A terrible loss felt throughout the world

Published 6:56 am Monday, April 11, 2005

By By Jo Bonner
On Saturday, April 3, the entire world suffered a tremendous loss with the passing of Pope John Paul II.
With his death, following a 26-year period as the head of the Roman Catholic Church, nearly one billion men, women, and children in all corners of the globe lost their spiritual leader. In many nations, he was the voice for those who, because of political repression, were not permitted a platform to speak for themselves.
The Holy Father was a man who made an immeasurable difference in the world's path in the last quarter of the Twentieth Century and the first part of the Twenty-First Century. The strength, dignity, and belief in the goodness of man were hallmarks of his entire papacy, and, from all I have read and heard in the past week, they were found within him and his work throughout his life.
While I am not myself a member of the Catholic Church and was never fortunate to meet Pope John Paul II myself, I have met many individuals who had such an opportunity and whose lives were directly impacted by his life and work. In talking with them, and in reading numerous reports of people around the world who knew and worked with the pontiff, it is clear to see how truly remarkable this man was and how moving a meeting with him could be.
He was a man of hope and a man of vision who had developed an insurmountable inner strength which, even after the loss of his entire family during the early years of his life and the perils he faced as a Pole living successively under the heel of Nazism and communism, was unshakable.
That very strength and determination, along with his belief in the power of non-violent opposition, were very important in affecting global events during the past quarter century. Along with the efforts of President Ronald Reagan and many other leaders around the world, he was instrumental in helping to bring an end to the communist regimes which had become entrenched in the capitals of Europe.
If there was anyone who was unsure of the impact of this great man on people around the world, they only had to turn on the television in the days following the Pope's death to see the massive outpouring of grief coupled with the celebration of his remarkable life.
Rome, a city of just over 3 million residents, hosted nearly 4 million additional people from throughout Europe and around the world. Many of these people stood in line for as long as 24 hours for an opportunity to spend just 30 seconds viewing the Pope's body inside St. Peter's Basilica. And large numbers traveled for 30 hours with little food, little money, and no sleep from the Pope's native Poland to pay their final respects.
The crowd assembled on Friday, April 8, in St. Peter's Square for the Holy Father's funeral was an even greater testament to his belief in the goodness of man and their ability to put past differences aside. It was impressive enough that 300,000 pilgrims crowded the square for the 2-1/2 hour service. Even more remarkable was the vast number of foreign leaders and other dignitaries in attendance (by some accounts approaching 2500) who either met or were impacted by the Pope's life – or who simply wanted to show their tremendous respect for this man and his life.
Reuters News Service earlier in the week released a four-page list of the leaders who were to attend. In addition to President and Mrs. Bush and a delegation of members of both the House of Representatives and the Senate, leaders from countries as large as India and as small as Panama sent representatives – in many cases, their heads-of-state.
What made this gathering of world leaders all the more remarkable was that many of them are traditional political and military opponents. Leaders from Pakistan and India, Syria and Israel, and the United States and Cuba were among the hundreds who put aside – at least for one day – their differences and joined together to remember the life of a truly great servant, a servant for his faith and for all mankind.
The weeks and months ahead will be filled with further events important to the history of the Catholic Church. Most significantly, the College of Cardinals will meet in conclave beginning in a few days to select the next pope and the man who will lead the Catholic Church into this new century. Countless books will be written analyzing John Paul II's life, ministry, and impact on the course of global politics.
Time will in due course bring us to each of these events. For now, it is my hope that his life and his leadership will serve as an inspiration for the world for many years to come.
A new path to freedom
While the world was focused on the events of Vatican City, those of us in our nation's capitol took a few days this past week to welcome the new president of Ukraine, Viktor Yushchenko. The hero of his country's "Orange Revolution" just a few months ago, President Yushchenko is the most recent example of a leader swept into power through non-violent revolution.
President Yushchenko also arrived at his position after a series of difficult circumstances, including a near-fatal poisoning by his political opponents. He is truly a symbol of the democratization that is continuing to sweep the globe, and it was an extreme honor for those of us in Congress to welcome him to address a joint session on Wednesday, April 6.
I was extremely impressed by his desire to bring Ukraine into a closer relationship with the United States and other western nations. More than any other comments he made, however, I was struck by one strong statement: "We Ukrainians are a diverse nation. We speak different languages, we practice different religions, and we have different political views. But we all recognize the inalienable, God-given rights of each and every individual. This recognition underlies our unity. This unity underlies our strength."
As with the newly-formed United States of America 229 years ago, the months ahead will be challenging for the people of Ukraine as they struggle to find their footing on the road to democracy. I hope they remember that there are hundreds of nations and millions of people around the world who will be supporting them on this journey.
My staff and I work for the people of south Alabama. Let us know when we can be of service.
Jo Bonner is a congressman for the state of Alabama. His column appears weekly.

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