June 2006 - Volume 10, Issue 11

Amazing Civility

By Rev. Ray Petrucci

Photograph of the Basilica of Saint PeterAll roads lead to Rome. This ancient saying certainly rang true for the world's news media not long ago. In particular, the events of early April - the death and funeral of Pope John Paul II - were to place indelible memories on the minds of millions. Those covering the historical events for the world's news agencies felt the intense impact. One recurring comment noted the "amazing civility" (or words to that effect) of the throngs waiting in line for many hours for the opportunity to view the body of the pope lying in state in the Basilica of Saint Peter. Humanity, en masse and at its best, paraded before the cameras during those mournful days. The funeral Mass brought both the leaders and the people of the world together in a remarkable display of respect and reverence for the Holy Father and, one could say, for each other.

My God made me understand that if the Church changed her face,
if she simply assumed her true face, if she was very simply the Church,
all would be possible on the path to unity.

- Yves-Marie Congar, O.P.

Mention was made by the reporters that at the Exchange of Peace during the funeral Mass leaders from opposing nations were seen to clasp hands and share greetings of peace. No matter how far-fetched the thought may seem, one can hope that the power of that liturgy and of that moment will spur efforts toward better relations.

Among the characteristics of the reign of Pope John Paul II that won universal acclaim, his ministry of peace and reconciliation may have shone the brightest. One can pray that politicians will note well the response of the various peoples of the world to such a personage as Pope John Paul II who authentically cared about their well being and recognized the need for justice and compassion among them. In the wake of so many global conflicts, how important the pope's message is. And let the world be attentive to the disgust voiced over the cruelty, waste, and death of war by those who were the combatants.

Men have ceased to reason, and war seems to be courted
by those who understand not its cost.

- William Tecumseh Sherman

What vile irony that nations seem neither to heed nor to remember the lessons taught through the carnage of war. In vain, veterans protest that problems among nations must not be solved by war. How odd that civilization persistently presents itself as an entity in much need of becoming civilized. Whether popes, princes, politicians, or the common people, those promoting peace struggle against a seemingly inherent proclivity in human nature toward violence. Yet, the call for peace continues as it ought - as it must.

Photograph of Pope Paul IIThe heart of Pope John Paul II did not throb only for peace and reconciliation on the political stage, but also among the world's diverse belief systems. One would be hard pressed to recall any religious leader ever apologizing for the actions of his or her particular religion. Representing the Catholic Church in history, Pope John Paul II did just that. He sought to reconcile and to heal wounds wherever he could. The effects of his efforts to reach out to other religions extended all the way to Danbury, Connecticut. Recently, I received a letter from the Islamic Society of Western Connecticut expressing their community's condolences for the passing of Pope John Paul II. In thanking them for their kindness, I inquired about the possibility of sharing in some future outreach in order to know each other better. In a small way, the work of Pope John Paul II continues and, I pray, will be fruitful. Under new leadership, the Church makes its way into this new century. God bless and guide our new Pontiff in the immense task ahead. Let the gifts of his predecessor strengthen each member of the Church. Through his close relationship with the Lord, Pope John Paul II has inspired others to recognize their own spiritual potential. Seek, then, the courage, steadiness, and love within God's grace that bears the actively civil name of holiness.