PAUL II: THE MILLENNIAL POPE
Program Air Date: April 2, 2005
Original Air Date: September 28, 1999
NARRATOR: The death of
Pope John Paul II marks the end of a dramatic and controversial chapter in the
history of the Catholic Church, and the conclusion of the life story of one of
the towering figures of our time. The story of the Polish pope, who brought down communism.
MARGOLIS, "The Toronto Sun": He slew a great
NARRATOR: For more than a quarter century, he traveled the world's
stage, a lonely prophet shaking his fist at what the modern world had become.
ALBERTI, Editor, "La Pensee Rousse," Friend: The Pope believes that the 20th century is the most evil of
all of mankind's history.
NARRATOR: The story of John Paul II is the story of a man at war with
the 20th century.
PAUL II: It is we who must choose between evil
SURO, "The Washington Post": The question is, did
he see something that many of us are missing? Is he lost, or are we lost for not hearing him
NARRATOR: Tonight, in a rebroadcast of its award-winning
biography, FRONTLINE remembers
Pope John Paul II
JOHN PAUL II: THE MILLENNIAL POPE
Produced and Directed by Helen Whitney
Written by Helen Whitney & Jane Barnes
VOICE FUGUE: He's a king. He's the chief
priest of the Christian Church ... There is something that happens when we see
this Pope. I'm seeing Peter ...
John Paul II came to the papacy at the age of 58, bringing with him more
expectations, more hopes, more faith in his capacity to do something utterly
transformative than any single public figure in our century.
"The Washington Post": When Karol Wojtyla was elected, he was
created as the first modern man to become Pope. He was the skier, the actor, the playwright, the poet, the
man who had lived through World War II, the man who knew communism, the man who
seemed to know the world around him and to have swum in it, to have lived in
MARGOLIS, "The Toronto Sun": Here was a very masculine figure, a
reincarnation of the warrior Popes of the Renaissance, a man who wasn't a soft
Italian priest who'd come out of the perfumed shadows of a church
somewhere. But here was a vibrant
and macho personality.
Italian Journalist, CoAuthor, "His Holiness: John Paul II": He was the first Pope in history where we see his feet. We see his brown loafers. In Italy we didn't never see the feet
of Paul VI, of John XXIII. It was
always very high. And now we see a
man who counts, who stands very firmly.
DUFFY, Vatican Historian, Cambridge Univ.: On one occasion he
marched in sopping wet, skirted up his cassock, took his shoes and socks off,
squeezed the water out of the socks and hung them on the radiator. And he said "Gentlemen, shall we
get down to business?" And
they were just so entranced by a bishop with balls.
NARRATOR: In the beginning, he did seem to be a Pope for our time, but he would
soon emerge as a man at war with the 20th century, a man of extremes provoking
Novelist: I really feel sorry for, you know, my
brothers and sisters, my former brother and sisters in the Catholic church,
because this Pope is killing them. He's destroying their religion. He's destroying their belief, and he's destroying their faith.
"Canticle" Magazine: He has taken every question this age
asks, and he has answered it, and he has answered it fully. It calls out to the heart. A thousand years from now, people will
look back and they will say this was the age of John Paul the Great.
HYNES, St. Benedict's Monastery, St. Josephs, MN: John Paul is a very holy, charismatic man who is doing a very good job
of bringing down the church as we know it.
CARROLL, Author, "American Requiem," Former Priest: Well, the man is nothing but contradictions. He's the most political Pope in modern
history, but he won't allow priests to be in politics. He is the great protector of the church,
yet seems blind to the way the priest sex abuse scandal under minds the
spiritual and financial health of the church. He is broadly compassionate, yet
seems more concerned with protecting the institution than with consoling the
victims of priestly abuse or changing the clerical culture that made it
possible. He is a defender of the
marginalized and the oppressed yet
he is deaf to the voices of gay people who want only justice. He is devoted to the blessed Virgin Mary. She's at the center of his piety. But he's suspicious of women as
equals. He's contemptuous of,
especially, contemporary consumerist culture, and yet he's the master of the
consumerist media and has become a world celebrity because of it.
anticommunist, a man who succeeded in helping to bring down Soviet communism,
and yet he's profoundly suspicious of democracy. He's a man of tremendous modern sensibility, capable of
being at home with rock musicians and young people, and yet he has staked
everything on protecting a view of the church that has it roots in the Middle
Ages. He's a king, and he's trying
to protect his kingship, and yet he's obviously, very clearly, a man who only
wants to be at the service of the world.
NARRATOR: The story of John Paul II is a journey through the 20th century, its
triumphs and its horrors, its profound changes and deep uncertainties. It is a journey that says as much about
us as it does about him.
NARRATOR: To understand this pope, we must understand where he came from. The Polish landscape bleeds
history. Century after century,
under an unchanging sun, these meadows brutally changed hands: Polish,
Austrian, German, Russian, finally Polish again.
VOICE FUGUE: Poland was partitioned for 125 years ... The past is ever present ...
The Poles live in time more than in space ... There is this sense of having
been wronged by history ... There is a kind of moodiness, a certain undertone
of sadness, melancholy ... This is not a very happy country. The landscape is not very happy ...
You're part of a persecuted, rundown, dominated, colonized nation.
ASCHERSON, Author, "The Struggles for Poland": We think of American history and British history as then, but Polish history
is now. They have had such an
awful two centuries.
ZAMOYSKI, Author, "The Polish Way": The salient moments
of Poland's past are, for most people, those disasters, the disasters of the
last couple of centuries: the disasters of the Second World War, the disasters
of the uprising, the whole martyrology of people who were sent off to Siberia
and chain gangs and things for being patriotic.
And I think
that the Polish psyche, the Polish psychological landscape, is peopled first
and foremost with martyrs. I think
that the Pope feels the collective experience and the collective suffering of
the Polish nation in his bones. And I think that this disposed him to glory in suffering. Poles are quite good at seeing the
grandeur and the glory of a complete catastrophe.
NARRATOR: In Poland the dead are not dead. There is an intimacy between the dead and the living. And no other country is so gripped by
ASCHERSON: It's a Catholicism which broods on
history. Poland is the collective
incarnation of Jesus Christ. It is
the will of God that Poland should be put to death. It should go down into the darkness, and then on the third
day to rise again, to be resurrected and to bring about the salvation of all
nations through its sacrifice.
The nation was
DUFFY: Religion is more than just
religion. It's a key to who they
NARRATOR: Poland's very roads are sacramental byways. Religious processions last for days as Polish priests and
pilgrims reenact Christ's birth, his betrayal, his crucifixion. Here, Poland's suffering is given
meaning at last.
DUFFY: Imagine what it must be like to be a
thoroughly modern man with an immense command of languages, quite widely
traveled, who reads a great deal, who's thought a great deal, and yet to emerge
from a type of Catholicism that seems light years away from modernity. And I think that a lot of what is
mysterious to us in his personality is explicable in terms of his attempts to
heal that gulf.
NARRATOR: Born in 1920 in the shadow of the great Tatra mountains in
southern Poland, Karol Wojtyla lived his childhood days enthralled to the green
countryside and the distant white peaks. He grew up in Wadowice, a small market town at the foot of the
mountains, with his mother, father and older brother, Edmund, in a modest
apartment just across the square from the church.
KWIATKOWSKA, Childhood Friend: [through
interpreter] Wadowice before the war was a town of
10,000 people. It is situated in
the mountains not far from Krakow, about 50 kilometers. We were always running to church. And in church we were praying, usually
to the Virgin Mary. Then again, at
1:00 o'clock, we were meeting on the main market square.
MROZ, Childhood Friend: [through
interpreter] Every time we got together, we used to
sing these songs from our youth highland songs, camp songs, scout songs. His voice was very beautiful, and he
would tap his foot to add a beat to the songs.
JURA, Childhood Friend: [through
interpreter] When he played goalie, he was like a
lion in the front of the cage. He
was handsome. He was wellbuilt and
MOGIELNIECKI, Childhood Friend: [through
interpreter] We admired his discipline, the
discipline that was implanted in Karol by his father
NARRATOR: Karol was devoted to his parents. His mother was deeply devout and wanted him to become a priest. She was ailing and fragile, but still
the adoring center of his life.
interpreter] Karol's mother died. For him this was a great tragedy
because Karol at that time was only 8 years old. I remember that month of May. We were going to church. So she did not see the First Communion of her son, whom she
loved very much.
Poet, "Old & New Testaments": We know that when
she died he was at school, and his father didn't come himself and sweep the
young boy up in his arms and grieve with him and weep with him and tell him how
much he loved him and how he was going to be there for him. This didn't happen. The father sent word by the teacher,
and the teacher told the boy. And
we don't know why that is. We do
know that he found out in a public way from someone he was not intimate with
that his mother had died. And we know
from his classmates that he didn't cry at his mother's funeral.
interpreter] He impressed us with his inner
peace. He believed that this loss
was the will of God. Wojtyla's
flat was on the second floor, and the rooms were in sequence. His mother's room was never used after
her death. The rest of the family
used the one other room and the kitchen. Sometimes when Karol was studying, he would take a break, go into her
room and pray.
The Holy Father
has this special picture, and he always takes it with him wherever he
goes. Oh, he never parts with this
picture, even when he goes on long pilgrimages. There you can see him as a young child in his mother's arms.
NARRATOR: As an adolescent, Karol Wojtyla began to write poetry. One of his first poems was addressed to
his mother, expressing a burden of grief that he had never shared even with his
READER: ["Over This Your White Grave,"
Over this your
the flowers of
life in white-
so many years
how many have
passed out of sight?
Over this your
years, there is a stir
in the air,
death, beyond comprehension.
Over this your
oh, Mother, can
such loving cease?
For all his
LYNN POWELL: She'd been dead for 10 years. He was a young man, but you feel in the poem all the burden of those
years of longing for her, all the years of unrequited love for his mother. And the poem is quiet, but it builds to
this question at the beginning of the last stanza which is really a heartbroken
cry: "Over this, your white
grave, oh mother, can such loving cease?"
I mean, love,
is a it's a burden. It's hurting
him so badly, he almost wants it to stop, his love for her. It's this heartbroken question that he
cries out. It's a moment of
intimacy that, as a reader, I felt moved by to be witness to it.
happened in the next line is a complete shutting down, a complete buttoning up
of the emotions. It's hard to even
say the words "for all his filial adoration, a prayer." You feel that something has immediately
gotten exposed and then shut down, that it's not okay for that vulnerability to
be hanging out there. And that
question, which is probing and expresses confusion and ambivalence it's not
okay, that somehow it has to be chastened.
NARRATOR: When Karol was 12, his brother, a brilliant physician, died of scarlet
fever. Nine years later he lost
MROZ, Childhood Friend: [through
interpreter] Karol came back from work and saw that
his father had died. He was
stricken and kept saying, "I wasn't there when my mother died. And now I have not been there when my
father died." Karol stayed up
all night, praying by the bed where his father lay. He showed the same resolute calm, accepting these blows
unquestioningly, saying, "This is God's will."
NARRATOR: He was 21 and completely alone in the world.
LYNN POWELL: In the Pope's poems, he talks about how solitude is good because no one
can take that away from you. It's
a refuge. It's the one last
retreat. And if in that solitude
you find God, then there's an incredible fulfillment there because if you're in
love with God, in this place that is remote and inaccessible, you're really
NARRATOR: Much later, as Pope, his love for these mountains, his passion for
Poland, would compel him to return. He said that he had to come back, to find himself. Only here could he touch the truth.
Vatican Correspondent, "Time": It was in June of
1979 that the Pope made his first trip to Poland after being elected Pope. He evoked such a response, especially
from the young people. I remember,
that night in Poland, the children kept joking with him, and he would joke back
But the most
touching moment of that day was when they started singing an old Polish folk
song about the mountaineer who loved his mountain so much, but now he's gone
and he can't come back. I don't
know if there really were tears in the Pope's eyes, but I was sure there were
because I there were almost tears in my eyes at that moment, to see this man
who is so Polish, so deeply rooted in his homeland, and who had had to give it
all up for the rest of his life to come and serve the church in Rome.
GEBERT, Founding Editor, "Midrasz": This is the first
bishop of Rome since Saint Peter who grew up among Jews, for whom the Jews are
not a theological abstraction or a removed and alien people, but his friends,
LEVINE, Conductor, Friend: And he lived in a house with a Jewish
landlord, and he played soccer with Jewish kids. Jews were for him his playmates. When the Holocaust murdered those boys, they weren't
statistics. They weren't people
that he knew at a distance, they were his friends. They were people who were part of his life.
And I have had
the profound sense, in all his dealings with me, that there is this incredible
gulf there. There is this void
there of the people who were killed whom he knew. So when he talks about the Holocaust it it is real. It is palpable.
GEBERT: For him, the Shoah is not history. He was there. He was present at the scene of the crime. And this has marked him for life. He could not fail to ask, "How could this have happened in
Europe after 2,000 years of Christianity?" And he had the moral courage to look into his own faith and
the history of his own religion and see there some of the elements that made
NARRATOR: The trouble between Christians and Jews goes back nearly 2,000
years. Poland's charged and
complex place in that history makes the Pope's journey all the more remarkable. Karol Wojtyla was an altar boy in
Wadowice when Cardinal Hlond, the head of the Polish church, had his pastoral
letter on the Jews read throughout the country.
READER: [Cardinal Hlond's letter] "It is a fact that the Jews deceive, levy interest, and are
pimps. It is a fact that the
religious and ethical influence of the Jewish young people on Polish people is
a negative one. There will be a
Jewish problem as long as the Jews are fighting against the Catholic Church,
persisting in free thinking, and are the vanguard of godlessness, Bolshevism
HERTZBERG, Author, Visiting Professor, NYU: The world that young
Wojtyla grew up in I remember very vividly because I was a little child within
it. Lubachov, the city in which I
was born, is not far different from the town some kilometers over in which he
was born. My last and most vivid
memories of Poland are running repeatedly down through the town square towards
the house in which we lived, with these little Polish kids chasing me, wanting
to beat me up because I was a Christkiller, calling me "parszywy Zyezie", "Dirty Jew."
NARRATOR: In 1938 Karol Wojtyla moved to Krakow to study Polish literature at the
university. He came to love this
ancient city of crooked streets, of light and shadow. A year later the Nazis marched into Poland.
In the fall of 1939, after the Germans entered Poland, the first victims of the
German terror were the Polish intelligentsia. The first mass executions didn't were not those of the
DAVIES, Historian, Oxford Univ.: Wojtyla would have seen the killings,
the segregation of the Jewish population from the rest of the population.
KWIATKOWSKA, Childhood Friend: [through
interpreter] We knew about the ghetto. Any person was aware of that. This was everyday life.
ASCHERSON, Author, "The Struggles for Poland": He saw around him the Jews being destroyed.
DAVIES: Poland was the racial laboratory of the
Nazis. This is where they started
to put their abhorrent theories into practice.
ZAMOYSKI, Author, "The Polish Way": The enormity of
it. The war was a kind of crime
against human dignity. It wasn't
the question of how many people got killed, it was how it was being done to
them, what was being done to their minds, to them as people. And I think that's a very strong
element in the Polish experience of war, and I think that's one that
reverberates through the Pope's teachings very strongly. I think he has an incredibly strong
sense of the dignity of human beings and how fragile this can be in times of
war, any war.
NARRATOR: When the Nazis invaded, they closed the university in Krakow and other
institutions in an attempt to destroy Polish culture. Professors were arrested and shot. Karol Wojtyla helped organize a subversive underground
theater. He was a leading actor in
plays that celebrated Poland's history and language, a form of opposition for
which he, too, could have been executed.
KWIATKOWSKA, Childhood Friend: [through
interpreter] Was it dangerous? Yes, of course, it was dangerous,
because at that time, when we were meeting it was clandestinely, undercover, in
different places. We were not
fighting using guns and ammunition. We were fighting using our own words.
Poet, "Old & New Testaments": We know that the
Pope as a young man during the war worked in a quarry. It was harsh work. It was backbreaking work. He saw how the men around him
suffered. It was a difficult place
to keep going and to labor. I
thought those poems of that time would somehow be wrestling with the events of
that moment in history and in his life. And at first I thought, "But they're not." None of that drama was documented in
the poems at all. The poems were
celebrating an interior life of being in communion with God. [www.pbs.org:
Study his poems]
READER: "I thank you for giving the soul a place far removed from the din
and clamor where your friend is a strange poverty. You, Immeasurable, take but a little cell. You love places uninhabited and
LYNN POWELL: The world around him is one of absolute loss, absolute unpredictability
and evil and uncertainty, so God is a refuge. And the poems seem like a fleeing to God. These lines were written a few miles
from Auschwitz, during the darkest moment of human history. He must have been struggling every day
with "How do I respond to what is happening around me?"
NARRATOR: Karol Wojtyla's vocation to the priesthood took shape during this dark
time. As Pope, he would reflect on
this crucial period in his memoir.
READER: [Karol Wojtyla's memoir] "In the face of the spread of evil and the atrocities of the
war, the meaning of the priesthood became much clearer to me. It was like an interior
illumination. One day I saw this
with great clarity: The Lord wants me to become a priest."
LYNN POWELL: People were making different choices. He had friends who had gone into the underground and were
building bombs as a violence against the Germans. There were nuns who were forging passports for Jews and
ferrying them from hiding place to hiding place. He himself had gone into an underground seminary and was
risking his own life by being involved in illicit spiritual activity.
NARRATOR: The war raged on. Neighbors
disappeared. Children were marched
off. Catholics in Poland and
Europe looked to the Vatican for guidance. Could they help? Should they? But Pope Pius
XII remained silent. He feared
denouncing the Germans would risk more Jewish lives. He privately tried to help Jews, but the Vicar of Christ did
not speak out even when the Nazis stormed the Jewish ghetto just across the
river from the Vatican.
SABAN, Univ. of Rome: And this silence was something which I
think made the Jews suffer even more because it made them feel that they were
abandoned by everybody, even those who kept proclaiming the generous sense of
humanity and all those aphorisms that come together with the teaching of
NARRATOR: The silence was everywhere. The world turned its back on the Jews. In Poland, all of Warsaw watched as the Nazis set fire to
the ghetto. Just outside the
ghetto walls, some Poles watched as they rode a carousel the Nazis had built .
SZCSZYPIORSKI, Author, Polish Journalist: [through interpreter] I
used to pass by the carousel. At
the time, they were closing the ghetto down. On one side there was the Aryan side and the carousel. And on the other side there was the
ghetto. You could see the houses
being torched, the houses aflame. You could hear the screams of the people, the grenades exploding, the
machine guns. The smoke was
covering the whole city. The sky
over Warsaw was dark from the dark smoke.
EDELMAN, Warsaw Ghetto Survivor: [through
interpreter] I was in the ghetto while it was on
fire. I could see people jumping
from windows in order to avoid being burned alive. On the other side of the wall, I could hear the carousel
going 'round and 'round.
interpreter] The girls were screaming and laughing,
and the boys were screaming and laughing the fun that they were having against
the background of the ghetto dying.
NARRATOR: The image of the carousel haunts the Polish psyche.
READER: ["Campo dei Fiori," Czeslaw
Milosz] "I thought of the Campo dei Fiori
in Warsaw by the skycarousel one clear spring evening to the strains of a
carnival tune. The bright melody
drowned the salvos from the ghetto wall, and couples were flying high in the
wind from the burning would drift dark kites along, and riders on the carousel
caught petals in midair. That same
hot wind blew open the skirts of the girls. And the crowds were laughing on that beautiful Warsaw Sunday."
interpreter] The image of the carousel is a symbolic
one for the epoch. And I think it
is symbolic not only for the epoch of the Holocaust, but for the century we've
just lived. For evil to occur, to
take place, you simply do not have to do anything. It will come of itself. To do good, you have to be active. In other words, you have to do, to act. When nothing is done, evil comes of
HERTZBERG, Author, Visiting Professor, NYU: I've asked myself
over and over and over again, "How would you have behaved if you had been
in Poland during the Holocaust? Would you have defied the Nazis? Would you have gone off into the woods to try to join an underground
group? If you had been at
Auschwitz, would you have tried to collaborate a little bit or make a few deals
to stay alive a little longer?" And I don't know the answer.
And so I think
about young Mr. Wojtyla, who is going to become the Pope eventually, but he
doesn't know this yet. He lived a
quiet life. He did not defy the
Nazis in any overt way, and he did not, in any of the stories that have been
told, do anything to save Jews.
NARRATOR: When the war was over, 6.5 million Poles were dead, nearly half of them
ASCHERSON, Author, "The Struggles for Poland": The devastation was enormous. A fifth of the entire population was killed during the war or died of
interpreter] In every Polish family someone was
killed. There were no tears enough
for the Jews.
Filmmaker, "Les Justes": The Jewishness in Poland was
killed. Disappeared completely.
HOFFMAN, Author: There is a
sense of the enormous presence of absence.
interpreter] I think what you find with the Pope you
find among many thinking Poles, the sense of guilt that we have not done as
much as we could have done.
HERTZBERG: He must be asking himself the question,
"Why did you live so quiet a life?" And the proof of it to me is that immediately after the war,
as a young priest and then soon a young bishop, he was remarkable, in a Polish
church with a still-living, vehement, antiSemitic tradition, for befriending
He helped get a
few kids out of convents and monasteries where their parents had hidden them
and then they never came back, helped get them back to their Jewish
families. He did a number of
things which gave him among the Polish Jews who survived the reputation of a
friendly human being.
NARRATOR: Three decades later, October 16, 1978, Karol Wojtyla becomes Pope John
Paul II, the first Polish Pope and the first non-Italian to be elected since
the 15th century. Within a year he
traveled to Auschwitz, bringing his white robes and the power of his office to
purify the bloodstained place.
JOHN PAUL II: [subtitles] This sign is a reminder of the country whose sons and daughters were
given to extermination.
NARRATOR: It was only the first of his dramatic gestures towards the Jews, a first
step in coming to terms with his painful past. He faced that past again in 1985 when a filmmaker a Polish Jew came to the Vatican to interview him for a documentary about
gentiles who had helped Jews during the war.
Filmmaker, "Les Justes": I didn't ask him if it's true that he
saved Jews, that he helped the Jews, what he did at that time of the war,
really. I had testimonies, people,
of Stanislaw Gibisch, other people, his Jewish friends, the son of the
advocate, of the lawyer, Kluger. But I never ask him.
So when I
arrived, he said, "Ah, here you are. You came from Paris?"
"You had a
lot of Jewish friends," I asked, "before the war?" He said, "Yes."
I said to him,
"And all of them were killed?" And he changed. He said,
"Yes. It's horrible. Right. They were killed."
And I told him,
"But some of them survived. They were saved." He
said, "Danken Gott."
Then I asked
him the really question, "And you, Holy Father, you did something for
them?" And then his face
changed, and he said "I don't believe I-- no. No," he said.
And I was so
surprised because, in my mind, I believed that he's going to tell me a story, a
story that he was he was preparing the false papers, passports for the Jews,
because I heard that, because people told me about that.
And he told me,
"No," so I was
stopped. I didn't knew what asking
more. And the all my interview was stopped, was
finished, finished only with this gesture. He took me in his arms like a brother with a very bad,
guilty feeling. And I was very
frustrated. Very frustrated.
NARRATOR: In April, 1986, John Paul made his historic visit to the Roman
synagogue, ready to acknowledge the wounds inflicted on Jews by Christians and
to reach out to them as equals, calling them "our elder brothers."
VOICE FUGUE: It was the first time that any Pope had ever gone into the synagogue in
Rome ... It was like a sort of apparition ... It was a bold move for the Pope
to be in a totally Jewish environment and to pray to a common God ... This was
something absolutely unheardof.
Italian Journalist, CoAuthor, "His Holiness: John Paul II": We understood that the presence of the Pope there was putting the seed
to the act of repentance.
HERTZBERG, Author, Visiting Professor, NYU: This man has gone
the journey to unlearning whatever antiSemitism might have been breathed into
him, has gone the journey to wanting to make an end of the age-old quarrel with
Jews-- not merely the Holocaust, but the whole of the Church tradition of
NARRATOR: John Paul's repentance was more than symbolic. He supported a powerful pastoral letter which denounced
antiSemitism and was read throughout all the churches of Poland.
GEBERT, Founding Editor, "Midrasz": Anti-Semitism is a
sin, a very clear and unambiguous statement he has made time and time
again. One cannot be an antiSemite
and a Christian at the same time. One has to choose. One of
my friends, who happens to be a priest, told me that since the Pope had said
this, that antiSemitism is a sin, he has heard people confess it as sin in
confession. This is no small thing.
NARRATOR: The pope continued his searching journey for
reconciliation. In the year 2000,
he placed a prayer of penitence in the crevice of the western wall, during his
historic visit to Jerusalem.
However, the Pope's journey towards atonement was
not without missteps. Jews were offended
by his embrace of Austrian president, Kurt Waldheim, after questions had been
raised about his involvement in war crimes. Jews were also troubled by John Paul's choice of
saints. Among the Pope's most
controversial decisions was the canonization of Maximilian Kolbe, a Polish
Franciscan monk who died at Auschwitz.
GEBERT: Auschwitz was a lesson to humanity that
man is nothing, man is manure that just happens to be walking in the
light. Kolbe's answer to that was,
"This is not true, and I can prove it's not true." And he did. What Kolbe did in Auschwitz, he volunteered to replace a
prisoner who was sentenced to death, and died himself.
But Kolbe has a
big biography behind him. In
interwar Poland, he was the editor-in-chief of an extremely popular Catholic
weekly called The Knight of
the Immaculate that was an
antiSemitic rag that spilled hatred and venom, poisoned the minds and hearts of
thousands upon thousands of Catholics who believed in this teaching of hatred,
teaching of contempt, because it came from the institutional church, indeed
from the Franciscan monks, the very example of love.
EDWARD CASSIDY: What he was writing at this time was
probably what everyone was saying. You go back to the teaching of contempt that he was probably I've never
seen any of his writings. I don't
know anything about them, but was he not just writing what people what
Catholics were writing and feeling at that time? What we are saying with the saint is, of course, that we
believe that that person is in Heaven, in paradise, and that something in a
martyr, something in his life it could only be at the last moment that it
happened, but that was enough.
GEBERT: Possibly Father Kolbe changed his mind
at Auschwitz when he saw the logical, unavoidable implication to his
teachings. I would hope so. Does this annul the teaching of hatred? How many Jews were denied help in
Poland hiding from the Nazis because people had read and had believed The Knight of the Immaculate? And this, too, is something that is part of the moral accounting that
Father Kolbe probably did in his own heart, although the Catholic Church should
have done when declaring him a saint.
NARRATOR: In 1998 the Vatican finally released the Pope's long awaited letter to
the Jews, one of the most dramatic documents of his papacy. It declared that the 2,000-year
relation between Christians and Jews was a tormented one. It acknowledged the failure of
individual Christians to stand against the slaughter of Jews during World War
II. It questioned whether
anti-Judaic Christian teachings had contributed to the Holocaust. Welcomed by Jews and Christians alike,
it was also criticized for not directly condemning the Catholic Church itself. [www.pbs.org:
Read the Pope's letter to the Jews]
CARROLL, Author, "American Requiem," Former Priest: The paramount issue is the 2,000-year-long tradition of Christian
contempt for Jews. That is what
must change. John Paul II
understands the importance of this change, I believe. He's been inhibited in his inability to go perhaps even as
far with it as he'd like to, I think mostly because he has an idea of the
church that doesn't admit easily the idea of change to it, and doesn't admit
the idea of failure and of sin.
DUFFY, Vatican Historian, Cambridge Univ.: The obvious fact
that Catholics have been, in their millions, antiSemitic and that Catholicism
has been responsible for many of the atrocities against the Jews and for the
whole antiSemitic tradition he knows that, and he's anxious to acknowledge
But for him
there is an important theological difference between what millions of Catholics
have done, the sins they've committed against the Jews, and what the church has
done. The church is the spotless
bride of Christ and does not commit sins. The institution staffed by sinful individuals does commit sins. But that theological distinction is
something that, at the cost of plausibility in the modern world, he's
struggling to preserve.
LEVINE, Conductor, Friend: An idea was born in my mind. A concert to commemorate the Holocaust,
done in Rome, to which the Pope would be invited, would be a wonderful thing to
do. I asked my motherinlaw about
it, my touchstone in the Holocaust, because if she had said it was not a good
idea, I wouldn't have done it. And
she said, "If it really could happen it would be unbelievable. It would be a miracle." And I went to Rome, and I raised the
issue with his Holiness, and the answer came back in two seconds, "Va avanti" "Go forward."
mother-in-law is from is Kardina, Ostrowa, which is in a direct line from
Krakow to Wadowice to the Czech border-- very close. They are from the same part of the world. And when they met, they spoke in
Polish. And my mother-in-law
looked up at him in a way that only they could talk to each other because only
they had lived this experience.
He reached down
into her soul, which was seared and charred with the ashes and with the smoke,
the way she described the chimney and the and the smell. And she was in Auschwitz for 18 months
or 2 years, she wasn't there for a month. And she smelled this, and she lived it. And for him to be able to say, "I know" I mean
just, "I know. I
understand. I believe
you." This was a transforming
experience for her.
HERTZBERG, Author, Visiting Professor, NYU: He must defend that
which he has been called and he believes certainly by divinity itself to serve
the Church. And on the other hand,
he has to make peace with the wounded people, tortured people, the beatup
people as it has never been beaten up in all its history, the Jews the Jews, so
many of whom he knew as a child in the town in which he was born, and that
Polish town which was full of Jews, some of them his friends. And so there is the Tazhizma. There is the hurt and the heart, I
visitor to the Kremlin reported that Joseph Stalin once asked dismissively,
"How many divisions does the Pope have?" In 1945 Karol Wojtyla was a young seminarian and just
starting the long journey that would one day answer Stalin's question.
DAVIES, Historian, Oxford Univ.: In 1945, when the Second World War
technically ends in Poland, the incoming Soviet army liberates some groups of
people but begins to oppress the general population, in some ways more harshly
than it had happened before.
People in the
West don't have any idea of the number of people who died after the war. Tens of thousands were rounded up and sent
either to the gulag or to prisons in Poland. These totalitarian conditions steamrollered everybody. It threw them on their inner
psychological and spiritual resources. And as we know in Poland, that inner resistance proved much stronger
than communism itself.
ASCHERSON, Author, "The Struggles for Poland": The Pope's interest in politics developed quite slowly and late. He came out of the occupation, I think,
in a state of not exactly denial, but I think he wanted to withdraw in
NARRATOR: Young Father Wojtyla did wanted to withdraw into a monastery, but his
superiors felt that he had other gifts and sent him into parish life. He led his students on treks into the
wilderness. Some of the future
leaders of Solidarity were on those camping trips, where they say Wojtyla
taught them openness, honesty and intellectual toughness.
TARNOWSKA, Friend: [through
interpreter] He was all man! And as a woman I can say this. He was 100 percent man. But he was not a bachelor looking for
girlfriends. He was a Father, but
he was also not a priest with a sweet tone of voice and, you know, so pious and
shy or selfcontained. No.
TARNOWSKI, Friend: [through
interpreter] Although he was friendly, he was
lonely. Definitely, he was a
lonely person. He would leave the
group suddenly, going aside and having his prayer time. I remember these times when he was
suddenly leaving to concentrate and to pray. Then when he came back, he was charged, charged with a kind
of energy, great intensity.
ASCHERSON: As a priest in extremely difficult
times, he had to look at the question, "What was your relationship to the
communist state going to be anyway?" What should you do?
follow the great Cardinal Wyszynski, the primate. You could go into the complex business of negotiating
concessions here in return for some concession from the state there, and be
really intensely political but all the time compromising.
Certainly not a
pretty sight to the Vatican, who although people don't like to remember that
now, the Vatican thought Wyszynski was a collaborator. They poured abuse on him because they
thought he was selling out to the communists. Little did they know that, in fact, what he was doing was he
was digging the church into a position in which not only it would survive, but
of course, it would eventually be much tougher than the communist state.
NARRATOR: 1966 was Poland's millennial year. Primate Wyszynski organized a series of pilgrimages as a display of
Catholic strength. He sent
Wojtyla, now Archbishop of Krakow, to churches throughout the country.
In this period,
Wojtyla developed his political gifts. The actor now learned to speak to the nation. The director of small underground plays now mounted vast, complex
productions fiercely resisted by the communists. The poet supported freedom of expression for writers and
intellectuals. The altar boy
negotiated with the communists and won permission to build new seminaries and
DAVIES, Historian, Oxford Univ.: At the time, it was thought that
Wojtyla was more accommodating than Wyszynski. Wyszynski had the reputation of the doughty fighter who had
refused to cooperate with the Stalinists, whereas Wojtyla was thought to be
rather less confrontational, easier to do business with.
It only shows
how little communists understood the real nature either of Polish traditions or
of the man, that Wojtyla could be warm, friendly, accommodating on the surface,
but an iron determination under the surface.
ZAMOYSKI, Author, "The Polish Way": If you lived under
communism in Poland in the '50s, in the '60s, there was grayness
everywhere. There were halftruths
everywhere. There were lies
everywhere. Everything you ever
read was full of them. And I don't
mean just falsifications, but fundamental, deep, nonsensical lies. And you were surrounded, in fact, by
lies and nonsense.
This gave the
great spiritual truths tremendous importance. It meant that you did grasp at the unchanging and the real
and the most fundamental messages in religion. You wanted the truth, the unadulterated, brutal truth. And I think that that is
why he finds it both necessary and easy to hit out with those absolutes.
NARRATOR: When he became Pope, John Paul's first words for his countrymen were
absolute and uncompromising. "Be not afraid," he said, and a year later he returned to
Poland like a conqueror. Huge
crowds pushed communist police to the side as the Pope made his triumphal
progress through the streets of Warsaw.
ZAMOYSKI: The Pope's first visit to Poland after
he had become Pontiff was an extraordinary historical event in Polish history.
ASCHERSON: There was a moment when I felt that I
understood what it was that he was doing to people. Something was happening, in the sense of a current was
running between him and the crowd. And it wasn't just that he was saying, "I know that Poland is
occupied by an alien power. I know
that you want to be free. I want
you to be free." It wasn't
I saw that what
he was doing was he was holding up a mirror to each individual person. Each person got the impression the Pope
was really speaking to them, that he was exclusively available for them. And you're dealing with a society here
which had been through 30 years of anonymity, 30 years of being a mass in which
their individuality had really been discarded.
matter to anybody as persons. And
the result, of course, was overwhelming because people felt, "He knows
that I am me. For the first time I
am hearing a public voice speaking my language, saying that I exist." In a way, it's the language of human
rights. It's to say each
individual is irreplaceable.
ZAMOYSKI: He suddenly turned up amongst these
people and said, "Look, don't be afraid." They just looked at each other. And there were so many people there. And suddenly people stopped being afraid. It was like the beginning of the end of
the Roman Empire. It was like a
pinprick that burst the bubble. After that, there was nothing that could be done. And that gave the strength for
Solidarity and for the destruction of the whole communist system.
BLAKEMORE, Vatican Correspondent, ABC News: Solidarity blossomed
after that first trip. The Poles
had felt themselves as a national unit, and they knew that they now had
power. And when the Pope left, the
priests and bishops who could now imitate him knew how to continue organizing
MARGOLIS, "The Toronto Sun": We saw the remarkable incidence of
labor unions and workers starting to strike and protest against the communist
regime. It also became clear to
me, from my own news sources, that the Vatican was suddenly taking a forward
position in this and an aggressive position, whereby the church was using its
very considerable financial resources to back and fund Solidarity.
I found that
the church was, in fact, doing this and established a very elaborate system of
raising funds and channeling them, diverting them and moving them around to
bring them ultimately to Poland. And the result of this was suddenly the Solidarity movement had
financial power. Its people were
able to strike in protest.
The Pope left
no doubt whatsoever that he was personally challenging the communist system and
doing what the communists had long feared, and that was using the enormous
moral and, dare we say, financial authority of the Vatican to attack the
communists at one of their weakest and most vulnerable points.
NARRATOR: The season of joy and freedom did not last. In December, 1981, General Jaruzelski, the head of the
Polish Communist Party, ordered tanks and soldiers to move on his own people.
It's difficult to convey to someone who hasn't lived through the time the grim
reality of martial law, when people were put in prison, when hundreds of people
were interned, when there were tanks and armored vehicles posted on almost
every street corner.
NARRATOR: In 1983 the Pope returned to Poland during this charged, dangerous
time. He had come to reassure his
countrymen and to confront the government.
BLAKEMORE: And so we're all looking very closely
when Jaruzelski and the Pope come out for their first public formal
meeting. And the camera pans down,
and you realize that Jaruzelski is standing there, his knees are
trembling. And we all searched for
himself ultimately said, "Those were the classic, cliched trembling knees
in front of something I knew was extremely powerful." The Pope had this kind of authenticity
of nationhood, so that even Jaruzelski himself was put on notice that he was in
front of the master.
SZCSZYPIORSKI, Author, Polish Journalist: [through interpreter] I
have absolutely no doubt in my mind that his pontificate was responsible for
the downfall of communist rule worldwide, because Poland, in a way, set the
pace. It was the little stone that
started the avalanche.
NARRATOR: It had taken decades, but the lonely seminarian had finally answered
Stalin's question. The Pope's
battalions were human and of the spirit, but they were legion.
But John Paul's
victory would not last. With the
fall of communism, Poland, his heroic country, his Christ of nations, would
change, and soon the Pope would come to feel betrayed.
BLAKEMORE: When the Pope went to Central America,
we asked him on some of those trips, flying into these countries, "What
about liberation theology?" And he'd get very stern, and he would
say, "It depends on whose liberation theology. If we're talking about the liberation theology of Christ,
not Marx, I am very much for it."
NARRATOR: In Poland the Pope fought communism with clarity and grace. But in Latin America he stumbled. In the 1980s the region was gripped by
violent civil wars between despotic rightwing regimes and Marxist
revolutionaries. Many Catholic
priests caught up in the political struggle were apostles of a new
"liberation theology." The Pope's repression of their movement revealed a rigid side of his
character in this lush tropical landscape.
confrontation came early in his papacy with the embattled archbishop of El
Salvador, Oscar Romero. Romero was
sympathetic to the liberation theologians who claimed that for too long the
Catholic Church had aligned itself with the rich and the powerful. They believed the Church's real place
was with the poor and its most important mission was to bring about social
Novelist: The conditions that existed most
egregiously in Central America made it impossible for a person to be a
Christian or even completely a human being. People were being denied their humanity, hence they were
being denied their capacity for experiencing a God.
FORCHE, Poet: Monsignor Romero
acknowledged the injustice of poverty openly. He condemned institutional violence openly. Monsignor Romero said, "The person
you are killing is your brother. You have you do not need to obey an order that is contrary to the
commandments of God. Refuse. Lay down your arms. You don't have to do this. I beg you, I beseech you, I order you,
stop the repression."
GUMBLETON, Auxiliary Bishop of Detroit: The reports that
went back to Rome about Romero were that he was too influenced by the
revolutionary movement, and there was danger that this country could become
communist or Marxist, and if he wasn't stopped, it would be a total disaster
for the church.
Romero did not accept that interpretation of the whole movement. He saw it really as the poor rising up
to try to change their lives in order to be freed of the oppression and the
injustice that they were suffering from and
_ but the other
Bishops denounced him to Rome.
ZIZOLA: [through interpreter] When Romero went to the Vatican for his meeting with the Pope, he was
forced to wait many days before he was received because the Vatican did not
want him to speak to the Pope. And
this caused him a great deal of pain.
VIGIL, Activist, Author: [through
interpreter] I saw him in a state of shock. The first thing that he said to me was,
"Help me to understand why I've been treated by the Holy Father in the way
that he treated me."
interpreter] When he finally met the Pope, he showed
him photographs of murdered priests and mutilated peasants, and the only
response Romero got from the Pope was that Romero had to find an agreement with
interpreter] I am never going to forget it's in my mind the gesture that Monsignor Romero made
when he was explaining that to me. He did this gesture. "Look," he said, "that the Holy Father says that the
archbishopric must get along well with the government, that we must enter into
a dialogue. And I was trying to
let the Holy Father understand that the government attacks the people. And if I am the pastor of the people, I
cannot enter into good understanding with this government." But the Holy Father was insisting.
I am still
seeing Monsignor Romero making that gesture like wanting to things to converge
that cannot converge.
SOBRINO, Liberation Theologian: [through
interpreter] When Romero told him that the that the
church was being persecuted in El Salvador, John Paul said to him "Well,
well, don't exaggerate it." And he said to Romero, "You have to be very careful with
communism." The result was
that Monsignor Romero was very upset. He left the Vatican in tears. It was a sad interview, very sad.
interpreter] It was an injustice. Monsignor Romero did not deserve that.
NARRATOR: One month after his disappointing visit with the Pope, while he was
celebrating Mass in San Salvador, Archbishop Romero was murdered at the
altar. The assassins were known to
be members of a rightwing death squad. Those close to Romero said that he always knew that one day he would be
attended by dignitaries from all over the world, turned into a bloody riot when
shots were fired into the crowd of mourners. In life, John Paul II had been wary of Archbishop Romero and
where he wanted to lead the church in Latin America, but the Pope was appalled
by Romero's assassination. He
immediately denounced the murder and called Romero a martyr.
Yet many years
would pass before he finally visited Romero's tomb. Romero's death did not change the Pope's harsh views toward
liberation theology or toward the political activism of his priests in Latin
"The Washington Post": The Pope went to Nicaragua to
understand what this "popular church" was, as they called it in
Nicaragua, a church that was allied with the aims of the revolution, that
identified itself with the poor and identified the church and the Sandinista
regime together as the vehicles for lifting up the poor people. This was something that had a lot of
the Latin American hierarchy quite worried, and the Pope was hearing that.
BLAKEMORE: He was coming, in effect, from his
triumphal visits to Poland into Latin America, saying, "I am dealing with
the communists over there. I'm
going to deal with them here in Latin America." He scolded on camera and in front of the world the priest
Ernesto Cardenal, saying, "You must correct yourself with the church. You cannot be aligned with this
political movement." He used
both fingers. "You must you
must correct this." And
Cardenal was doing this, "Yes, yes, yes, Holy Father. Yes, I will."
ROBERTO SURO: There was a very dramatic mass, where the background of the altar, as I
remember it, was sort of like a revolutionary mural. It was like, you know, Che Guevara's ghost was wandering
around somewhere on the altar there.
JOHN PAUL II: [subtitles] The unity of the Church demands of us the radical elimination ... then
you weaken the unity of the church.
R. CALLAHAN, Writer: In the struggle between the Sandinistas
and the church leadership in Nicaragua there were code words, and the Pope
began the first 11 paragraphs of his talk with one of those sets of code words. "I say you must live in unity with
your bishops." That's the
same thing as saying "You must back off from the Sandinista
People that had
the papal colors were shouting "Viva la Papa," and the others were
shouting "Queremos la paz" "We want peace." Finally as this would swell up, finally
the Pope said what is the Spanish
equivalent of "Shut up"? "Silencio." Three
times the chanting swelled, and three times the Pope told the people to keep
JOHN PAUL II: [subtitles] The Church is the first to want peace!
ROBERTO SURO: The man has a bit of a temper and does not brook a lot of
impertinence. And he was clearly
angry about this. When he came
back to Rome, he said, "What the hell is going on in that country? Who are these people? And what kind of church is
this?" And the prelates in
Rome and the conservative hierarchy in Latin America said, "That's
liberation theology. You just saw
Well, he saw
one very particular, small strain of what was a continentwide movement that had
many, many manifestations. This
set in motion a very deliberate strategy to crush liberation theology. [www.pbs.org:
Read more of this interview]
MARGOLIS, "The Toronto Sun": He moved very quickly to close many
institutions that had become hotbeds of liberation theology seminaries, for
example, schools, particular churches, things where there had become clusters
of sort of Marxism within the church. These were closed. Their
personnel were transferred to the Catholic versions of Devil's Island, to all
kinds of remote places out of the region.
The Pope then
moved in a whole new cadre of administrative and religious personnel to come in
and replace these people. So he
did a complete clean sweep of the system in Latin America and put his own men
in who were responsive and answerable to the Pope. He just cleaned them out.
"The Washington Post": The subject was not open for
discussion. It was not open for
exploration. It was not a matter
to be researched, debated. It was
JOHN PAUL II: [subtitles] I
would follow the various orientations outlined by our bishops in their recent
document about the theory of liberation.
Novelist: If we look at his point of view and
what his job is, it's to hold the Catholic Church together, is to make sure
that Mass gets said every Sunday, that kids get baptized, that kids get
confirmed, that people get married in church. And for a functioning institution like that to thrive,
there's no place for stars or superstars, or maybe just one superstar, and
that's him. He's the Pope and they're
not, and that's the story.
The Pope knew
that at the end of the day, what people wanted from the church was not
political and social instruction but the Ten Commandments, sin and how to be
against it, and what they traditionally had turned to religion for.
BLAKEMORE: History will be the ultimate judge of
this, but it does seem to me that he may have had too simplistic an
understanding of just how communist, how Marxist, some of these liberation
theology movements in Latin America were.
CARROLL, Author, "American Requiem," Former Priest: This Pope was needed on the side of the revolution there, so that for
one thing, as in Eastern Europe, it could be nonviolent, but so that it could
be powerful. And it's a tragedy
that this Pope didn't recognize it as such. And I can only understand his failure to do so because he
applied to it too narrowly the lens of his own fight against communism.
ROBERTO SURO: You have to wonder what would have happened if he had made a different
choice. What would have happened
if instead he had said, "There is a way for the church to be a force for
social change in Latin America. Let me show you how we might do it and be faithful to my ideals."
There was an
opportunity there. There was a
moment in the history of Latin America. There was a moment in the history of the church. He decided not to go down the route of
change. Instead he chose another
route. He chose to end the
experimentation, to throttle that initiative. That was his choice, and that's what he'll live with.
NARRATOR: In May, 1981, as the Pope rode through the crowd in Saint Peter's Square
after a general audience, he was shot by a terrorist. As his car rushed him to the hospital, John Paul, close to
death, called out desperately to the Virgin Mary to save his life. In his broadcast after the
assassination attempt, he thanked everyone for their prayers and added,
"To you Mary, I say again, Totus
tuus ego sum" "I am wholly yours."
A year later,
the Pope went to the shrine to the Virgin Mary in Fatima, Portugal, to place
the assassin's bullet in her crown. Later he put his bloody sash on the altar of the Black Madonna at
Czeshtochowa, Poland's most holy shrine.
believes the Virgin Mary saved his life. The roots of the his passion for Mary go back to his mother's death.
Poet, "Old & New Testaments": Right after his
mother died, his father took the young boy on a pilgrimage to Kalwaria, the
famous shrine to Mary in Poland. And that had to be a very profound experience for him. Here he had just lost his mother, and
he was worshipping at the shrine of the greatest of all mothers, who was also
in Heaven, who had also been separated from her son in a tragic way.
And it makes
you wonder if in that experience the young boy's longing and grief became fused
with worship and with piety.
JUDT, Historian of Eastern Europe, NYU: By the age of 15, he
was the head of the Marian Sodality in his hometown. He was the leading figure in the cult of Mary in a town in
Poland where everyone to some extent shared that cult. So he already was a powerfully
committed young man, committed to the idea that this was a woman who embodied
duty, responsibility, goodness, certainty. All the things that his mother could not be because she didn't exist were invested in her.
NARRATOR: The Pope's ardent devotion to the Virgin Mary has 2,000 years of history
behind it. There never has been a
prophet, nor an apostle, nor a saint, not any human being who has called forth
such fervent hopes.
VOICE FUGUE: Tenderness, nurture ... human suffering ... softness ... an enormous,
endless love ... a refuge.
JUDT: Karol Wojtyla's Mary is not the Virgin
Mary of choice, of complexity, of uncertainty, the Virgin Mary of paradox that
many feminists have found. His
Mary is, for him, the repository of absolute values.
VOICE FUGUE: The great symbol of acquiescence and obedience ... The modest handmaiden
of the Lord ... The weeping Mary, the suffering Mary ... She's what will symbolize
God's compassion ... The ideal wayfarer on the face of the earth ...
Diaphanous, lost in thought.
JUDT: He deeply believes, in a way that I
think is simply difficult for the modern sensibility to grasp, in the reality
of the Virgin Mary. This makes him
peculiarly sensitive to what he thinks of as the crossing over of roles, is
part of what he thinks of as the pollution in our culture.
essentially, by virtue of being women, only really do one thing that men can't
do, and that is produce children, and hence his obsession with that, because
that is the distinctively female aspect of human behavior that he, as Pope, can
address. Women must be true to
themselves, and in being true to themselves they can be, in however small a
way, true to Mary.
WARNER, Historian, Author, "Myth and the Cult of Virgin Mary": It makes nonsense of the whole Marian
doctrine, that when she consented, she actually made a free choice.
whole she has no human dignity or autonomy if, when she consents to the angel's
message and agrees to bear the son of God, that that isn't a free choice of
hers. If she just simply submitted
to her biological destiny, there would be no grandeur of her autonomy, which is
something that they're always insisting on.
There is a
fundamental paradox, something that simply cannot be reconciled within the
Pope's own psyche and within his message to society. And that is he says, "All yours," "Totus tuus." He's utterly devoted to Mary. She permeates his praying, his writing, his theology, his vision of the
But when it
comes to what this means for women themselves, who are meant to be modeled on
her, there are conditions. And you
know, he has set his face against every all kinds of changes that would make it
more possible for women not only to have a role in the church, but also to have
a kind of you know, a control of their own lives.
Italian Journalist, CoAuthor, "His Holiness: John Paul II": John Paul II has followed the traditional Church teaching on
contraception, on abortion, on women's ordination. What is distinctive is his fierce accent, his readiness to
battle and to fight for these ideas, the way in which he year after year has
said no to contraception, the way he was ready to fight against the U.N.
Population Conference in Cairo in saying "No way" for abortion, or
for safe and legal abortion.
SURO, "The Washington Post": From one end of the
Third World another, from India across Africa, throughout Central and South
America, in situations where overpopulation was the most obvious problem, the
Pope had no qualms, no trouble, no hesitation in saying over and over and over
again that the teaching of the Church was that birth control was wrong, Even when AIDS was ravishing these same people , even
inside marriages where one member
was infected the Pope forbade the
use of condoms. The head of John Paul's council on the family at one point even actually
insisted against all the medical evidence that condoms don't prevent the spread
of AIDS. The Pope's message was simple people had to find other ways to solve these problems, because birth
control is always evil.
NARRATOR: John Paul II faced a mounting
rebellion inside the church to his tough stands against reproductive rights and
the ordination of women. The
catholic church was losing priests. Dioceses around the world were closing.
Would the pope consider a married priesthood as had existed in the early church?
Would he allow women to be priests?
The world outside was
changing. In 1992, the Anglican
Church began to ordain women.
PRIEST: Send down the Holy Spirit upon your
MARCO POLITI: For the Pope, it was like a tidal wave coming up. And he reacted, saying not only no, but
there has to be no discussion on that subject, and that this can never be
changed. In a certain way, he
wants to bind the hands also of the future Popes.
CARROLL: The reason it's closed in the mind of
the Pope is and I take him at his
word is because he takes quite
literally, in a quite fundamentalist way, the structure of the Church as it's
recorded in the New Testament, a structure that emphasizes the authority of the
12 Apostles, all of whom were men.
We hear it said
again and again, that the Church can't ordain women because Jesus only chose
males. Of course, everyone in the
Church, from the Pope down, understands in a hundred other ways that we aren't
to take the prescriptions of the scriptures literally.
FERRERA, M. Div. : I can argue from the eyebrows up, but I
think that a piece of it that is always is often left out is the affective
experience of loving the church, willing to give my life for the church, and
having that church say to me, "Because God created you a woman, you are
constituatively unable, by virtue of gender, to have a call to the ordained
It doesn't tell
me just that it will not accept it. It doesn't tell me that it doesn't like it or it's uncomfortable with
it. I am told in the statement of
John Paul II that I am constituatively, by virtue of my creation, unable to
have a call that I feel is part of the integrity of who I am.
CARROLL: The largest irony of this papacy is
that John Paul II is an apostle of justice, and the world loves him for that,
but he presides over this rank injustice within the Catholic Church, this
violation of the rights to equality of women, more than half the church's
members. And it's women have a
right to be really quite outraged about it. [www.pbs.org:
View a debate on the Pope and women]
JUDT: In each woman he really does see, I
think, some small part of the Virgin Mary, or his mother or whatever, reduced
if a woman does things as she shouldn't do. It does make him genuinely angry. This is not an invented or ideological or political or
institutional anger. This is some
sort of deeply felt belief that this is something that must not happen. And that if it if it kills him going
around the world saying it mustn't happen, then let it kill him, that that is
what his duty is.
Culture of Death
ALBERTI, Editor, "La Pensee Rousse," Friend: The Pope believes that the 20th century is the most evil, the most
tragic, the most dangerous of all of mankind's history. The Pope sees evil inside our souls and
hearts, but he also understands and knows that evil is present as a force
outside of ourselves. The Pope
believes the devil is there, and he's a presence. He's somebody who is very much alive and very active and
very concrete and who is fighting for the conquest of man, fighting against God
all the time.
JOHN PAUL II: We who must choose between evil and good-
JUDT: Try to imagine the life of a man who
seems to be obsessed by death, who has lived through what Karol Wojtyla has
lived through. He lived in
Nazioccupied Poland for six years under the worst dictatorship anyone has ever
experienced death all around him, not only literal death bodies in the streets but also moral, social death, the end
of law, the end of any order, the end of any system of values, the end of any
possibility of imagining a better future. And then this man lives in postwar Poland for 20 years under communist
ROBERTO SURO: And he hasn't an experience, with one exception, which isn't an
experience of death in all its forms personal, public, political, social,
cultural, moral, environmental. What's the one exception? The church, his faith.
between all that death and that single unwavering insistence upon life in its
distinctive Catholic form accounts for a large part of this man's intensity of
personality, intensity of vision, and the great difficulty that most of the
rest of us who did not grow up in that world, the difficulty we have of
grasping what he means and what he stands for and who he is.
NARRATOR: In 1995 the Pope issued his most important encyclical the "Gospel of Life" his challenge to the modern world.
"The Washington Post": The encyclical "Gospel of
Life" is the Pope's starkest, perhaps his most forceful statement of what
he sees wrong with the world. It's
his darkest prophecy of how mankind could go wrong. It portrays the world, all of the world, as in the grip of
what he calls "a culture of death." He sees humanity as having lost its sense of the sacredness
of life, of the value of the individual human being.
READER: ["Gospel of Life"] "It is becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish between good
and evil. Hedonistic mentality,
selfcentered concept of freedom, the exalting of the individual in an absolute
way. It gives no place to
which considers suffering the epitome of evil to be eliminated at all costs,
violence done to millions of humans beings forced into poverty. The handicapped and the sick threaten
the lifestyle of those who are more favored. They are looked on as the enemy to be resisted or
KEVORKIAN: My intent was to carry out my duty as a
doctor to end their suffering. Unfortunately, that entailed, in their cases, ending of the life.
READER: ["Gospel of Life"] "Euthanasia is a grave violation of the law of God, a false mercy,
a perversion of mercy. True
compassion leads to sharing another's pain. It does not kill the person whose suffering we cannot
bear. Not even a murderer loses
his personal dignity. God did not
desire that a homicide be punished by another act of homicide. Freedom negates and destroys itself. It becomes a culture of death, leading
to the destruction of others. There is a new massacre, a true slaughter of innocents, a new
NARRATOR: That dark vision of modernity had deepened as John Paul II watched what
happened to his beloved Poland, the Christ of Nations he once believed would
lead the world to a great spiritual awakening.
JOHN PAUL II: [Kielce,
Poland, 1991] [subtitles] This land is my motherland! This is my mother and fatherland! These are my brothers and sisters!
ROBERTO SURO: For one of the rare times he addressed them as fellow Poles, speaking of
himself he said, "I say this to you because Poland is my
mother." And he shook his
fist at the ground, clearly angry at the fact that now, two or three years
after the end of communist rule, Poland had become very Westernized, very
DUFFY, Vatican Historian, Cambridge Univ.: Where he, with tears
streaming down his face, raged at the crowds because they'd freed themselves
from communism, and what had they done? They'd built sex shops. They'd got McDonald's. They
were buying into the capitalist dream. And for him, this is a great betrayal of humanity.
ZDYBICKA, Professor, Friend: [through
interpreter] And then he called, "Do not
kill! You are my brothers, my
sisters, my mother! Do not
kill!" with his inner conviction that the killing of the unborn child is
the biggest offense against human rights, for the most basic right is the right
ALBERTI, Editor, "La Pensee Rousse," Friend: The horror which abortion awakes in him it's really a feeling of horror.
His particular attention to the problem of abortion was born out of this vision
of death of innocent children, slaughter of innocent children, innocent,
living, small, defenseless human beings.
ASCHERSON, Author, "The Struggles for Poland": When he was growing up during the occupation, the Nazi occupation, he
saw around him the Jews being destroyed. And they were destroyed. The Poles were next on the list. And indeed the destruction, the genocide of the Poles appeared to be
already beginning, and it went some way. It was a question whether in 10 years' time there'd be any Polish people
left. Clearly, there wouldn't be
any Jews left.
The lesson he
drew from this was that protecting birth and reproduction was a matter of
survival. It was just a question
of were there going to be any human beings left in this country or not.
WARNER, Historian, Author, "Myth and the Cult of Virgin Mary": Well, I think psychologically he's haunted by the ghosts of the victims
of the Holocaust, and he feels more possessed by them, and they press on
him. He sees these unborn children
as hungry ghosts, and the mothers who have created these hungry ghosts become
almost spectral figures of evil. And his whole emphasis on abortion makes the issue of women's freedom
uttered in the language of death.
KUNG, Theologian and Vatican Critic: He thinks about all these women who use
the pill, who practice anticonception he thinks that they belong to this
culture of death because who uses the pill is already on the road to
abortion. I think already this
linkage is terrible because women who use the pill, they just want to avoid
And on the
other side, a Pope who prohibits the pill is practically responsible for
innumerous abortions in the world. I think that all this will be considered in the light of history.
JOHN PAUL II: If a person's right to life is violated at the moment in which he is
first conceived in his mother's womb, an indirect blow is struck also at the
whole of the moral order.
Novelist: He's onto something. It's there's a contradiction there that
you know, that we have to deal with. If we advocate the freedom of women to choose whether they're going to
control their reproductive rights, we have to be aware that everything, in a
way, is part of a continuum. And
we always have to be aware of what's potentially at the end of the continuum.
I mean, we have
to be we have to be that wise. The
ending of life, even fetal life, for the convenience of an individual does tend
toward a situation in which living people can be killed for the convenience of
individuals. In fact, that already
happens. The Pope thinks it
happens whenever the death penalty is applied.
CABANA, Former Prison Warden: I knew that at some point in time I was
going to decide what I was doing as a warden could no longer peacefully coexist
with what my church had taught, what the Holy Father was teaching about my role
in this culture of death. I
remember standing in front of the gas chamber, watching one of these inmates
die this torturous death. I mean,
there's nothing nice about dying by lethal gas. It's a torturous process.
And I remember,
almost as if the Pope was standing there waving his finger at me, thinking to
myself, "I wonder what will my God ask of me when my moment arrives to be
The last young
man that I executed was like a son to me. I walked him into the gas chamber, and he said, "I love you. Thank you for treating me like a human
being. I love you for that."
Inside that gas
chamber, both that young man and myself suddenly discovered clearly what I
think the Pope's message is about the culture of death. We discovered that there is dignity
that a human being is entitled to, and that when we stripped away all of the
titles and we stripped away the word "convict" and the word
"warden," when we stripped away a prison number, he and I were just
two ordinary people who discovered that the culture of death violated the very
precepts of our existence.
And that's not
to say for a moment that either one of us had forgotten the horrible thing that
happened that brought both of us to that moment. There's a person who will never watch his child go to the
prom, will not grow old with his wife, because in a moment of madness this young
man committed a horrible act.
But each time I
walked away from this more convinced that the state, and me as its agent acting
on its behalf, was even more violative of the principle of life than this young
man had been. We're supposed to be
better than this.
JOHN PAUL II: Because human life is created in the image and likeness of God, nothing
surpasses the greatness or dignity of a human person.
"The Washington Post": He comes out as a lonely messenger,
offering a path towards salvation in a world that, as he portrays it, is bent
on its own destruction.
That's a very
difficult message for people to accept. It's one that poses stark, difficult choices. And it's a message that hasn't been heard, I believe. One doesn't see the kind of great
conversion that clearly he hoped for.
And at the end
of the day, the question is, is he lost? Is he wrong? Are things not
that bad? Or are we lost for not
Poet, "Old & New Testaments": People who have
known the Pope talk about the intensity of his prayer life, the intensity of
his relationship to God, how when he prays, it seems like he's talking to
someone in the next room.
VOICE FUGUE: He begins to close his eyes ... I see a very pious, almost mystical
person ... You feel that he is diving in some mysterious depth .... who seems
to know that when we pray, we pray to a mystery ... You can see that he is in
communication with God ... this big white block of prayer ... The faith of this
Pope is the faith of a child.
LEVINE, Conductor, Friend: I was in the private chapel of the Pope
and watching the Pope meditate and being drawn into meditation with him, and I
felt a tremendous sense of wellbeing, of concentration I with this mystical
vision, which was for me Jewish, and he clearly with the crucifix on the wall,
but through the crucifix, through Jesus, to God the Father, who is the same God
of our Torah. And time
passed. And I mean time passed.
I have come to
understand that Christianity is a mystical religion, that it's a religion of
mysteries, that it is not sufficient just to know the word of the Bible, but to
also cross a bridge, a mystical bridge, to an understanding of the essence of
the faith. There is something that
Christians must do in order to really enter into their faith, and I've seen him
do it. I mean, I learned it in
that room. There were no words
spoken, and yet I knew who he was in communion with, and I knew that he had
made for himself an incredible leap.
transforming, and in my spiritual life I have never been the same.
Am I a stronger
Jew and do I adhere more to my Jewish roots because of my relationship with
him? Paradoxically, yes. We now, after this whole relationship
with him, celebrate Shabbat. I
never did that before. I've never,
from the first moment I met him, ever had the impression that he was interested
in converting me because faith is the issue for him. He wants you, if you're Jewish, to believe, to find faith.
ALBACETE, Prof. of Theology, Friend: Karol Wojtyla, John Paul II, is not a
man with faith, his identity is faith. For him the human being is the believing creature. What defines a human being is
faith. It is a judgment, a
position, a stand that you take with respect to everything. If you fail to take that stand, then at
best you are superficial. You have
JUDT, Historian of Eastern Europe, NYU: I don't think there
is any doubt that for Karol Wojtyla, faith doesn't just trump everything else,
faith is all there is. Reason,
argument, works, belief even in
the sense of a rational exercise of belief, the choice to believe is as nothing compared to faith. I don't think we've had to deal with a
public figure who has that kind of faith ever in the modern era.
ROBERTO SURO: Watching the Pope when he travels, you almost get the feeling that he
thinks of himself like a lifeguard who's throwing himself to save a drowning
person. There is a personal
urgency to what he's doing. And
it's personal in the sense that he has to do it. He's a preacher. He's out to save souls. And
he travels the world to do it. He
knows that he can't do it from Rome.
ALBACETE: What will do it? Really, what does it is experience, not
an intellectual argument. You must
be given an experience of having been touched by grace. And the only one he can assure you is
He would like
to touch you and hold your hands. If he is a fleshtoflesh witness, you see, that will do it. I have seen what a glimpse of this man can
mean, and just the Popemobile coming by you could barely just see this little figure, you know, "There he
is~! There he is!" and whole life changes and hope is
At the end of
this millennium, the question of faith should have died. Faith has never been so assaulted as it
has been in our time. He knows we
are a people numbed by evil, seduced by false reason, overwhelmed by
science. But even so, our yearning
BERLINSKI, Writer, Mathematician: I think the Pope is making an entirely
credible observation that we are all oppressed by the results that we imagine
science has given us.
On the one
hand, when we turn to the heavens, we see these endless galaxies pinwheeling in
the night sky, no trace of life as far as we can discern, unimaginable reaches
of space and time, the whole thing frozen, gelid, uncommunicating, way beyond
any finite power of human discernment or appreciation, smoldering, explosive
processes at work in the cosmos which we can barely fathom, and the whole thing
destined to dribble away in the endless reaches of space or contract again on
natural size and scale, the sheer immensity of things, the primitive nature of
the drama taking place before our eyes, I think, gives us a very vulnerable
sense. There's an ache in the
human heart. "Oh, my
God! Look at how big that thing
The other side
of that equation is when we turn to living systems, we are endlessly provoked
and dismayed to discover that, far from being unique in the animal kingdom, we
seem to be kith and kin to every revolting and shambling thing that slithers or
crawls across the face of the earth. It's just an accidental rearrangement of the genetic alphabet that gives
me my position and gives the fish his.
One of the things
modern science has given us is a new object of veneration. Let's call it the laws of nature. Some physicists even go so far as to
credit the laws of nature with the creation of the universe.
And I think the
Pope is saying, "Why repose your confidence in the laws and refrain from
making the intellectually audacious step of saying these laws are what we,
within the confines of the cave, actually can perceive of the nature of
the laws are luminous, if they give us instruction, if they provide an aspect
of beauty that has never been seen before, surely this is suggestive. It says something to the human soul
that these laws actually exist. Don't worship in a temple that for all intents and purposes is your own
creation. Simply look at the
luminousness and make the next step."
Novelist: When I was about 15 or 16, for the
usual rationalist reasons, I stopped believing, at that time under the
impression that belief and faith were the same thing. I since understand that they are not the same thing, but I
thought they were, and I stopped believing in all this stuff. And I felt tremendously liberated. And only somewhat later, only years later,
did it come to me that half of my head was missing, that I had just cut myself
off from a tremendously important part of myself that was no longer available.
I was doing a
story on scientific enterprise that works out of Fort Pierce, Florida. They have a submersible that's capable
of going to enormous depths. And
it's totally dark except for the biophosphorescent creatures that live there,
tritons and cephalopods and creatures like this. You feel like you're in the ocean at the dawn of Creation.
What it made me
think of was when God confronts Job. God asks him, "Can you draw Leviathan with a hook? Who made Behemoth? Have you seen the springs of the
And I thought,
"My God, I'm seeing the springs of the ocean." And I thought, "This creature has
as much life, is as perfectly formed, is as complete in its destiny, in its
place in things, as I am." And it made me think, "Surely there is a Providence underlying all
these wonders," and it tempted me to faith.
ALBACETE, Prof. of Theology, Friend: To the Pope, science and the wonder it
evokes in us is not an obstacle to belief but a privileged path to it. John Paul II urges us to look beyond
our intellectual ideas because reason, which limits man to the visible world,
will kill faith.
GREER, Author, Professor: When I was 15, the nun that was
teaching me unwisely decided to teach me the rational proofs for the existence
of God. I wasn't convinced. I thought they were fairly easily
refuted. And then I went to
university, and in those days you knew if you went to university you would lose
two things: your virginity and your faith. And I lost them both.
And however, I
mean, the important thing here is that I was also imbued in the culture of the
church. I had been singing great
choral music ever since I was about 12, and I loved the Mass, and I loved the
liturgy, and I loved the liturgical year, and I am greatly attached to them
When I was in
St. Petersburg, it was kind of a date with destiny. The huge bass bell, this baritone bell spoke, and it was
just an amazing sound. And I
thought, "Yes! It's the
beginning of Mass." And I
flew in the door, and the choir was singing the processional for the Introit.
of the sound strikes you on the face like velvet hammers, and it's just
unbelievable. And I just sort of
stretched my throat and just stood there paralyzed. I couldn't move. And the choir sang the full diapason of the human voice, from the
darkest bass tones to really floating high sopranos. It sounded to me like the craving of the human spirit for
God and the total desolation that God is not palpable to me, even worse because
God is not there.
I mean, how
amazing to listen to this extraordinary cry. It was greater than grand opera. I mean, it was more imbued with feeling than any Wagner I've
ever heard in my life. It was astonishing. And I just stood there. For an hour and a half they never
And by the time
it was over, I kind of reeled back out, and all the front of my clothing was
sodden. I'd actually been weeping
the whole time, but I'd never known I was doing it. It was just the tears had just been dripping off my
chin. I was sort of thinking what
and of course, I hadn't got a handkerchief. I hadn't expected I didn't even believe I'd hear the
Mass. And it never occurred to me
that it would be like this.
ALBACETE: Our yearning for God in whatever
form in the ocean or in the swell
of music suggests that we already
have more faith than we know. But
the ache is only a first step. God
would ask us to open ourselves to a more wrenching experience.
GIUSEPPE PITTAU, S.J.: John Paul II tells us, you know,
"Through suffering you can become better. And you can help others." It is for Christians, it is the meaning of the cross. He feels that without suffering, one
doesn't grow. An easy life without
any kind of suffering has no depth.
RAYMOND BRAGA, Romanian Orthodox Priest: I was in a communist
prison for 11 years. We, the priests and the monks, were in
prison because we wanted to continue with the religious education of the young
people. In the communist world,
children don't belong to the parents, they belong to the state.
prison is a diabolic laboratory in which they wanted to transform the
personality. It's not just a place
of torture. They considered man
like a dog, like an animal that can be trained. They put us in the hospital for mental diseases, and they
gave us some shots, I don't know
what kind of shots. It was a time
when I saw double. I saw myself
that I was speaking aloud without my knowledge.
You reached a
moment to keep yourself between the limit of normal and abnormal because not
everybody resist. Some persons
resist up to here, another have more resistance. But one day you have to give up. When you gave up, they considered a victory.
But when they
asked, "Do you still believe in God?" "Yes, I still believe in God."
months, sure, it was very difficult. But later, not having any perspective, any horizon, any place to look
out, just four walls of your cells, you have to go somewhere. And that was my conversion. I went inside. Because you know, in the Western world
we have a socalled cosmological knowledge. We go in the outer space, outside of ourselves. Everything that we explore is outside
But what about
you? What about this inner
universe that is the human personality? We call it soul in a Christian term. It's infinite like an atom. I was a theologian, I was a priest, I was a monk, and I'm
ashamed to say that God, my God, was the God of the Book. But God is alive, is experience, is
ALBACETE: For some, suffering is the crucible
where real faith is born. For
others, suffering is where believing ends.
GREER: I think I learned about sanctity when I
went to Ethiopia in '84, '85. And
I saw people whose lives are profoundly religious, who never take a breath
without consecrating it to God or Our Lady or someone, for whom every day it
has a place on the liturgical calendar.
To see these
people coping with the huge humiliation of famine because I think people who
are not farmers don't realize that famine is the ultimate failure for a
farmer. It's utter humiliation and
bestialization. But these people
under this pressure behaved like angels. I mean, to me they really were, you know, garbed in celestial light.
It's so hard to
think about it without rage against God, you see, because they were his
fools! [weeps] I mean, that's what happened there. Those people followed their religious ritual into the worst
kind of squalor you can imagine, so that the bodies were always beautifully
washed, they were beautifully clad in the people's last white cotton
garments. And they were laid in
their shelf tombs as if they were precious things, to rise again on the last
And if you
don't believe there's a last day, or they'll rise, or that there's any
recompense for these lives of unremitting selfdenial, then you you cannot I
mean, if God exists, I'm against him.
ALBACETE: This is what he would say to someone
whose experience of suffering has become an obsessive question. You know, he would say, "No, no,
no. I am no consolation. My urge is don't be afraid. Continue questioning. Take the question as far as it goes. Let it become a cry. Let it become a cry, even if is a cry
of hatred, a cry of rebellion, a cry of rejection. Then say that cry. Say it because you are this step away from faith."
For the Pope,
this is not the last moment in the lives of those victims. United with Christ, those will rise
again. Life will be stronger than
death. This is, for the Pope, a
conviction as certain as the fact that the sun will rise tomorrow.
MARCOVICCI, Singer, Actress: I had faith as a child and lost it in a
flash. It happened so quickly. I had no idea what I'd lost.
Whenever I go
into a church, and if it's an empty church, right out would come this aching
sound of this one song that I sang when I was little. And it was [sings] "O come. O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive
Israel, that mourns in lonely exile here, until the son of God appear. Rejoice. Rejoice. Emmanuel will come to thee, o Israel."
Now, I learned
it when I was little. I don't
think I had any idea what it was about. You hear it very rarely, but at Christmastime I always hear it in the
back of my mind. And sometimes
when I'm really lost, I'll sing it in a hallway, or in an elevator, or God
knows where, in a shower, and it comes back to me as a sort of general song of
aching yearning. "Come back
to me," is what it sounds like to me. "Come and take care of me."
To me it's
everything about being taken care of. It's about either having faith or having your father back in your life,
having some allconsuming power bigger than you to say, "It's all right. It's all right. You can make it through whatever it is
that you're trying to make it through." And that's the song I always hear.
ALBACETE: He has placed faith at the center of
the agenda. In the end, though, he
knows that all he has been sent to do is to put the issue before us, to make
the proposal with the urgency of every fiber of his being: "Believe. Do not be afraid to be afraid to
believe," his very first words as a Pope. "Do not be afraid. It will take nothing from you."
But in the end
it can only be a proposal. The
greatness and the mystery is our freedom. We can accept it. We can
move on to something else. I don't
think he knows what will be the case.
ROBERTO SURO: I
think the Pope's out to be a prophetic figure, somebody who changed
humanity. The road he laid out, if
followed, would have transformed humanity, in a spiritual sense.
JUDT: The legacy of this man, this Pope, is
something that perhaps he wouldn't have expected. His legacy is the debate. His legacy is the angry conversation that he provoked over
faith versus modernity.
There will be
no legacy of success in defeating modernity, and there will certainly be no
sense in which he will have occupied the ground between absolute faith and
modern nonbelief. But he has
forced upon his opponents a conversation that they would never have had with
the previous popes, and in terms which were his terms. And he did, to that degree, shape the
conversation at the end of the millennium in a way no one else has.
LORENZO ALBACETE: The final legacy of this man, will be the way he has
died. The way he has fallen apart, disintegrated , physically, emotionally,
mentally, embarrassingly before —
before the world, making a spectacle of himself.
he can barely say a word , he's drooling, the body is out of control, headed directly to the
moment , and still he sets aside his assistants , because he wants the world to see — to see this final
encounter with the ultimate
him I am sure this was the moment to embody everything he has
said. The challenge — human life
is worthwhile — no matter what, no
matter how week, no matter how insignificant it may look like. To challenge the world which is obsessed
with image, with , with youth, with success, with power, with words. Forcing us to look at the aged, either in ourselves or in others. And
in the end summing up his very first words to the world: "Be not Afraid — be
not afraid of even being afraid — the value of your life is worth infinity . It
can not be destroyed by death.
ROBERTO SURO: At the end of the day, when you look at this extraordinary life and you
see all that he's accomplished, all the lives he's touched, the nations whose
history he's changed, the way he's become such a powerful figure in our
culture, in all of modern culture, among believers and not
Taking all of
that into account, you're left with one very disturbing and difficult
question. On the one hand, the
Pope can seem this lonely, pessimistic figure, a man who only sees the dark
side of modernity, a man obsessed with the evils of the 20th century, a man
convinced that humankind has lost its way, a man so dark and so despairing that
he loses his audiences. That would
make him a tragic figure, certainly.
On the other
hand, you have to ask, is he a prophet? Did he come here with a message? Did he see something that many of us are missing? In that case, the tragedy is ours.
ANNOUNCER: For more of this report, explore FRONTLINE's Web site for a full
biography of this pope, a roundtable discussion about homosexuality, birth
control and women, more video stories about faith and spiritual yearning, plus
a variety of the pope's writings. Join in the discussion at pbs.org.
To order John Paul II: The Millennial Pope on videocassette, call PBS Home Video at 1800PLAYPBS.
JOHN PAUL II: THE
Helen Whitney &
Michael A. Dawson
RESEARCHER - POLAND
Cezary Mironiuk -
Maya Zielony -
Leszek Cicirko -
James Walker - Rome
Romeo Duarte - El
Eugene Palumbo - El
Luis Miranda -
Giovine - Juarez
Esther Chavez Cano
Monika Darda -
Artur Kozyra - Polish
Luis Gomez - Spanish
and Video Stock Shots, Inc.
Vaticana Pontifico Consiglio Delle
Branch Oceanographic Institution
Bank - Film Division
Eliach Collection, Center for Holocaust Studies
to the Museum of Jewish Heritage, New York
Center for Jewish Film
Apostolska Episkopat Polski
Stock Prairie Pictures and Film
World Film Italia
Channel 1, Telewizja Polska S.A.
Musee des beaux-arts
Aperture NY 1997
White - the Whistler for
"O Come, O Come
—pianist, Liszt B Minor Sonata
Kathryn Walker —
reader of "Campo Dei Fiori"
Marshall Arisman —
Our Town Films
Stuart Math Films,
Harris, Aperture Foundation,
Laboratory of the Future
Monastery, St. Joseph, MN
Rev. Mykhal Judge
The New York City
The Saint Thomas
Choir of Men and Boys
Master of Choristers
Michael A. Dawson
Julie Parker O'Brien
The Caption Center
Lee Ann Donner
Douglas D. Milton
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