pope john paul ii

On Mayday 2011, after a long sojourn in Ireland, I returned to Rome.
My American girlfriend, who is a lot more Catholic than I, was very keep to visit the body of Pope John Paul II in Saint Peter’s Basilica. Despite arriving at 11pm that night, I consented, as May 1st was the date he was beatified and this is a once in a life time thing. I had already been a Vatican tour guide for 2 years previously and had been inside the Basilica over 500 times.

john paul ii

The Basilica would remain open until 3am that night to accommodate visitors and well wishers to pay their respects to the previous Pope. We joined the crowd assembled in Saint Peter’s Square. It was crowded but we got in within 20 minutes, which was good. One million extra people were in Rome, on top of regular tourist numbers, from every nationality all over the world. When the Catholic Church claims to be universal, it isn’t kidding.

john paul

There was a feeling of respectful excitement in the air. The respect came from genuine Catholics, the excitement came from the Italians who just cannot deal with lines or queues; they find a way to get in to arguments about them. On this night they behaved themselves. We entered the church along the right side and filed up trying to get a good position to view the casket, which was placed in front of the papal altar in the middle of the basilica.

john 2

Four Swiss Guards stood guard around the coffin in a dignified way which symbolised they stood guard over the man who was the successor to Saint Peter, as they saw it. Their uniforms didn’t seem silly that night; in fact they added to the specific nature of it. I stopped and took some photos (above right) most of which ended up blurry as there were so many others attempting to do the same. We paid our respects and we went home.

karol wojtyla

On my tours people ask me if I am Catholic. This is because a) they assume I work for the Vatican (which I don’t), b) they figure out I am Irish and assume I am Catholic (in Ireland this is national identity not religious) or c) they are rude and are the kind of people who ask you what religion you are or how much you earn. I usually avoid the question or answer yes and qualify it with I don’t agree with such and such. This is usually because my clients are white Protestants from the United States who have a chip on their shoulder about the Catholic Church. They think it is corrupt or silly and perfectly convinced the Protestant Reformation was needed.

john pope

While I think the Reformation was needed, I think calling a religion silly or corrupt is arrogant and offensive. None of the Christian churches are perfect. I would never tell a Lutheran, an Anglican, a Presbyterian or a Southern Baptist that their churches officially advocated racism in the past (they did, check it out) because such assertions, while true, are offensive. Point being, most of my clients like me more if I say I dislike the Catholic Church or I am not 100% with it. Confirmation bias.

john paul 2

I came from a pretty liberal background and it was fashionable where I came from to hate the Catholic Church, point out its litany of abuses and the scandals rocking it. Personally, I never had a bad experience with the church. The few priests I met were good, kind men who dedicated their lives to Jesus example. Not everybody had this experience with the church and the recent scandals disgusted me as much as anybody else.

pope john paul

I think John Paul II was a good man. He apologised for the things the church had done wrong in the past. He met with leaders of other Christian faiths and worked for co-operation with them. He worked for better relations with the Jewish community and is regarded very well by them. He publicly stated evolution was plausible and he apologised for the treatment of Galileo. He got away from doctrine and got back on core Christian principles like responsibility, fairness, tolerance, atonement and the example Jesus himself.

when did pope john paul ii die

Like most Catholics, I don’t go for everything the church says.
If we keep getting reforming, modernising Popes like John Paul, when people ask me if I am Catholic I will simply say yes.

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