Isaiah portrayed John the Baptist as having been "A voice crying out in the wilderness." Surely this is an apt description of another John, another wholly dedicated servant of the Lord. Like the voice of John the Baptist, that of John Paul II the Pope was uncompromising and unwavering. By many of his followers John Paul was also judged to be too uncompromising, too unwavering. These same attributes cost the Baptist his head.
What did they cost the pope? On many moral issues, especially those involving human sexuality, it cost him and his principal advisers the universal and scrupulous compliance of a very significant number of Roman Catholics who believe that the spirit of reform set in motion by yet another John and subsequently by the world's bishops in council, has been seriously frustrated. There can be no doubt that this has, through the years, weighed heavily upon the shoulders of this great man.
It was always within the context of the above dynamic that he grimly warned against the erosion of moral values and the abuse of science. When many men and women were demanding respect for the perceived rights of various segments of society, it appeared that he alone could be heard demanding respect for what he perceived to be the rights of the Creator.
John Paul's often-criticized style of leadership was grounded in his experience as priest and bishop in Poland. We must not forget that he came face to face with both the extremes of the Nazi far right and the Communist far left. He learned that, under such conditions, the survival of the Church depended upon a tightly knit structure with a clear line of command. He carried this conviction with him when he came to Rome from where he successfully pursued his dream of an Eastern Europe set free from Communism's stranglehold.
This then was a pope whose primary focus was the problems of the world not the structures of the Church.
There can be no doubt that he was a world figure of whom we can be proud. History will record the impact of his long-standing loving respect for the Jewish people and of his having won over the Muslim world whose religion he hailed as a force for peace. As Andrew Britz observed in The Prairie Messenger of October 15th 2003: "Only John Paul could visit Morocco and have Islamic youth there cheer him as their own!"
As Canadians we will always remember his visit to Toronto in 2002 when as someone expressed it: "The bountiful energy of youth met the wisdom of the old man who could barely hold his head up."
"Live by the beatitudes," he told them, "the Church expects you to be the people of the beatitudes."
One young person, speaking I suspect for a generation, said to him: "You are a beacon of hope in a world of darkness."
But now, at least for the time being, there is silence in the wilderness.