In his latest Word from Rome, John Allen expands on the Holy Father's recent visit to Lourdes.
What we saw in Lourdes, I believe, was the apotheosis of his transformation from "supreme pastor of the Catholic church," to quote the formula in the Code of Canon Law, into a living symbol of human suffering, in effect, an icon of Christ on the cross.Instead of harping and droning on the pope's frail health like so many reporters do, Allen examines it in light of Christ and the faithful at Lourdes and goes on to outline three extremely important points that suggest a deepening in the pope's role in the world today.
First, papal handlers are no longer bothering to deny or minimize the extent of the pope's physical difficulties.In other words, the Holy Father's health conveys a much needed witness of the reality of suffering to a world that spends billions to escape suffering. It illustrates the purpose of Christ's suffering and ultimate victory over death. Yes, the Holy Father suffers even as he leads us, but in that suffering we find Christ present. In that suffering, we paradoxically find strength. Clearly, God still has a profound message to convey through this powerful world figure, Pope John Paul. The Holy Father led us through a remarkable era of growth and vigor as the 20th century drew to a close. Now, he leads us through suffering so that we open the new millennium with a healthy humility and awareness of humanity.
Second, the trip seemed to ratify a theological reading of John Paul's suffering as iconic of Christ's.
Third, the trip put into full public view the unique bond John Paul now has with the sick and suffering of the world.
For all the ink that's been spilled about John Paul the politician or John Paul the globetrotter, in the long run it may be this period of his papacy, John Paul the invalid, that leaves the deepest impression. We may find that 50 years from now, it's not his role in the collapse of Communism that we remember, but these years of decline and public suffering. He... forces us to confront the reality of decline and death.The legacy of John Paul the Great will be a multi-faceted one, indeed. I pray for many more years, but I know that, even centuries after our beloved pope has gone, the Church and the world will continue to benefit from all that he has taught us. He will continue to teach us, and I am honored to have been alive during the pontificate of such a great world leader.