April 20, 2005
Our PopeBy Thomas Lifson
Pope Benedict XVI instantly became one of the most important figures in the world yesterday. As a non—Catholic, I am in no position to comment on his spiritual role, by far the most important aspect of his job. But his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, has made the papacy a profoundly important institution in the more mundane realms of politics, international relations, morality, and the life of the mind. Everyone is influenced by the Pope these days.
A friend of mine who lived many years in Italy received an ecstatic phone message from a Roman friend yesterday. The Roman, a devout atheist, had joined tens of thousands of others, rushing to St. Peter's Square when bulletins carried the news that the smoke was white. This man, holder of a doctorate from a distinguished American university, was caught up in the sheer excitement gripping Rome, and much of the world. No rock star, monarch, Hollywood idol, or, indeed, other religious figure, could inspire such widespread and profound awe and sheer joy from so many, inspiring them to drop everything and literally run.
Using his cell phone, the Roman called my friend in America, and let the sounds of the pealing bells record on my friend's voice messaging system. Just to share. A few hours later, my friend played the message for me. It was thrilling to hear the excitement transmitted so personally from one who was there in the moment. We both had big grins on our faces as we listened.
None of us is a Roman Catholic.
Despite that fact, we all feel that we have a new pope. He is our pope, too, albeit in a less direct way than for Catholics.
Pope John Paul II was, to put it far too mildly, an extraordinary man. Perhaps part of his greatness is the way he has transformed the throne of St. Peter into a media age phenomenon. Pope Benedict XVI inherits a papacy different than the one Cardinal Karol Wojtyla received, one which has a direct and immediate connection not just to Catholics, but to the rest of us, too.
Let's put our cards on the table. We live in an age of religious warfare. Militant Islam wants to enforce 'submission' (the meaning of its very name) on Western Civilization. The battles fought at Granada and at the gates of Vienna, are resumed, on a global scale now.
Meanwhile, militant secularism, the home grown enemy of faith, is increasingly hostile towards the Biblical roots and derivative institutional structures (notably the family and sexual morality) which are the building blocks of our civilization. America is roiled by the battle, while Canada and much of Western Europe have already surrendered.
We are beleagured, and now we have a new champion.
The Roman Catholic Church is the oldest and largest religious institution in the world. By adhering to doctrinal continuity and defending unpopular (in some quarters) positions anchored in our roots, it stands for resistance to the unseemly haste to change for the sake of change, or for the sake of short term gratification, which characterizes so much of modernity.
John Paul II became the charismatic human embodiment of respect for the wisdom of tradition, for the Bible, and for the willingness to stand up and defend truth, regardless of the pressures for compromise and change. Even those of us who disagreed with him on specific issues adored his integrity, and felt touched by him.
By traveling around the world, being seen face—to—face by more human beings than any other person in the history of the world, John Paul II made the papacy far more immediate and personal than it had previously been. By having the courage to travel to countries oppressed by tyrants, and speaking of truths which endure beyond the passing power of political ideology or despots, he became an instrument of change at the highest level of geo—politics.
By using television, radio, the internet, and the other appurtenances of technological progress, he made himself into a media presence in the information age.
The Pope is a unique actor on the world stage. Now more than ever.
None of us knows how Pope Benedict XVI will use the inheritance he has been granted. But all of us will be influenced by the course he chooses. He is our Pope.
Thomas Lifson is the editor and publisher of The American Thinker.