Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

An anniversary for all of us

by Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor, Inland Register

(From the Oct. 23, 2003 edition of the Inland Register)

(See also Bishop Skylstad’s column from the Oct. 23, 2003 edition of the Inland Register.)

This past week saw the celebration of Pope John Paul II’s silver anniversary as pontiff. The 1978 election made Vatican observers do more than a couple of double-takes (and, for the theatrically inclined, spit takes as well): Not only was he relatively young, but he was – gasp – not Italian. Even better (or worse, depending on your perspective), he was – gasp – Eastern European. Polish, to be exact. Through and through.

And those were the days when Polish jokes were all the rage. There were those among us shaking our heads – we could just hear the standup comics having a great good time with the news that the new head of the Roman Catholic Church was – gasp – Polish.

Yes, the jokes came. And they still come. I suspect the Holy Father doesn’t mind too much – after all, he himself was a performer – a playwright and an actor; California, make of it what you will – once upon a time.

In his younger days he was also an athlete. A poet. A man who lived under not one, but two of the more heinous, crushing totalitarian regimes in human history, the Nazis and the communists. A man who knows from deprivation and hardship. A man who lost his mother when he was just nine years old. A man who knows from personal loss.

This is not an aristocrat born to rule, working his way up through the diplomatic corps, calling in favors, exploiting an exalted bureaucratic connection. This is a man whose childhood friends still refer to by the Polish equivalent of “Chuck.”

So perhaps it is no surprise that he is a man who does not get along by getting along. Who doesn’t seem to much care about making sure everyone likes him. Who is so very difficult to quantify. Whose writings on labor almost border on socialism, and yet who is roundly credited with helping topple the Soviet Union. And yet who has been outspoken in his criticism of Western culture and consumerism.

Who has traveled the world, kissing the ground each time he entered a country, and also made a point of visiting personally the parishes of his own diocese, Rome. He joyously embraces young people, is clearly energized and enlivened by their response to his genuine joy as he interacts with them, while encouraging more traditional, older forms of piety and spirituality, witnessed by the “mysteries of light” he added to the tradition of the rosary.

He is a man who draws criticism and adulation like a lightning rod. And both critics and fans are forced to say, “Yes, but –” because he cannot, will not, be pigeonholed. For better or worse. For good or ill.

Being characterized, pigeonholed, defined – none of those things are part of his job description. He is a man of integrity, of strong opinion, of personal commitment demonstrated by the very public way he has lived his life and his convictions – make of it what we will.

He survived the Nazis; he survived the Soviets; he survived an assassin. He has survived a frequently fractious church, filled with people who of course know far better than he how he should be doing his job.

Thank heaven he doesn’t mind us so much, either.

Happy anniversary.

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