Father's last moments, you said you felt sad he'd died but relieved his suffering has ended. His last few years and months especially were imbued with suffering. Now, there were a lot of young people keeping vigil in St. Peter's Square up until and on the night he died, saying that this was the last lesson he was giving to them -- how to suffer. What did suffering mean in the thought of Pope John Paul?

Cardinal Pell: Somebody said to me recently that his years of suffering were probably his best sermon. One of the radical differences between Christians and the secular attitude toward suffering is that those without a belief in God tend to flee from suffering and pretend it doesn't exist.

We as Catholics confront suffering and try to help those suffering, but we also believe that through the suffering and death, primarily of Christ, we were redeemed and saved. In other words, good can come out of suffering.

I think one of the very first encyclicals of the late Holy Father was "Redemptor Hominis," on the mystery of suffering and the role of Christ as our Redeemer.

All isn't well in the world. We have to recognize suffering when we have to confront it. And that beautiful teaching of Jesus' -- that whatever we do for the least of our brothers and sisters to help them in their suffering, we do to Christ himself -- is spectacular.

Q: You mentioned also Pope John Paul II's role in the downfall of communism and in many ways, the Berlin Wall fell in the halfway point of his pontificate. What are some of the major issues he was confronting in the second half of his pontificate, which perhaps the press haven't been paying a lot of attention to?

Cardinal Pell: I think the great moral encyclicals like "The Gospel of Life" and "The Splendor of Truth"' ... I mean, if he'd written nothing else during his pontificate, he would have been regarded as an extraordinary teacher because he pointed out that not just particular doctrines but the very basis of morality are being challenged in our society.

In a postmodern world the basic claim is that there are no moral bases and the most we might be able to achieve would be a temporary consensus.

Now, the Pope had been a longtime a critic of social injustice, but two other things, especially from a Western point of view that we must realize, is that:

One, I think he was the first Pope to deal adequately with the advantages that capitalism had brought us. Capitalism makes it very difficult for family life, for marriage, but has brought a spread of ...

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