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Pope's Legacy as a World Leader

"Angel of the New Evangelization"

ROME, APRIL 17, 2005 (Zenit) - John Paul II's enormous influence on the world stage was a common feature of many commentaries. "The greatest evangelist in recent times," was how Cardinal Cipriano Calderón, former vice president of the Pontifical Council for Latin America, described John Paul II. In the Spanish daily ABC on April 7 the cardinal wrote that the Pope, through his writings, speeches and "an infinity of documents," along with his 104 international trips, gave an indefatigable testimony.

Right up until his death John Paul II was carrying out this mission of evangelization as a herald of the Gospels, of peace, and of the message of Jesus Christ, explained Cardinal Calderón. Never before has the Gospel message been preached with such amplitude and intensity, he affirmed. And the fruits of this effort in terms of faith, of Christian life and ecclesial dynamism have been immense. Cardinal Calderón termed John Paul II the "angel of the new evangelization, of the planetary evangelization."

This missionary aspect was also commented on by John O'Sullivan in the April 2 issue of Canada's National Post. The immense gatherings of believers that surrounded the Holy Father on his journeys was evidence that faith "was not a relic of the past," O'Sullivan noted. It was also evidence of "the vibrant faith of millions of young people." He also noted that the Pope's visits to Third World countries coincided with an upsurge of Christianity in general in these countries, to the extent that now European countries are looking to priests and religious from these zones to fill the gaps in vocations due to the "post-Christian materialism" in Europe.

Political influence

John Paul II's influence on world politics has been noted by many. In an April 4 interview with the Spanish newspaper El País, Cardinal Stanislaw Nagy, who was once a seminary companion of Karol Wojtyla's, affirmed that the Pope played an important part in bringing about the current regime of peace and justice in Europe. He played an important part in the development of the Polish movement Solidarity and also in the subsequent fall of the Berlin Wall.

The cardinal's affirmations were supported in an article published the same day by the daily ABC by ex-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. John Paul II played an "enormous role" in ending the Cold War, he stated.

John Paul II's role in bringing down the Berlin Wall was also acknowledged by Hans-Dietrich Genscher, foreign minister and vice chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany from 1974 to 1992. Writing in the April 11 issue of the German magazine Der Spiegel, Genscher stated: "I think we can safely say that the Solidarnosc movement, strengthened by the Pope and protected as a result of his responsible and clear stance, had a major impact on the entire Soviet sphere of influence."

French writer and philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy also reflected on the Pope's contribution to European unity. In the April 5 edition of the Wall Street Journal he wrote that the Pope "was one political and spiritual leader who immediately recognized that the idea that one half of Europe had to be abandoned to servitude was monstrous." The European continent owes its rediscovered unity to John Paul II, he affirmed.

Timothy Garton Ash, writing in British newspaper Guardian on April 4, drew attention to the Pope's impact at a global level. "Pope John Paul II was the first world leader," as opposed to national leaders who have a world impact, he contended.

Pope John Paul II combined three elements, Garton Ash noted; he was the head of the world's largest supranational organization of individual human beings; he believed with unshakeable conviction that his message was universal; and he seized the technological opportunity of bringing that message personally to almost every country on earth.

The Pope's contributions, continued Garton Ash, ranged from his role in ending Europe's divisions to defending the poor in the Third World. And, far from being out of touch in his last years, no one else did more to avert a clash of civilizations than John Paul II. From his own position as "an agnostic liberal," Garton Ash stated: "John Paul II was, quite simply, the greatest political actor of the last quarter-century."

Human rights

John Paul II's contribution to the subject of human rights was examined by theologian Gino Concetti in an article published by L'Osservatore Romano on April 11. Concetti highlighted the contribution made by the Pope in his 1991 encyclical "Centesimus Annus." In this document John Paul II explained that an authentic democracy is only possible when it is based on a correct concept of the human person.

One of the consequences of this is that a democracy, the encyclical explains, should be underpinned by recognition of fundamental human rights. These rights encompass diverse categories: individual, social, political, cultural and economic. The first of these rights is the right to life. And a few years later, in 1995, John Paul II took up this subject in greater detail, in the encyclical "Evangelium Vitae."

Concetti also argued that John Paul II was responsible for formulating a new human right in the international area: the right of humanitarian intervention in a nation where an ethnic community or a part of the population is threatened with genocide. John Paul II, concluded Concetti, was a veritable champion of human rights.

According to Polish philosopher Zygmunt Bauman, John Paul II was a "messenger of liberty." In an article published April 7 in Avvenire, a Catholic Italian daily newspaper, Bauman explained that the Pope never tired of saying to the groups he encountered that they should not be afraid and that they should strive to live in a liberty that allows them to love, free from fears.

Defending women and the unborn

The Pope's concept of women was examined in an interview with Wanda Poltawska, a former professor at Warsaw's Academy of Medicine and a friend of John Paul II for more than 50 years. In the interview with the Italian newspaper La Stampa on April 7, Poltawska explained that from his first years as a priest the future Pope in his work with youth was concerned with preserving the sanctity of love, especially among women, who are more vulnerable.

One of the phrases used by the Pope in his writings on women is the idea of the "female genius." Poltawska commented that the Pope was convinced that a fundamental characteristic of women is the capacity to be mothers. For John Paul II this maternal capacity made women deserving both of respect and love.

The Pope's determined defense of human life was highlighted by Paul Johnson, writing in the Wall Street Journal on April 4. "Humans, albeit fallible and often foolish, were made in God's image, and to take a life, without the strongest possible justification, was an assault on God," said Johnson regarding the Pope's views.

This, Johnson continued, led John Paul II to defend life, whether threatened by abortion, the death penalty, war or euthanasia. Regarding abortion Johnson noted that "It was a sharp sword in his heart which filled him with righteous indignation that, after the world had been scourged for more than 50 years by the mass killings of totalitarianism, anti-life politicians, above all in the democracies, should have set up a holocaust of the unborn."


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Pope, John Paul, Vatican, Death, Spirit, Life, Legacy

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