April 03, 2005

Pope John Paul II

It would be a daunting task to top all the countless prose elegies now being written for Pope John Paul II, and it's fairly late right now, so no sense trying. Josh Marshall's short post, I thought, was particularly elegant. So here's just a brief reminisce instead. Back when I was very young and attending a Catholic elementary school, our much-feared principal, Brother Lawrence, had a framed picture outside his office of himself and the pope standing within inches of shaking hands. Apparently the general bustle of crowds swept them both away before they ever made actual contact, but Brother Lawrence, who was usually quite dour and severe, nonetheless quite enjoyed telling the story over and over again.

At the time, being both young and not at all Catholic, I never quite understood the point of his little tale. ("But it's just some guy—and they didn't even shake hands!") But over the years the story and the framed photo have made more and more sense, and it's still the first thing I think about when trying to come to terms with the hold the Church has on over a billion people across the world. Earlier today I took a tour around the Mission San Francisco de Asis and came across a few display photos of the pope's visit to this city back in 1987. One of the pictures was particularly striking: a young boy with AIDS unexpectedly leaping out of his father's hold to throw his arms around the pope's neck as he passed by.

It's a truly heartbreaking moment, not at all bathetic, but the first thing that came to my mind, at least, was revulsion and anger—anger that for years the Chuch has helped expose thousands, if not millions, to the risk of HIV infection with its horrific stance on condom use. It's tough, perhaps impossible, for me ever, ever to forgive that. And it's hard not to see anything other than the most vicious and cheap sort of hypocrisy in an institution that can shrug off an epidemic of this sort so callously, and yet still, still manage to command such love and respect from its victims. Nevertheless, there it was, the 9-year-old boy flinging his arms around the pope's neck, a reminder that there's so much more to the faith that's impossible to sum up, or assess, or forget.
-- Brad Plumer 6:41 AM || ||