"Everything Must Change!"
On October 14, 1978, a new era began for the Roman Catholic Church and its nearly one billion adherents around the world. And with it, the curtains were raised on the first act of the global competition that would end a thousand years of history as completely as if a nuclear war had been fought. A drama that would leave no regions or nations or individuals as they had been before. A drama that is now well under way and is already determining the very way of life that in every place every nation will live for generations to come.
On that October day, the cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church assembled in the Vatican from around the world for the second time in barely two months. Only in August, they had elected Cardinal Albino Luciani of Venice as Pope John Paul I. Still in shock at the sudden -- some said suspicious -- death of the man now sadly called the "September Pope," they had convened to settle on a new man from among their contentious and divided ranks who could lead this unique two-thousand-year-old global institution at a time when it seemed in immediate danger of painful self-destruction.
Before and after any papal Conclave, discretion is normally the watchword for every Cardinal Elector. But, on this day, Joseph Cardinal Malula of Zaire did not care who in St. Peter's Square might hear his views about what kind of pope the Church must have. A stocky, well-built man with brilliant eyes and expressive mouth, Malula gestured at the Vatican buildings all around him, then struck a sharp blow against one of Bernini's columns with the flat of his hand. "All that imperial paraphernalia," he declared, "all that! Everything must change.!"
At 6:18 P.M. on the second day of Conclave, fifty-eight-year-old Karol Cardinal Wojtyla of Krakow emerged on the eighth ballot as the new ceremonial papal coronation, John Paul held a press conference for two thousand journalists in the Vatican. On the same day he addressed 125 members of the Vatican diplomatic corps representing over one hundred countries. If such a practice was not unusual in itself, the message on both occasions was certainly new in the all-encompassing international framework that was sketched out. "It is not our business," he said, "to judge the actions of government....But there is no way the dignity and the rights of all men and every human individual can be served unless that dignity and those rights are seen as founded on the life, death and resurrection of Christ....
"The Church seeks no privileges for herself," he went on, "but we do desire a dialogue with the nation." Even though the Church's diplomatic relations with so many countries "do not necessarily imply the approval of one or another regime -- that is not our business." Nevertheless, the Pontiff went on in a sort of summary preview of the scope of his interests, "we have an appreciation of the positive temporal values, a willingness for dialogue with those who are legitimately charged with the common good of society, and an understanding of their role, which is often difficult."
Clearly, this Pope portended more than a soft and appealing personal style in his pontificate; he was pointing early and with startling frankness to a new road of papal internationalism. But what -- or whose -- positive temporal values did he have in mind? And who among temporal leaders did he include among those "legitimately charged with the common good of society"? More pointedly, some began to wonder, who was excluded?
If those questions were not raised in public, they were surely raised in more than one political chancery and boardroom around the world.
Then there was the matter of his ceremonial coronation. Actually, it was not a coronation at all, for he refused to have the papal tiara placed on his head as the symbol that he was now, among other things and in the language of the ceremonial, "the Father of Princes and Kings."
That refusal was not entirely new in itself. His immediate predecessor, the "September Pope," had been the first to break with that ancient custom. Was John Paul II's behavior a sign of defiance? A sign that he had no fear of the fate of the "September Pope"? Perhaps. Was it a soothing democratic gesture after his unsettling policy speeches of a few days before? Surely, there were those who hoped as much.
Popes rarely explain such ceremonial behavior. In his own break with papal custom, however, John Paul gave the most public explanation imaginable. To all those gathered around him in St. Peter's, and to the estimated billion or so people around the world watching on television, the Pontiff gave a glimpse of his mind as Pope, and a look at the vigorous papal policies that would soon prove so troublesome to so many.
"This is not a time," he said, "to return to a ceremony and to an object" -- the tiara itself -- "that is wrongly considered to be a symbol of temporal power of the Pope."
Very soon, his actions and overt policies would illustrate over and over again the meaning of his words: John Paul's firm belief that neither tiara nor the power symbolized by such a thing was an adequate expression of the divine claim he did indeed have to exercise spiritual authority and moral primacy over all those who wield such temporal power in our lives.
About the scope of that authority and primacy he tried to leave as little doubt as possible, that October day. Speaking successively in ten languages, he gave to the world a message that was explicit and direct. "Open wide the doors of Christ. To his saving power open the boundaries of states, economic and political systems, the vast fields of culture and civilization and development. Do not be afraid....I want your support in this, my mission."
There were those in very high places who understood and winced at the global reach John Paul seemed ready to make his own as Pope. Some powerful leaders at the helm of those states whose boundaries the Pope wanted open to him would not be entirely happy to oblige. Hard-driving leaders of economic and political systems he referred to. with their own plans for development well along in the "vast fields of culture and civilization," would not willingly open those fields to this Pope or any other. And not least among those who took the point, and winced, were some among the highest of John Paul's own clergy, in and out of the Vatican.
John Paul anticipated those reactions, and later learned about them in some detail. What seemed more remarkable was the seeming lack of interest demonstrated by the media around the world in what was a stunning glimpse into the heart of the new papacy. Still, if he was worried about either the international concern or the seeming indifference in the media, he gave no sign of it.
Instead, shortly after his election, John Paul gave yet another clear notice of how sweeping he intended his policies to be.
His intention, he said, was "to start anew on the road of history and of the Church, to start with the help of God and with the help of man."
Lest anyone mistake his mind on the subject of temporal power, or perhaps in answer to a worried complaint or two, the new Pontiff addressed the same point again at his first papal Mass. With St. Peter's filled to the last seat by many of the leaders he most intended to reach, he declared: "We have no intentions of political interference, nor of interfering in the working out of temporal affairs....It is not our business to judge the actions of governments."
Fevered diplomatic brows were not soothed, however. The unasked question in many minds was obvious: "But Your Holiness does intend to insert yourself into our temporal affairs -- to cross our political and cultural and economic boundaries. But if not as a wielder of temporal power yourself, in what guise, then, Holiness?"
Apparently, the media at large could still find no way to zero in on what the new Pope might have meant by such statements. Or perhaps they found it dull copy after the death-and-destiny stories of just a few weeks before. Whatever the reason, publicity continued to focus its ever-present lenses on an entire landscape of trivia still to be mined. Everything was grist for the mill, from the fact that he was the tallest of the twentieth-century Popes to the fact that he was the first Pope to wear long trousers under his papal robes, and the first to be an accomplished skier. Even his impressive academic achievements were judged to be better copy than his open notice to the world of what could be expected from him as head of the only power in the world whose organization, institutions and personnel, as well as its authority, crossed all the borders and all the cultures and all the civilizations he had targeted without benefit of tiara in St. Peter's Basilica.
As if to spare the world the boredom of endless stories that were appearing in the media about such things as his three doctorates, in philosophy, theology and phenomenology; or about his ten published books, including drama and poetry; or about his university lecturing, John Paul launched into activities that were the dream of reporters and editors and proved themselves to be sources of fresh material. Stories not of the past, but the present. Stories not of opaque policies they couldn't explain, but of people with faces they could photograph.
Even here, John Paul's activities and gestures began to speak loudly of a new papal approach. Before October's end, he had granted a $375 bonus and a five-day vacation -- from the first to the fifth of November -- to all Vatican workers.
More significantly, he began to shoulder aside the idea that the Pope must dwell within the tranquil golden amber of the Vatican. The idea, so detested by Cardinal Malula, that the Holy Father did not come to see you or your surroundings. The idea that the most you might see of him if you went to Rome would be at public blessings in the luminous Roman airs. There was to be no such constricted, hidden life for John Paul.
For one thing, he refused the traditional use of the papal "We" and "Us" and "Our." "I," he said, in referring to himself in every context and conversation; and "me" and "my," just like everyone else.
Moreover, he popped up everywhere, as if Rome were Krakow and Italy were Poland and he had never left his home or his people. In quick order, he visited the towns of Assisi and Siena. He inspected the papal summer residence at Castel Gandolfo. He worshiped at the mountain shrine of La Mentorella. He traveled to see one ailing bishop and one ailing cardinal in Roman hospitals.
Far from being questioned or criticized, such spontaneous and rapid-fire visibility -- undertaken, moreover, with an obvious zest and personal energy -- was welcomed by the media and delighted the public. Italians -- and Romans in particular -- who, for centuries before this, had invented the very Italian concept of l'uomo in order to characterize the exclusive flair and personal style of an individual, took this extraordinary Pope as their very own.
They loved his public apologies for the few mistakes he made when addressing them in Italian. They loved his obvious delight in their children. They found his independence of mind concerning ancient customs so much like their own attitudes. Quickly they began calling him il nostro polacco -- our Pole. But even this gave way to "Papa Wojtyla": just as Paul VI had been Papa Montini for them; and John XXIII had been Papa Roncalli; and Pius XII had been Papa Pacelli. Pole by birth, he was now Roman by adoption. Papa Wojtyla was theirs.
Whenever he walked in St. Peter's Square, crowds literally mobbed him. In fact, so close were their encounters with him that he often returned to his apartments minus several buttons from his papal robe and with some dozen lipstick marks on his white papal sleeves.
When he went to take possession of the ancient papal church, the Basilica of St. John Lateran, tens of thousands left their shops and offices and homes all along the way to cheer him, to kiss his hand, to ask his blessing. When he took a helicopter to reach the mountain shrine of La Mentorella, he found crowds of men and women who had already scaled that difficult height and were waiting there to greet him.
The delight of the Italian press in all this papal activity was infectious, at least for a while. Many a newspaper in other lands seemed to echo the benign and favorable tone taken by The New York Times in its lead editorial of November 11. "A man," said the Times of Pope John Paul, "who knows himself to be in charge, beholden to no nation or faction, strong without being rigid."
For the moment, Archbishop Rembert Weakland of Milwaukee could find few Churchmen who could comfort him publicly for having rushed too soon to tell the world that "the Italian people were deeply hurt by the election of a Pole as Pope."
Papa Wojtyla's personal innovative style within the Vatican itself did spark a few complaints of unpapal behavior. The ever-alert paparazzi, with their zoom lenses ever at the ready, caught excellent shots of John Paul jogging in the Vatican gardens at 4:30 in the afternoon. Il jogging papale -- the papal jogging -- as his clockwork habit was quickly dubbed, was readily taken by lighthearted Romans to fix the time of their afternoon rendezvous.
When John Paul ordered a 40-by-82-foot swimming pool to be dug at Castel Gandolfo, there were some reproaches about the expense. The Pontiff countered that "a new Conclave would be much more expensive." The deft and smiling implication that even a pope might succumb because of a lack of adequate exercise added an easy personal tone to the publicity that ho one had expected, and that few could match.
As the weeks went on, there seemed to be so much to write about this Pope that was so new, and often so downright entertaining, that no amount of copy seemed to satisfy an ever-mounting curiosity about the uncommon common man who had come to the papacy. Even his work schedule proved to be good copy. His eighteen-hour day caused much rolling heavenward of Italian eyes. The world learned that he was up at 5:00 A.M. That he had a working breakfast, a working lunch, a working dinner, always with guests and always with plenty of documents. That he went late to his bed.
Among those government leaders who were far more interested in John Paul's policies than his publicity were the leaders in the countries of Eastern Europe and their Soviet masters in Moscow. By late October, their worries in particular were raised to a new level by the first orchestrated rumors and speculation -- spread by word of mouth and by authoritative media articles fed from within the Vatican itself -- that this new Pope was going to visit Poland.
In later years, the world became accustomed to the idea of John Paul II popping up in the most unexpected places as easily as he had gone to Assisi and Siena and La Mentorella. But in October and November of 1978, the very thought of a visit to Poland was a bombshell. Preposterous, said some; foolhardy and pointless, said others.
Nevertheless, it was officially confirmed: John Paul's Vatican was "talking with Warsaw." And while it might turn out to be foolhardy, it was anything but pointless. It was the clearest indication of what John Paul regarded, and still regards, as the essential hub of his vision of the new "road of history and of the Church"
Warsaw was not the only bombshell John Paul lobbed, as he went rapidly about installing the new spirit of his papacy. By means of his papal style, and taking the mantle of publicity that fell so easily and so usefully around him as an instrument -- one of several -- he began a series of truly unsettling meetings within the Vatican.
On November 18, he received the dissident French Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre. Lefebvre had been hit with a severe ecclesiastical Roman sanction in 1976, and had been banned from the papal presence. But here he was, as large as life, spending fully two hours in a private and cordial talk with the new Pope. The message was clear for all those who hated the "retrogressive and destructive conservatism" Lefebvre represented for them. And John Paul was serving notice that he was Pope for all Catholics.
The Pontiffs reception at the Vatican of Donald Coggan, Archbishop of Canterbury and the spiritual head of all Anglicans, spread the net still wider. Coggan was the second Archbishop of Canterbury ever to-be received by a reigning pope since the sixteenth century. John Paul's message was clear for all those who hated the liberal, breakaway independence Protestants represented for them: Even those Rome holds to be long-standing heretics remain open to the influence and leadership of the Pope, whose primacy they once rejected.
It quickly became clear as well that John Paul would not confine his message, his influence or his leadership to ecclesiastical matters. Those who had begun to worry that His Holiness intended to insert himself into their temporal affairs were apparently right to do so.
Toward the end of November, the Pope met with four black liberation leaders from sub-Saharan Africa: Oliver Tambo, President of South Africa's African National Congress (ANC). George Silundika of Rhodesia's Zimbabwe Patriotic Front (ZPF) together with ZPF Secretary of Social Services and Transport Kumbirai Kanyan. And Sam Silundika of the Southwest African People's Organization (SWAPO).
It was hardly lost on some who were entrenched in power in and out of the Vatican that John Paul had pointedly and early in his reign decided to meet some of the most powerful challengers to all vested power -- including his own. The question in such minds was: How far was this Pope going to go? The rainbow of startling possibilities they began to see was just beginning to form over their heads. One answer to the question "How far?" was given by John Paul himself. He gave it on December 8, a feast day in honor of the Virgin Mary, to whom he had dedicated his papacy.
There has grown up in Rome a papal custom observed each year on this day commemorating the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mother of God. The Pope proceeds sedately by automobile to the Piazza di Spagna, where the statue of the Virgin stands atop a graceful column. He places a basket of roses from the papal gardens at the base of the column. He gives his solemn papal blessings to the crowds in attendance. And then he returns to the Vatican as sedately as he came.
Not so John Paul.
First, he interrupted the drive to the Virgin's statue with a stop in the Via Condotti -- Rome's version of posh and trendy Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills -- to accept a chalice presented to him as a gift from the Via Condotti merchants. Then, after going on to the Piazza di Spagna and placing the basket of roses at the base of the column, he preceded his papal blessing with a discourse so sweeping and so inconsistent with modern precedent that many there seemed not merely unwilling but literally unable to comprehend it.
He spoke that day of how he viewed human history: "The entire history of man is in fact pervaded by a tremendous struggle against the force of evil in the world....This Pope desires to commit the Church in a special way to Mary in whom the stupendous and total victory of good over evil, of love over hate, of grace over sin, is achieved...."
He announced that day his new principle of religion: for all Christians, yes, but for all mankind as well. "This Pope commits himself to her [Mary], and to all those whom he serves, and all those who serve him. He commits the Roman Church to her as the token and principle of all the churches in the world in their universal unity."
So there it was. His thrust would truly be universal. He really would stake a modern-day claim to that universality that had always been asserted by the Church he now headed. Perhaps because no pope had ever spoken of "a universal unity" shared by all the churches of Christianity, the idea was unintelligible for Roman Catholic Churchmen as well as for the leaders of other churches.
Rome's Communist newspaper, L'Unità -- the name means unity, but not the brand John Paul had in mind -- was quicker off the mark when it came to a clear understanding of the political consequences of such "universal unity" on the lips and as the policy and driving force of a Roman Catholic pope. Such a "universal unity," L'Unità warned, over which this Roman Pope would obviously claim primacy, clearly implied "an interference in the internal affairs of the USSR whose Russian Orthodox Church belongs to no pope."
L'Unità seemed almost alone, however, in its trenchant willingness to look John Paul and his policy straight in the eye. As Christmas 1978 approached, many newspapers appeared content to concentrate on another sort of papal first in John Paul's Vatican: an all-Polish Christmas feast was described in succulent detail. The barszcz; the small stuffed pastries called pierogi; the roast pork; the cabbage and kielbasa and cake: all received lighthearted and sometimes hilarious attention.
With the turn of the new year, 1979, John Paul began in earnest to flesh out his early statement about starting "anew on the road of history and of the Church." In initiatives that were highly visible and depended solely on him for their success and effect, his earlier references to the role of his papacy within the scope of international affairs became a central focus of his most public activity.
On January 9, John Paul's personal representative, Antonio Cardinal Samore of the Vatican's Secretariat of State, succeeded in a dicey bit of international diplomacy at which even the Queen's government in England had failed. At issue was a question of war and peace between two of South America's most important countries, Argentina and Chile. Those two had fought bloody wars before, and were seemingly willing to go at it again -- this time over the possession of the three islands, Nueva, Picton and Lennox, in the strategically important Beagle Channel.
After what amounted to extensive shuttle diplomacy that took him back and forth between the capital cities of Buenos Aires and Santiago de Chile, Samore at last persuaded the two governments to send their negotiators to the neutral grounds of nearby Montevideo, Uruguay. There, under Samore's guidance, foreign ministers Carlos W. Pastor of Argentina and Hernan Cubillos of Chile signed an agreement pledging both countries to demilitarize the disputed area, and to submit to binding arbitration that would be conducted by John Paul's papal envoys.
What stood out as the fascinating element in this Latin American venture were two things. First, that John Paul was willing to commit himself and his prestige in an international arena at the very outset of his pontificate. And second, that without politicking of any kind, but solely because of the religious and psychological prestige of John Paul and his Vatican, two nations backed off from political claims so intense and so laden with history and emotion that war had seemed the inevitable recourse.
On January 24, John Paul dramatically underscored the worldwide ambit he had in mind for exactly that type of apolitical intervention by his unconventional papacy. He met that day in the Vatican with the Soviet foreign minister, Andrei Gromyko. The Pontiff spent nearly two hours in private face-to-face discussion in fluent Russian with the man the Soviets had nicknamed the "Icy Survivor."
Western diplomats who had dealt with Gromyko had always been impressed -- sometimes frightened -- by the cluster of talents he had displayed in negotiations, and by his near-miraculous political agility in surviving nearly forty years of Soviet intrigue and other vagaries of Kremlin life. John Paul, too, was impressed. In answer to a query about what he thought of Gromyko in comparison to all the other diplomats who had dutifully trooped through his private study in the first months of his pontificate, the Pope was undiplomatically candid: "He's the only horse shod on all four feet."
Of more concern for Western governments, perhaps, was Gromyko's interest in Pope John Paul. Gromyko rarely spent that amount of time with any individual statesman. The question in embassies and cabinet rooms and chanceries was: What on earth had they discussed for two hours, this unpredictable Roman Pope and this wiliest of Soviet diplomats? Beyond Gromyko's reference to John Paul after their meeting as "a man with a worldview," the Soviet gave no hint of what had passed between the two of them. Characteristically, it was the Pope, sometime later, who spoke frankly with reporters.
"I welcome any criticism from Communist officials," John Paul said, adding that he and Gromyko had discussed "the prospects for world peace."
Far from satisfying the questions, the Pope's remarks raised concern in certain government and diplomatic quarters to a higher pitch. Why on earth would Gromyko discuss matters of "world peace" -- matters, in other words, that were exclusively of a political and geopolitical nature -- with this Pope who hailed from the Polish backwater? For that matter, why would the Pope of Rome discuss them with this Soviet man?
It was still January of 1979 when, with such questions hanging in the air of international diplomacy, John Paul gave the surest sign that he would not merely set a grand new papal tone for others to pick up. He would not merely say what was to be done by means traditionally used by popes and then leave it to his hierarchy and the faithful to get it done.
That signal was John Paul's first trip to Mexico, widely covered by the media, from January 25 to 30. That trip did begin to reveal something about what the world beyond the Vatican and Rome could expect from the reign of John Paul II. But it demonstrated again that commentators were not prepared for so radical a change as was even then under way, and certainly not for one so quick in coming.
Already well behind the new pace and the new course being set by the Pontiff, the eighteen hundred reporters and commentators assigned to cover this papal trip assumed that the Pope wanted simply to counteract the spread of Marxism -- a recognized target of Vatican and Roman Catholic opposition, after all -- among his clergy and people in that part of the world.
It was admittedly difficult for those covering the trip not to be beguiled by what seemed to be this Pope's public relations instincts, already in full swing during the ten-and-a-half-hour flight from Rome across the Atlantic. Passing over the Azores, John Paul sent his blessing by radio to the Portuguese living there. Flying over the island of Puerto Rico, he chatted with President Jimmy Carter by radio.
Not even his opening words -- "I am come as a traveler of peace and hope" -- spoken during a one-day stopover (January 25-26) in Santo Domingo, were seen as pointing to the new role this Pope had chosen for himself.
It was only to be expected, after all, that he would present himself at this gateway to the Americas as the embodiment of five hundred years of Christianity in the Western Hemisphere. Referring to the fact that Santo Domingo was the selfsame Hispaniola where Columbus had first set foot in 1493, John Paul offered the reminder that "here the first Mass was celebrated, the first cross was placed."
However, speaking later to a quarter of a million people gathered in Santo Domingo's Plaza de Independencia, the Pope began to speak, not of some self-satisfied continuation of old ways, but of something like a revolution for which he wanted to prepare as many as would listen to him. "The present period of human history requires a revived dimension of faith, in order to communicate to today's people the perennial message of Christ adapted to the realistic conditions of life."
Later, in the Cathedral of Santa Maria la Menor, the oldest cathedral in the Americas, built of limestone blocks in the early 1500s, John Paul carried the point further and again applied its pressure to more than his own Roman Catholics. "All Christians," he declared, "and all peoples must commit themselves to construct a more just, humane and habitable world, which does not close itself in, but which opens itself to God."
This combination of traditional religious devotion to the Mass and to the Cross of Christ, on the one hand, and allusions to sweeping geopolitical intentions, on the other, had much the same effect in the world press as John Paul's December 8 commitment to "universal unity." Even seasoned observers were simply not able to take it in.
Things went much the same way in Mexico. Commentators and reporters expected the Pope to talk with his bishops. And they expected his remarks about Marxism and religion. A pope is supposed to do that sort of thing.
But now, perhaps, they had even come to expect the same freewheeling personal spontaneity that had so endeared John Paul to the people of Italy. And sure enough, everyone loved the exotic touch in his meetings with the Indians and campesinos in Monterrey and Guadalajara. He kissed babies and embraced invalids, led crowds amiably in their spontaneous chant, as enthusiastic as for some home-game football match: "Papa! Papa! Rah-rah-rah!" He joined happy crowds in singing a popular Mexican song. He donned all the hats he was offered -- a peasant's straw sombrero, a broad-brimmed ranchero's hat, a feathered Indian headdress. He joined eighty thousand in singing Beethoven's "Ode to Joy."
Given that beguiling dimension of John Paul's performance, most journalists gave the world a folkloric, if not folksy, view of John Paul's entire stay in Mexico. They did, of course, report the Pontiffs conversation of nearly two hours with Mexico's President López Portillo, who, though born a Catholic, described himself as "a Hegelian." And they reported that López Portillo took the Holy Father to visit the President's mother and sister in the private chapel of their home.
The significance of those visits was another matter, however. Nobody raised publicly the interesting question as to why López Portillo, as president of constitutionally anti-Catholic and anticlerical Mexico, should have anything of substance to discuss for nearly two hours with this greatest of Catholic clerics. Or why López Portillo should have taken the personal trouble of escorting the Pope to what amounted to an audience for his mother and sister in a private chapel. At its most serious, the Mexican trip was taken as an exceptional and even overdramatic gesture by His Holiness; and López Portillo's behavior was taken as equally exceptional.
Still, offstage and away from the glare of the press, there were again those who were becoming alarmed over the Pope's ability to command and sustain a high level of world attention for far longer than had been foreseen.
Once back in the Vatican, John Paul was unperturbed by any carping criticisms that did begin to surface. He continued his pontificate with the same personal touch that was so natural to him. On February 24, 1979, in fulfillment of a spontaneous promise he had made to Vittoria Ianni, the daughter of a Roman street cleaner, John Paul solemnized that young woman's marriage to Mario Maltese, a Roman electrical worker. And he continued to step farther along that "new road" he had proclaimed for himself and his Church.
On March 8, he received a delegation of thirty Shintoists, together with their High Priest, a man called Nizo, from the famous Ise Shrine in Japan. No pope had ever done such a thing. Within the Vatican -- a place of venerable protocol and strict emphasis on religious priority -- this extraordinary papal gesture was alarming to just about everyone. Here, without doubt, was an unexpected change in the rules everyone -- friend and enemy alike -- had thought they understood. The gesture was so extraordinary, in fact, that in Japan -- which pays little even in the way of lip service to the religious side of Rome -- and even in religious quarters elsewhere long noted for denunciation of Rome's traditional claim to religious exclusivity, eyebrows began to knit in puzzlement. They, too, had thought they knew the rules.
That same month. Of March saw the publication, with John Paul's permission, of a book of his poetry in Britain, another land not altogether easy in its ecclesiastical relations with the Holy See. In Italy, meanwhile, a translation was prepared of a two-act play that Papa Wojtyla had written in much earlier days, The Goldsmith's Shop, and it was broadcast over Italian radio.
As such a welter of papal interest and activity piled up for all the world to see, opinions about him in the media became almost schizophrenic in their confusion. At one extreme, there were emotional expressions of admiration for the versatility of his character. At the other, there was at least a growing distrust for what appeared to many to be his unpredictability. What there was not, was any publicly expressed understanding or analysis of John Paul's actions in the light of his own early, continuing and exceptionally clear announcements about his intentions. What made that lack of understanding more remarkable was the fact that John Paul was so insistent in his message and that phrases and sentences were turning up as "quotable quotes" -- but as virtually no more than that -- in Italian and foreign news coverage.
"The Church wishes to stay free with regard to competing systems...." "The inexorable paradox of atheistic humanism...the drama of men deprived of an essential dimension of their being, denying him his search for the infinite...." "Market forces alone should not determine the price of goods...." "We must clarify and resolve the problem of a more adequate and more effective institutional framework of worldwide solidarity...human solidarity within each country and between countries...." "The fundamental question of the just price and the just contract...." "The process [of remuneration for work done] cannot simply be left to...the dominant influence of small groups...."
Finally, by dint of repetition, as John Paul's conversations, addresses, discourses -- even his off-the-cuff remarks -- became more and more widely reproduced, the reaction to him began to take on a more cohesive aspect. Early on, one English writer had taken it upon himself to dismiss this Pontiff as merely a Polish bishop elected Pope by "the ingrown minds of superannuated cardinals, and let loose on the complicated world of today."
Increasingly, however, many of his own Churchmen, as well as many in government and power around the world, began to share Andrei Gromyko's far different assessment of the "Polish bishop" as "a man with a worldview."
In reality, as some began to think, this was a man with a perspective so new and a goal so vast that it was far beyond the imagining of a whole array of political and financial leaders who had thought themselves immune in their separate and protected strongholds.
Meanwhile, the public at large appeared to have no such concerns. John Paul's personal appeal for ordinary men and women grew visibly from day to day. The crowds that came from nearby and from around the world to catch even a glimpse of him in the Vatican became so great and so unmanageable that the Pope ordered his regular Wednesday general audience to be shifted from the already vast space inside St. Peter's Basilica to the still vaster square outside his door.
John Paul chose his first Easter as Pope to clarify as deeply and as pointedly as it was possible to do the thoughts and considerations that lay at the heart of all his actions: everything from his marriage of a street cleaner's daughter and an electrical worker, to his meetings with Marxists and Shintoists in the Vatican, to his visit to Mexico, to his coming visit to Poland, already confirmed for the coming June, and the scores of papal trips still in store to every corner of the world.
In a 24,000-word document known, as papal documents generally are, by its now famous first words, Redemptor Hominis, John Paul displayed a depth of thought and consideration coupled with a message that was characteristically simple and startling.
No human activity escapes the religious dimension, he said; but especially important are the activities that constitute the sociopolitical life of men and women wherever they reside. Indeed, the note that dominated and animated that encyclical document was John Paul's insistence that the hard, intractable problems of the world -- hunger, violation of human dignity and human rights, war and violence, economic oppression, political persecution -- any and all of these can be solved only by acceptance and implementation of the message of Christ's revelation announced by the papacy and the Roman Catholic Church.
With the delivery of that encyclical, Pope John Paul seemed to mark a turning point. From that time forward, he did not go out of his way to explain his mind further that he had already done. He did not pause to smooth the ruffled feathers of those who felt he was clearly poaching now on the preserves of others. It was as though he no longer considered it productive to try endlessly to correct wrong impressions, or to widen views narrower than his own.
If there were those who could or would not understand that, even in his simplest statements, he was saying something entirely new, they at least were learning that they were listening to a Pope who had taken it upon himself to break ancient customs. If few could yet know that he had arrived in Rome with a mind already filled with a new and wider and hitherto unimagined role for the successor to Peter, John Paul himself could not afford to wait for the rest to catch up with him. Friends and critics and all interested parties alike could read his Easter encyclical letter. And they could read his actions.
If there were many, whether of good will or ill, whether opposed to Rome or devoted to it, who couldn't deal with the papacy turned inside out by John Paul's innovations, he could only promise much more of the same. And if, finally, as often happens with the greatest of the world's events, the real confrontation John Paul said was already taking place had escaped public notice, then time and great events would make everything clear even to those most unwilling to acknowledge it.
Copyright © 1990 by Malachi Martin