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Boston Catholics reflect on pope’s legacy

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SOUTH END — Archbishop Seán P. O’Malley and other members of the Archdiocese of Boston gathered at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross on April 3 to discuss both fond memories and the accomplishments of Pope John Paul II on the day following his death.

“Over the last 24 hours since our Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, has gone home to God, we have seen the outpouring of affection, emotion of Catholics from all over the world,” Archbishop O’Malley said. “I always tell people we’re a family of one billion Catholics and come in all sizes, shapes and colors.”

Pope John Paul II brought unity to the multicultural Catholic Church and will leave not one, but many legacies, including his teachings on the subjects of youth, marriage life and human dignity, he added.

He canonized more saints than any other pope in an effort to spotlight the universal call to holiness, the archbishop said.

“He saw himself as our spiritual father,” he said.

The pope reached out to all people, but especially the young. He attracted many to him, in part because of his sense of humor, he added.

“He liked to joke, and he liked to tease a lot,” the archbishop continued. “Every time I would see the pope and mention Boston, he would immediately say, ‘Rain.’”  The pope’s 1979 trip to Boston was marked by torrential downpours during the pope’s Mass on the Boston Common.

Archbishop O’Malley, introducing Msgr. William Helmick who helped plan for the pope’s arrival, said, “He did a wonderful job, although he dropped the ball when it came to the weather.”

Msgr. Helmick said he was struck by the fact that so many endured the soaking rains to see the pope in Boston. He added that he bought a new suit for the pope’s visit that he threw out one the next day because it had been ruined.

Mary Ann Glendon — a professor Harvard Law School, president of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences and member of the Pontifical Council for Laity — expressed a sense of privilege in living under the pontificate of Pope John Paul II.

“It’s a sad day,” she said. “But I must say when I look inside myself, what I feel is a tremendous sense of gratitude and even celebration of this remarkable pontificate.”

For many people being Catholic had always meant going to Mass on Sunday and trying to be a good person, but the pope called Catholics to more, she said.

“John Paul II gave us a vision that galvanized so many of us to embrace a different vision,” she added. “As a lay person you are to evangelize the world where you work, where you are, not just going to church on Sunday.”

“That message woke up many of us,” she continued. “He used to refer to the laity as the sleeping giant. He woke up that sleeping giant.”

Pope John Paul II also reached our to women, becoming one of the most “energetic” advocates for the international rights of women. He avoided defining the relationship between men and women by extremes — treating them as identical or as different species. He had many female friends and appointed an unprecedented number of women to different offices.

Steven and Kari Collela spoke about how Pope John Paul II affected them personally in their marriage and professionally in their work. Steven works for the Office of Youth Ministry and Kari works for the Family Life Office.

Kari was not raised Catholic and said the pope, along with his writings on women, marriage and family were important factors in her conversion.

“He’s the only pope I’ve ever known,” she said. “It’s hard for me to think about the Church without the Holy Father present. I just have a lot of deep admiration for the Holy Father. He taught me personally what it means to be Christian and what it means to be Catholic — to give all of ourselves, everything that we have for others.”

Steven, speaking for Catholics who grew up during Pope John Paul II’s pontificate, said “We’re more impressed by who he was than what he did. He was one of the few authentic people that young people of the last couple generations could see as a witness. He spoke openly to us. He spoke kindly and lovingly and truthfully as well.”

“It’s interesting that he did not ever create a new message. It was the same message — The good news of Jesus Christ,” he added.

The pope lived the life of Christ, emulating it in his writings and even his death. He challenged all to live without fear and not be satisfied with mediocrity, Steven said.

Rabbi Allan Lehmann, a Jewish chaplain at Brandeis University in Waltham, said, “I join together with people all over the world expressing sorrow and condolences to all our brothers and sisters who share the planet.”

“No other pope in history has devoted so much time and attention to Jews who he described as an older brother,” he added. “Clearly he was determined to turn a new page in Catholic-Jewish relations — to rectify some of the wrongs, to expunge the teaching of contempt from Catholic doctrine and catechisms and charter a new course for the two siblings.”

“He denounced anti-Semitism as a sin against God and humanity,” he continued.

Pope John Paul II was able to undo many years of suspicion and hatred that marked Jewish-Catholic relations and began a new era of mutual respect, dialogue and trust,” Rabbi Lehmann added.

Archbishop O’Malley said he hoped to be a part of the pope’s funeral along with people all over the world who feel an affinity for Pope John Paul II. It will be both a historic moment and an opportunity to say farewell.

The archbishop also mentioned that the Church has steadily grown in the last 50 years in the developing world, saying that the axis of Christianity is shifting south. He speculated that the next pope may be selected from Africa or South America but would not mention any candidate by name.

“I will defer to the Holy Spirit,” he said.

Although he acknowledged that the next pope would face many challenges, especially following the pontificate of Pope John Paul II, he said there is excitement and anticipation in discovering who this next leader of the Church will be.

“He will have his own gifts,” the archbishop assured.

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