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Experiencing Rome with the pope

Molly Acker | Thursday, March 3, 2005

Last year abroad in Rome I had many exhilarating experiences. Living in the “Eternal City,” staying down the block from the Pantheon, being just a short walk from the Roman Forum and Castel San Angelo. The list is endless, but there was one thing that surpassed even the thrill of being able to see the tremendous Vatican regularly.For me the experience of seeing Pope John Paul II is surely something I will never forget. I was lucky enough not only to see him at his weekly Sunday blessings, but also to attend an audience and beatification mass. Each time I found myself in awe in the presence of this holy man.Not everyone is as fortunate to have lived so close. Therefore, to many people the Vatican and the pope seem even more distant than the thousands of miles that separate Rome from America. Right now the Catholic Church in America is in crisis. We are in desperate need for people with religious vocations.This raises questions of why women cannot be priests and why not just allow the clergy to marry. In addition to this problem, we see that some of the priests we do have are sadly sometimes less than perfect. This is not to undermine the many wonderful priests we do have who are capable of changing lives, but the sex scandal in the Catholic Church is a huge issue that has left many Catholic Americans disenchanted with the institution.Further separating many Americans from the Church are what they feel is old doctrine that must be updated. Though the Second Vatican Council opened the door for much discussion on issues we are still concerned with today, there are still stances the Church takes that seem ridiculous to many. It is a constant struggle for some Catholics to choose whether to follow Church doctrine to practice the cultural norms our country has today.Despite the fact that the Catholic Church still has to make great strides and that many disagree with the beliefs and official positions of our current Church leader, few can deny that this man is not a deeply religious man with a presence and charisma that has shaped and influenced many to be better Christians. You may not agree with Pope John Paul II’s stances on war. You may have been angered by his warnings to Americans about the dangers of materialism, selfishness and secularism and his urging to share our wealth with the Third World. You may think he is too conservative when it comes to issues such as abortion, birth control and euthanasia to which he said, “It’s a mistake to apply American democratic procedures to the faith and truth. You cannot take a vote on truth.” But you cannot say this man did not reach the people. Many people argue that he is responsible for the ultimate fall of communism in his native country of Poland.In his own papacy Pope John Paul II has personally encountered more individuals than any other pope to date. More than 17.6 million people have made pilgrimages to Vatican City for his weekly audiences. He has traveled to virtually every country in the world. Pope John Paul II has visited 110 parishes outside Italy, not to mention the 146 in Italy and 317 in Rome. Among the people he has met, he especially tried to connect with young Catholics by holding World Youth Day celebrations, which he has celebrated every other year since 1985.Pope John Paul II has been afflicted with Parkinson’s Disease and has even survived a near-fatal gunshot wound in 1981 yet has nevertheless remained steadfast in all his convictions. He has undoubtedly relied on his strong faith in God as a source of strength throughout these trials which has earned him a great deal of respect. This is a man who has always remained committed to his principles and has refused to back down. We have all seen his health quickly deteriorating lately causing him to undergo surgery and miss his first papal blessing on Feb. 27. Perhaps you do not agree with his positions as a leader, but you must respect this man as an example of how one should live a Christian life of integrity. It seems apparent that this man whom has prayed to God for so much of his own life now needs our own prayers more than ever. I am sure he can tell you better than most how powerful this can truly be.

Molly Acker is a junior humanistic studies and communications double major at Saint Mary’s. She can be contacted at [email protected] views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.