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Reflection, Looking Ahead Upon Pope's Passing

 Reflection, Looking Ahead Upon Pope's PassingFatherDavid O'Leary, the Tufts Chaplain, reflects on the legacy of thelate Pope John Paul II and what issues the new pope will face.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [04.07.05] Catholics around the world are mourning the death of Pope John Paul II, who died Apr. 2 at age 84 after many years of declining health. At Tufts, Catholics and non-Catholics alike are considering the impact of the pope's 25-plus year rule and how a growing church will continue to evolve under new leadership in the 21st century.

In a Q&A with E-News, Tufts' Father David O'Leary, University Chaplain and adjunct professor of medical ethics and comparative religion, shared his thoughts on the lasting legacy of Pope John Paul II, the issues confronting the worldwide church today, and how the new pope may deal with those concerns.


Father O'Leary recalls Pope John Paul II's visit to Boston in 1979


What will Pope John Paul II's legacy be?

I think you have to have a list of many things. I would agree with the people who are bandying about "John Paul the Great," I think that is accurate, that he'll probably end up with that title officially.

I would say in the top five, his commitment to life has to be up there, not just against abortion but life across the board. Like what Cardinal [Joseph] Bernadine of Chicago used to say: the seamless garment, the consistent ethic of life, from conception to an actual death. He came out with the statement on evangelium vitae; he condemned capital punishment, one of the only popes that came out clearly and literally changed church official teaching on that. When he was in this country on his second time around he lobbied in Missouri, in St. Louis to spare someone from the death penalty. And his strong stance on war, that war can never be justified. That's very big.

[Another strength was] his worldwide presence of reaching out... He made a point of saying, "We're going to bring the church to people, we're not going to wait for people to come into the church." Any place he went, it was unheard of to have outside Masses, that was unheard of, but he pushed for that so more people could see him, more people could be exposed to it. Getting people to live their faith consistently in the world rather than waiting for people to come into the church building.

His strength in dealing with world figures -- many people attribute him with bringing down communism, but at the same point, he recognized the power of communication, that it just wasn't an outright condemnation, but how can we build bridges. What he did in Cuba was just amazing, with Castro. One of the few times Castro ever appeared in a suit [was] in respect for the pope.

Again, not last by any means, but his prayerful stance and devotion when it comes to Mary has to be recognized. His motto, his devotion to Our Lady, even his final word, it seems, according to some press reports was Amen after the rosary was being said outside his window.

What are Catholics going through right now? There's been such an outpouring of emotion. Particularly, what's happening on campus? How have people been reacting?

Students are very affected. There was a very moving Mass on Sunday night, it was a planned bilingual Mass for our Spanish students...The Holy Father passed away and there was a question of should we still have it. The students said, "The pope was a linguist, we should have it." And at that Mass we had more than we normally do, we have usually close to 300 students, we had even more. And it was a very touching outpouring of sentiment.

For this generation, this is the only pope they've known. I've had calls, I've talked with people; this is a moment in time for many people. They are now going to be able to say they remember the pope's passing and the election of a new pope. I'm sure many people will be observing the liturgies on Friday. Four o'clock in the morning is a bit of a challenge, but...

Given the depth of the pope's impact on the world - he emphasized youth, traveling around the globe, world affairs - what qualities will his successor need to have?

The cardinals rely on prayer, rely on the guidance of the Holy Spirit. That being said... there's never going to be an American pope. That would be too much power for the United States. What the cardinals would be looking for is, what's the future of the church, who's going to continue what's already been done. And I think that's going to happen very easily, because of 117 cardinals, John Paul II appointed 115.

What challenges does the church face in the coming century and how should the new pope address these challenges?

I think each country has their own short list of things that they would want to address. In American we have a crisis of sexual abuse, women's ordination issue, married clergy issues, more democracy in the church - those aren't the issues in the worldwide church. Each different geographical area has their short list of problems that they would like to see someone at least know about, recognize, and hopefully do something about. Sometimes we forget that it is a worldwide church and the vision of Rome needs to be one recognizing the issues that Catholicism confronts worldwide.

The church has been growing by leaps and bounds in places like Africa and Latin America. How would this changing dynamic of the world's Catholic population affect the development of Catholicism in the 21st century and how the pope will address an expanding, more diverse flock?

Africa is going to be where we're going to get a lot of our new priests. Before, people from northern hemisphere countries went to Africa as missionaries. I think [now] it's going to be just the reverse. I hope the church, at least the church leadership, the cardinals, will recognize that the church's future is southern hemisphere and not northern hemisphere, so recognizing Latin America, recognizing Africa, I think that would be a profound statement to say. Under John Paul II many bishops and cardinals have been made in South America and Africa, recognizing that fact. That is the future of the church.

In terms of world affairs, the pope had a strongly pronounced view on the war in Iraq, for example. Do you think the new pope will continue this very vocal contribution to opinion on world affairs?

I would hope. I think the world does need spokespeople. I think you do need to have someone who's the voice for the voiceless, someone who doesn't have endorsements on the back of their shirt... You look in the world scene [today and you have] the pope, the Dalai Lama, and that's about it [in terms of people who are] not in it for the money, they're not in it for endorsements. They're trying to raise a moral issue for the people of the world to confront. So I would hope the next Holy Father will be a dominant player on the world scene, not just theologically.


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