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Pope John Paul II

Pope John Paul II in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican April 10, 2003. Behind the pontiff,  a white dove is released in honor of his repeated calls for peace by Roman youths. (AP Photo/Massimo Sambucetti)
Pope John Paul II in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican April 10, 2003. A white dove is released in honor of the pope's repeated calls for peace. (AP Photo/Massimo Sambucetti)

Our panel reflects on the life and legacy of a very unusual religious leader and a man of great political consequence in the 20th Century.

BRET STEPHENS: Someone once said that Communism posed as an economic system, but its real objective was the destruction of morality. And this, I think, was in a sense John Paul's political contribution, saying you cannot have a politics that's stripped of morality. You cannot have a politics that's stripped of the most basic human yearnings and the higher human yearnings, for freedom, for dignity, for the possibility of change and redemption. And he was able to do that in sort of the heart of darkness.

If you remember what the world was like when he became Pope in 1978, the Prime Minister of Italy had just been killed, the Iranian revolution was coming upon us, there was an oil crisis, there was a sense of a world falling apart. And you had a Breshnev doctrine which said "once Communist, always Communist." And he stood up to that, and he said, "This is going to change."

DANIEL HENNINGER: I think he sustained and protected the integrity and internal intellectual coherence. People criticize him for having been a conservative on dogma. But the Pope was an intellectual, and when a lot of other institutions in our time have pretty much become wobbly in a way that you cannot identify any longer what they stand for, throughout his papacy the Pope maintained the integrity of his institution. And it's interesting to me that in his death, he has in some sort of admirable way sustained the integrity of the individual to choose to suffer, to see it through, and to sustain himself. And he has done it with just the most remarkable dignity, the last week.

DAVID HOPPE: If you look aroud the world, the cardinals he's named, like Cardinal Arinze, an African cardinal, who has traveled around the world, he has followed the model of John Paul II, he has opened up the church, and opened up the church in a way that people who are not of the catholic faith, who, for a long time, were suspicious of the Catholic faith, they're no longer suspicious, they have a respect for the Catholic faith that John Paul brought.

PAUL GIGOT: It's hard from the vantage point 30 years later to recall that when he was named Pope in 1978, that was before Margaret Thatcher, that was before Ronald Reagan, that was before Lech Walesa jumped over that wall in Gdansk in Poland and started the solidarity movement. He really was the catalyst for so much of that.

Program Transcript