I joined the world in witnessing this morning the most historic funeral in the lifetimes of most of us. Millions (BBC reports two million Poles alone) gathered in the Vatican for the funeral of Pope John Paul II. More than two hundred political leaders paid last respects to the pope.
A woman started the service with a reading from Acts 10 and the mass included readings from the Gospels, singing of Psalm 23, reading the Nicene Creed, singing of phrases in Italian such as “Lord, have mercy on me” brought responses ranging from applause to tears in the crowd.
I was moved to tears several times during the service: for example, at one point the Lord’s Prayer was spoken, and I joined, by myself in the living room but really with perhaps two billion people worldwide. Katie Couric said this is a prayer recited in liturgy of all branches of the Christian faith, and that’s nearly true.
John Paul II was indeed a unifying pope for the people and one who Poles call not only a national hero but a national redeemer, one who is partly credited for the eventual fall of communism, who traveled to 130 countries preaching the peace and hope of Christ with the words, “Don’t be afraid.”
Twice I’ve written long posts about the pope but having problems with blogger, so I’ll suffice to say what I have at this point and know that the world is also writing and listening to one another, as Tim Russert said, whether Catholic, Protestant, Jew, Muslim, agnostic, atheist, Buddist, the turning of humanity from this funeral is a turning inwardly to understand how we can be better human beings, to understand how the pope embodied Christ’s mission to the poor and oppressed and hopeless. We then turn back outwardly toward how we might make the world a better place.
As another observer said, this is not separated by historic event and spiritual. The impact of the pope cuts across those denominational and social lines and helps us see that to be truly human, we live the life that Jesus set out for us, and heed the call of the homily during the funeral, “follow me, follow me.”
As the simple cypress coffin was taken out, the choir sang the Magnificant, a fitting song for a man who took up the cause of women, who as Sister Rita Burley said, was one of the first popes to fully bless and affirm “the genius of women.”
As Darryl Tippens, Todd Bouldin, and I write more about on Wineskins home page and Wineskins Blog, the pope was an incredible human being, social and spiritual shaper of generation. May we all learn something from his life and make it part of the life that we live as we follow Christ.