frontline: pope john paul II - the millennial pope

Interview with Monsignor Lorenzo Albacete...He is a professor of theology at St. Joseph's Seminary in New York and a friend of John Paul II.  He was president of the Pontifical Catholic University of Puerto Rico and served as associate professor of theology at the John Paul II Institute for Studies in Marriage and Family.

How important is faith to the Pope? How does the Pope provoke these questions of faith in an unusually intense way?

monsignor lorenzo albacetteKarol Wojytla, John Paul II, is not a man with faith. His identity is faith. For him the human being is the biological creature, what defines a human being is faith. Therefore the human being defines his or her life in terms of the transcendent mystery or it simply will be unable to live a full human life. It is as simple as that.

To him there is no other question. It is the fundamental basic question because faith for him is not a collection of beliefs, like I believe there is a god. I believe this god, if one is a Christian, is a Trinitarian. ... Faith for him is a lifestyle. It is a way of situating yourself in front of reality, starting with your own self. 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 no depth. Therefore you are at the mercy of whatever power comes along to move you. Because you do not have this firm stand, you are vulnerable to power.

To the Pope, science and the wonder it evokes, is not an obstacle to belief...He urges us to look beyond our intellectual ideas, because reason, which limits man to the visible world, will kill faith. In his opinion, the totalitarianisms that have characterized this century that ends - which have been the most stunning exercises of destructive power - those have been possible because of the century's decision to consider faith as something unworthy of the human being--as an enemy of human progress. That is the very opposite of what he is convinced of; without faith the human being is going to disappear. So to him this is the decisive question. The totalitarianisms came, the violence comes, what he has called the culture of death has shown itself. This century can't even end without this war in Kosovo. And for the next century, what's going to happen? To him the decisive question is--will the human race, especially those who have the power and influence, be able once again to consider what makes the human race human? What is the basis of its dignity, its link to the absolute mystery? This is what he has devoted his life and his papacy to, to bring this question to everyone in the world.

He talked about millennium before anyone knew how to spell it. And if you go back to his very first encyclical, "The Redeemer of Man," where the millennium is mentioned, it's mentioned along these lines as a sort of convenient date. It's nothing magic about the year 2000 or 200. Nothing is going to happen, nothing magic. But human beings live by symbols and by celebration of anniversaries. So it's a dramatic thing when you go to a new century, a new millennium. Well, this kind of offers the moment of rethinking just as a certain anniversary you stop and you think, at the end of every year you take stock of what has happened. Well this is not any one year. This is the millennium. He wants us at the end of this millennium and at the beginning of the new one to confront this question. Is there a God, and is that god friendly to human beings or necessary to human beings? To him the future of the human race depends on how that question is faced and dealt with. For him there is no more urgent or important question, this is the decisive question, this is his life. It was long before he was Pope. As a man and as a Polish man and as a European. Now it is as a whole world.

John Paul II has written about a range of subjects and themes. Yet he always comes back to faith.

... I don't know if they have vanity tags in the Vatican for your car. If they did, his would say GS22 because that stands for Gaudium et Spes 22. Gaudium et Spes - joys and hopes - is the title of the Second Vatican Council's declaration of the Church in the modern world. In that document, the Church and Council said that what characterizes the Church in the modern age is more than anything else the drama of atheist humanism. That is to say their rejection of God in the name of human liberation, the suspicion that faith, anything having to do with God, was an infantile, in fact, even pathological, way of dealing with what were essentially human problems to be solved by free human beings.

The Church has never faced this kind of challenge before. Never. The Church has gone with its gospel to people who were fundamentally religious. They may have worshipped a lizard or something like that, but it's not difficult. You move from the lizard to God and to Christ very simply and call Christ the sacred lizard or something like that. It's not a problem. You deal with the religious instinct, the openness to transcend. But when you deal with cultures that sense or feel the religious reality as threatening to self-development and liberty and as in fact infantile or pathological ways of dealing with your life, how do you present any gospel? How do you preach anything to that? And the Church has never faced this before so it really doesn't know how to deal with it. The Second Vatican Council was an attempt to learn how to deal with it. Well, in that Council, that decree, the Church and modern world, it is stated the decisive question for the future of humanity is that of faith--whether the reality of what we call God is or is not compatible with human liberty.

And this is the quote that the Pope puts whenever he speaks... He'll begin talking about it and then before you know it--I placed bets with friends of mine that by page three, he will have quoted GS 22. No matter what speech, he has done it. He has said it to me: "This is the most important statement. It summarizes everything I stand for." He has said this. This isn't something that you suspect by reading the books or talking to him. He has said it. I believe that the most important statement that the Church has to offer is GS 22, that is, the mystery of the human person is only revealed in the mystery of Christ. This shows that God, the divine, the mystery, the infant, whatever you want to call it, is not the enemy of human progress or human liberty. On the contrary, it is the fulfillment of all the human possibilities. There he has no other question.

Does the Pope feel that faith has never been more difficult? If so, what do you think he feels are the big assaults on faith?

The French poet and writer Charles Peguy is my favorite. He said that the faith today is stronger than ever. Where it exists, it is stronger than it has ever been because he says it has never been challenged as it has been in our times, in the modern age. It is challenged by everything. The most profound of the challenges is the suspicion, the accusation that what you believe in is only a projection of some interior problem of yours that you have not learned how to deal with. Or a personal problem, if you're an individual, or a social problem, if you're a Marxist. That is to say that you can't take it for granted when a person has a religion that this person has really experienced the transcendent, the mystery, the reality that's there--this is a result of some childhood trauma, or, of your struggle to make sense of a life in the midst of so many personal tragedies. Or, of the fact that you are a poor person that is surrounded by people who are not, and you have no chance of making it, so you seek this consolation and this justice in experiencing this other world. But that's not real, that's keeping you from actually ever facing your problems in this world. How do you answer that? That is a suspicion.

Paul Ricoeur at the University of Chicago said that the great founders of modern thought - Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud - are the masters of suspicion. And John Paul II now, to tie him directly to this, quotes Ricoeur and speaks of the masters of suspicion in his writing. Even as Pope, in the discussion that he has about human life, the body and sexuality, he talks about the masters of suspicion as characterizing this age. He knows that this is the most serious challenge to face because it doesn't appeal to anything, to reason or anything. It appeals to the fact that you're sick. And if you're sick you cannot cure yourself. So how do you answer this? I mean you cannot appeal to a third party because you do not know what you are talking about. A believer is held to be someone at a lesser stage of human development than the non-believer and that is quite an accusation. There is immediately something it doesn't seem that we know how to answer. If somebody keeps telling you,you're sick, you're sick, you're sick, what must you prove?

What challenges faith today?

The challenges to believe today are in some sense a continuation of challenges that have always been there. As well as some that are typically characteristic of our present time. One thing immediately is the challenge opposed by science...The Pope knows, I would dare say, by his own personal struggle, the difficulty, the risk, that one takes when you define yourself as a believer. After all, this man is a disciple of and a scholar of John of the Cross. John of the Cross is one of the greatest mystics of the Catholic Church. Spanish, of course, as I am, and therefore very close to God. Spanish mystic John of the Cross describes the whole process by which one arrives at real faith, and the various emptyings that you have to make of everything. You must pass through a purifying fire that he calls the dark night of the soul in which nothing is obvious to you anymore, in which God shows no evidence whatsoever of existing, and until you have passed through this purification you cannot be said to have had faith. Faith is on the other side of the dark night of the soul.

This, for the Pope, is not a scholarly thing allowing him to write a doctoral dissertation. This is his life. All his life he has wanted to be a Carmelite. Carmelite is the religious order to which Saint John of the Cross belonged and which he reformed.

So the Pope knows that human beings' attempt to believe is a profound struggle. It is a struggle with the most powerful forces there are, and you are always on the brink of non-belief. He knows this is not an intellectual thing, but from his life. He has had this faith while living miles from Auschwitz. How can one believe after that experience? How is it possible? Many years later something comes in, but even then to find sense in it is almost an insult to the victims. Yet, this very sensitive poet and dramatist, this man lives miles from Auschwitz. That must be a constant torment. The Pope has faced communist totalitarianism, has faced the intention to wipe his country and culture from history, and he has had to believe. As a little kid, his mother drops dead. His brother drops dead when he is twelve years old. I mean, how do you believe? He knows that belief is a profound struggle.

So, to him--when you say these are the objections to faith--"I don't believe that, because science doesn't show that there is a god;science has reduced everything to causes that don't require a god."--this is the man who celebrated the anniversary of Einstein's death with a convocation of physicists, a congress addressed by an agnostic, a great physicist of quantum physics - he's dead now - in the very room where Galileo was censured or condemned. The Pope chose that room to have that activity there, to honor Einstein and to honor physics and to honor science. Yet it was Einstein that said that the scientist who is not open to mystery has not really begun to understand anything. So, there is science and there is pseudo-science. Science doesn't really work any longer by this neat cause and effect, it's probabilities and it's all kinds of things. So, it's still in a popular mind.

I used to be a physicist and people say, "How could you be a scientist and now a priest?" There is no contradiction. On the contrary, science opened me to the presence of mystery. It's present, but it's not really a major difficulty and can be dealt with more seriously than is the question of suffering, the innocent suffering. You see this as the Book of Job shows, and one of the earliest plays of Karol Wojytla was Job, the Book of Job--his whole universe collapses. The question "Why?" is raised. This is a man who wrote an encyclical devoted to suffering and knows that that poses a big challenge to belief. But it is a challenge, a mystique, that he welcomes because it is a challenge that takes the human mind and the human heart, and this is what he would say to someone whose experience of suffering has become an obsessive question. He would say, "No, I'm no consolation. My urge is don't be afraid. Continue questioning. Take the question as far as it goes. Let it become a cry--even if it is a cry of hatred, a cry or rebellion, a cry of rejection. Then say that cry, say it because you are this step away from faith. "

Now these objections to faith, I will say again, are things that he has had to personally deal with, not that he has read about. Perhaps, though, the most deadly form of faith is the - and this is very modern, this is the great dilemma - it is the loss of the human confidence in ourselves. This isn't just a matter of faith. It is affecting everywhere. The capacity to know a reality that is independent of our emotional, psychological, cultural, insides conditioning. The capacity to know a reality that is truly other. That is gift. That is grace. I think we have lost it. We have lost it more than we are aware of. Again, because everything is seen as a function of invisible and unknown interior emotional psychological or even biological factors.

Can you elaborate on what you think the Pope sees as the biggest obstacle to faith in this age?

The obstacles to faith, among them perhaps the most serious one is the loss of the capacity to encounter or to experience reality that you know doesn't originate inside of you. That is not somehow the creation of your mysterious inner self but that is really out there independent of you, that you can encounter it. That you can know it. That you can therefore jump outside yourself. That you can actually move into newness, real newness. Otherwise it's just a projection of what was there. Everything therefore is decided the moment that the genes are decided, and nothing new can exist. Do we believe that something new can exist? The Pope is convinced that the biggest threat not only to faith but to human survival at the end of this age and the beginning of the new one is the loss of that ability to experience an encounter with the really and truly other and thus establish a dialogue, establish solidarity, because that is the key phrase to him. The human being cannot be free, cannot live fully if it is not in solidarity with others. Inability to grasp otherness is to him not only the biggest obstacle to faith but really the biggest obstacle to human life and human survival. That is why in the end he'll have to say, "Look, it is only through an encounter with another that you can have faith." In the end what the Pope offers or proclaims is the possibility of encountering the human face of the mystery called God which he believes is the face of Jesus Christ.

Do you think the Pope has always regarded that question, or challenge, highest?

When I first met the Holy Father, he was Cardinal Wojytla. I met him one morning at a breakfast in Washington at the home of the then-Cardinal Archbishop of Washington. There were no props. He was not dressed in white with the whole Vatican establishment behind him or anything. He was dressed in a way that any ordinary priest would with an open collar like this, and he was having breakfast, rather absorbed in his corn flakes.

I sat down, and I didn't know what to talk about and he asked me what I was doing, what I was studying because I was getting my doctorate in theology at the time. I said, "I am reading of the interpretation of the hermeneutics, that is, what really lies behind things." That [became] part of a lecture on his part, half of which I didn't understand because he made reference to things I had never read, which were made clear, because I acknowledged that I had no idea what he was talking about.

In any case, from that moment, he said the great question today is precisely that one. Everything is interpretation, and if we discover something new, we cannot see it because we can only see things in terms of what was there before. We reject the possibility of being surprised, of finding something really new, and he says that is an imprisonment. The human being is totally imprisoned in a world of its own making, and he says that human beings are convinced that this is somehow liberating - to conclude somehow that we are the manufacturers of reality is a liberating discovery. It's a terribly imprisoning one, and how to open up the human capacity to taste the really new, the transcendence and therefore to really have hope in the unseen - that is the question of the times.

This is what he said to me about a year and a half before he popped out of the balcony dressed in white. When I first heard of his election I knew what we were in for--"Oh my god, now he has the world stage, and not just the breakfast table." He has certainly not disappointed me. It has been awesome, an awesome spectacle. He will not give up, relentless, confronting us with this question.

How has Pope John Paul II projected his beliefs about faith to the public?

You see, not only has he preached about this drama of faith and the challenge to faith and the need to get out of it in order to really be free. Not only has he written about it--good heavens, nothing is, alas, more forgotten than the encyclicals of dead popes, and he knows that. There they are and they're magnificent, but they're not going to do it and he knows that's the case. What will do it, really, is experience, not an intellectual argument. You must be given an experience of having been touched by grace. The only one he can assure you is through him. He would like to touch you and hold your hands and press it in that way. If he is a flesh-to-flesh witness that will do it because you will be touched by another, precisely the otherness of it. It's like a little shock, the other. It's like you're being boosted by the energy that comes from the other.

That is why he has taken to the streets to have as much contact as possible, obviously. What was the crowd in Manila? How many millions? The largest any human being has ever put together in a place. The people cannot touch him, no. But yes, he can. Because the show, in a sense, is the extension for an actor or an actress of the personality. When it's not done to deceive but to really express, to really give yourself, then the symbolic really carries the personal contact. If you have contact with the symbol, you have contact with what originated it.

In this sense there is the poetry, there are the plays, but out of all, there is the power, there is the faith that comes from his physical presence. And I have seen this again and again. It makes me many times so embarrassed and even upset...You think of that man or that young woman or that old woman, doña Peppita over there at the margins of the mobs in Havana that I saw, and just as the Popemobile was coming by you could barely see this little figure. "There he is! There he is!" And her whole life changes, and hope is possible. Maybe this will start something new, and the man is I don't know how far away. I roll in for lunch and say hello and everything. It just makes me feel so... I am damned, for sure, because of my lack of solidarity with that person, but then of course I am just so aware, I have seen what a glimpse of this man can mean. It isn't because this man in the end... I mean, I drove him around Washington and we caused no stir. We got a ticket for double parking at a place which happened to be an adult bookstore--not that we were going there of course--but it was the nearest parking and there was no one going "Aaaahhhh, there!"

To him, he has given everything he has to this mission, that is, being Pope. I remember the discussions - should he go here and should he go there and then the problems now and the security and all that--and the conviction that the human being, the actual presence is absolutely important. This is the only way we can crash through this prison that keeps human beings from seeing beyond the possibilities of themselves, to otherness, and thus finally be able to begin the ascent to faith.

These trips, these things, have been an absolutely essential part of his ministry, of his life, and you know you can always say that these are just big shows. I get angry when I hear that. I get angry when I hear that. Because the man would rather be in his chapel lying flat on the floor as he is often doing in whatever universe he enters than running around with every bone hurting now. But he is consumed by this, because there is no other way. Salvation comes through interpersonal contact. He must reach out...

Could you discuss the Pope's need for, what some may call, exhibitionism?

In the end, he believes that life comes from sharing in the sufferings of Christ on the cross. So, suffering to him is not the ultimate challenge to faith, but the crucible where real faith is born. And because man and woman live by faith, that is human life, that is the fullest possibility. Therefore suffering becomes the crucible where one's humanity emerges in its greatness, in the ability to overcome suffering with hope and joy, and serenity and hope above all. There can be no greater act, one that displays the greatness of the human being and puts an end to the lie proposed by the misery of the human being, the abysmal poverty that we have. For him, how human beings suffer is a crucial reality to present. Once again, he has written about it. He has written plays about it, he has written poetry about it, he has written encyclicals about it. In the end though, he must suffer publicly, and he is convinced of this.

And, you know, in the past, the Pope had the appendix removed and nobody knew. And much later, it was like the Kremlin, you know. The people were dead five days before they announced it! In this case the cameras have gone right into his bedroom where he looks right at the camera looking not so happy, surrounded by tubes. At night, after about the second or third day--I know, a friend of mine was a doctor on the floor where he was--he would get up to visit the other rooms there. But he has invited the media and the press because he wants to be seen suffering. He has to use a wheelchair. He'll come out with it and have himself taken down by crane from the 747, greeting people everywhere. because we should not be ashamed or hide anything of pain and suffering and illness. This is where our humanity shows. It hasn't reached the point of LBJ showing his wound to everyone--I don't think it will, because there is also the matter of taste.

Would he see this as a time in which we are trying to avoid suffering, aging, we are trying to manage suffering?

The Pope would see the present time as afraid of suffering. Again, why? Because suffering can only be conquered by an act of love on your part, of letting it be an expression of love on your part and that is by going outside yourself. Here again, we find this problem of our inability to believe anything outside ourselves and reach out towards it and experience the death of self that opens your heart to the presence of the other. This is scary and it has always been. What we have today is a sensitivity which is not bad. Like Flannery O'Connor says, we feel much more. Other ages in the past felt much less. But they saw more. We feel more but see less. I'm not saying that this is bad, this sensitivity is important. But when it is just sheer emotion and not based in any faith conviction, then it becomes an obstacle. You cannot deal with suffering, you must set it aside.

The way the modern age sees suffering--it is a problem to be solved. And when it is unable to solve the problem, it will just set it aside or try to make it invisible. Therefore you have the invisibility of so many suffering. And when it cannot make it invisible it will attempt to eliminate it by killing it. This is this argument in the culture of death which is merely a repetition of Flannery O'Connor's or Walker Percy's argument. The fear of suffering makes us immediately vulnerable to all kinds of promises to avoid suffering, especially promises of people who want to sell you products for it to make you feel always healthy, always young. This is happiness...The economic opportunities of any fear are there and you try to make a buck.

How has the Pope's own experience with suffering shaped him?

Here is a man whose encounter with suffering comes very early in his life, as a child even and a very sensitive soul, so this is something that has an impact on him. The death, of course, of his mother. There is this silence about her that observers have noticed and wonder whether it is an unresolved experience of some kind. There is, then, the death of his brother who had by that time moved closer to the town where he was growing up and become a close friend and then finally the death of his father which made him alone on this earth. How does one deal with that? How does one find meaning in it?

I think, in a sense, he came to the conviction that there in the experience of their death... In his brother's case it is clearly called a sacrifice. It is a sacrifice that gave him the freedom and the opportunity for his mission, for his vocation, which at that time was not concretely specified in his mind. But for his life, it gave direction to his life. Not only did it set him free from family responsibilities, but I believe, most important, somehow he believes this suffering involved not only his own, but by those who died, provided part of the energy that has compelled him to move. Which seems to be something that has accompanied him throughout his life, and he is reported to have observed that whenever an important moment like that come in his life, he has been launched in a particular vocation. It always seems to be accompanied by the death or illness of a friend. As we know, one of his closest friends, the Archbishop Deskur, was in the hospital when Karol Wojytla was elected Pope. In fact if I remember his first outing out of the Vatican, less than 24 hours after his election, was to see him in the hospital. I think, again, that this is not just theory for him, it is something he believes he has encountered, that he has experienced. In that sense, the liberating power of suffering.

Do you see any contradiction between the Pope's love of dramatics and his devotion to human reality?

You know, the Pope's fascination for the human person is so central, as everyone knows, to this man... Between his love of performance and acting and show and drama and therefore the symbol upon which that is based, and his devotion to the reality of human personhood, there is no contradiction. These two are inseparable in this man. For him the physical contact, the gesture, the theatrics, the expression through which we communicate, are not something arbitrary or inherently deceiving. We can lie, of course, but we can in the written word, too. We can lie without gestures. But we shouldn't. It's not just not lying, it is speaking. It is in that sense. Life is inherently dramatic so it is expressed through dramatic gestures. Everywhere we see this.

He has placed faith at the center of the agenda. It has been the one sustaining reality. He knows that all he has been sent to do is to put the issue before us...We can accept it.  We can move on to something else. I don't think he knows what will be the case. I think one of the most awesome ones was his personal visit to the man who tried to kill him in the prison to express his forgiveness which he had said on the very day he was shot. He had said that he had forgiven this man. That's nice, I mean, what a beautiful thing, how pious. When that is backed up by an actual trip to where this man is and by an embrace of him--I was just stunned when I saw it on the Time magazine cover at the time. It reminded me of the prodigal son parable that Jesus gave when the son comes back after leaving his father. The father rushes out to embrace in an enthusiasm that scandalizes the other brother who has stayed behind all the time and has never run away and never has had that kind of welcoming. I saw a tenderness and love. You could see it in the films, in the tapes of it. When you see them in motion and you see this man crying, here is gesture and symbol, in a sense the best of drama and show put together as a truthful expression of interiority, and when that happens it is an experience that's magnificent. When there is a distortion, when it is a lie, when it just doesn't do it, we can tell. That's why great works of drama move us, you see.

But wasn't it an extraordinary gesture of forgiveness?

An expression of interiority, but even in this particular case of what is in fact a mystery. That is forgiveness. To forgive - as he has written in the encyclical on mercy - the capacity to forgive shows the ultimate spiritual nature of the human person, which surpasses the demands of justice through mercy. He has said, you know - we keep talking about the age - that one of the greatest difficulties of our age is our inability to grant mercy, because we are afraid to receive mercy.

What is the Pope's response to people who are overwhelmed by science?

To those who are overwhelmed by the discoveries of science and the discoveries concerning the complexity and magnitude, the awesomeness of the universe on both scales - the macrocosm and the microcosm - the Pope would encourage this sense of wonder and awe because that is an attitude that, if pursued, if really pursued, will move one to the great question or mystery behind it: why is there anything?

That is an awesome thing. It is all the more awesome when you compare this greatness to the little brain that is admiring it, not only admiring it, but think of this, questioning it--why? And here you see the next point, the wonder of the universe moving to the wonder about the human being who after all is the one looking out and asking before such magnitude. And then the great question, which is Psalm 8 in the Bible: what is the human being that he or she should have this capacity? To the Pope, science and the wonder it evokes in us is not only not an obstacle to belief, but a privileged path to it.

How might the Pope respond to an experience of awakening to faith--as in a story that was recounted to us in one of the interviews conducted for this program.

The Pope would certainly be excited by this account of an experience that suddenly awakens one--or reawakens one--to the possibility and reality of faith. I don't think he would dwell too much on exactly what caused it or what it was all about. It is this suspicion which kills faith. He would look at the results, to where it has moved the person, to what level of personal life, and welcome the experience if it has intensified the person's interior life. And in any case, because faith is not ever, according to any Catholic doctrine, the result of a long line of efforts on your part. The only efforts that you can do are to open yourself to the possibility. In the end, faith, according to Catholic religion, is a gift, a grace, because it comes from one that is truly other - that it doesn't originate in you. An experience of this otherness approaching and interfering in history, in one's life is already the beginning of the possibility of a profound faith. So I think he would be very excited at a story like this.

What would the Pope say to people who experience things so passsionately--like Germaine Greer's experience of watching people starve and the poverty of their death and, her anger?

Well that, we don't even have to make it up because it is the subject of a play. The experience of rage, of anger at facing the reality. This unspeakable tragedy in Ethiopia and other places where the human being is reduced to nothing by injustice and, by fate, it seems sometimes. That horror is something that the Pope has dealt with in one of his plays about an historical figure who had such an experience of the true misery of the destitute which cries out for justice in a world that just goes on. And that play is about what constitutes the best human response to this. And in that play, called "Our God's Brother," every possible response is set aside except one which appears to the author as, in fact, a just one. And that one is rage, anger, revolution, destruction of the system - political, economic, and religious - and with its gods that allows this to happen.

And the character in the play that more or less represents the thought of the author comes to the conclusion that is represented in the play --that justice would in fact lead one to that rage and that protest. So I think that the Pope would say to those who have this experience, that not only does he understand this rage, even against God, but that he welcomes it. Because it has opened the way to real faith. In what way? Well, in the play the main character chooses not the way of angry revolution, because he says, "I choose another path. Anger cannot be the last word about man. It has to be love. I want to be molded by love." In his opinion that can only be done by seeing in the victims of suffering the face of Jesus Christ.

How would the Pope answer Germaine Greer?

The Pope would consider rage at such injustice, and anger--even including that God would allow something like this--to be a just human response, in fact to be the only decent human response that situation calls for. Except that for the Pope, this is not the last word. This is not the last moment in the lives of those victims. The Pope believes that the gospel is that, united with Christ, those will rise again. Life will be stronger than death and love, therefore greater than hatred. And not only will they rise again, but in fact they will be the rulers of the universe and the judges. We will be judged by them. For the Pope, this is a conviction as certain as the fact that the sun will rise tomorrow. If you are convinced of this, this changes everything. Does it answer the question, no. It doesn't answer any question, because in the end the mystery doesn't answer questions, like in the Book of Job. The mystery just assures us of its compassion and friendship and presence and companionship for the Christian that takes place in Jesus Christ, who died the victim of injustice but who lives as the head of the universe. The one who is the head of the universe for Karol Wojtyla is a man who is a brother to those victims who are dying of injustice all over the world. In the end that's all he can say.

What does Wojtyla have in common with those who discover a new faith, who experience a revelation?

I think that the idea that human beings have found in moments like that a certain kind of freedom and faith is not exclusively characteristic of this century, nor of Christianity, or even for that matter of religion. The Pope in this particular case would evoke a certain sympathy, first of all by the region that these people both come from in eastern Europe and also by the kind of force or enemy that tried to strip them of total dignity of the human spiritual capacity. This is the evil against which Karol Wojytla struggled in his own life, and to spare his people from it is always preaching to them that the spirit is greater and can in fact show its greatness - conscious and spirit - in the midst of this radical, powerful attempt to take away our humanity that this man experienced. And again, the Pope doesn't separate this from the God question. You discover the greatness of the human spirit, you have discovered God. For the holy father, there is no other approach to God possible today than the mystery of the human being. Please, this is so important, and as radical as this sounds, today and at the end of this century and this millennium, there is for this man no other open approach or path to the revelation of the mysteries that we call God than the drama of human life and what it means to be a human person.

When a man encounters "radical evil" and discovers his own ability to resist it, what is happening there that the Pope would respond to?

What is happening with an experience like that is an experience of a clash of the drama of what one could say is the best in human kind and the worst of the misery and the greatness of the human person. But, for the Pope, these are not equal. The greatness is greater than the misery. The misery is the expression of a profound hatred of the human that, for the Pope, originates in the spiritual world that one would have to call the mystery of inequity, or of evil, to which human beings and religion and the Bible itself express in all kinds of terms - seeing the devil, Satan. It is a hatred of the human that is present and real in this world, as real to the Pope as anything else. And in that sense, those that have experienced this have experienced this battle. In the end they have shown that the human reality is stronger, is greater, has greater dignity than the hatred of it. That is a mystery. It can only be expressed in mythical and symbolic language.

What do you think will be the legacy of Pope John Paul II?

I think the legacy of John Paul II, of Karol Wojytla, will be to have placed the Church first, at the center of the human drama and second, as the servant of the human cause--what Pope Paul VI saw coming when he spoke about the Church of the Good Samaritan. And third, to have helped [people] regain their confidence that the fundamental human issue is the issue of which he knows so much from his own life and that is the issue of faith in God. I think this will be and has been the unlosable contribution of Karol Wojytla to the history of the Catholic Church...

Has he succeeded? He has placed faith at the center of the agenda. We have seen this across the board, all kinds of people, from all over the world. It has been the one sustaining reality. In the end though, it is in our hands. He knows that. 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 believe"--his very first words as a Pope. "Do not be afraid. It will take nothing from you." But in the end it can be nothing but 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. He's not supposed to. In the end he's supposed to know what Jesus said to his apostles. "Look, you are really useless servants. All you have to do is do what you're supposed to do." He's done what he's supposed to do. And boy, has he really done it.

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