Maybe it's because I was only four years old when Karol Wojtyla became "the pope" in 1978, which I didn't know what exactly the "pope" was but I remember it came very soon after this other guy had been named pope before he died. Anyway, that's all of my real waking life that John Paul II has been in office, and it wasn't until years later that I started to understand that he was a MUCH more important figure in the scheme of things than I'd ever realized. From a non-Catholic perspective, it's safe to say that he was probably even the most important figure in the history of the papacy (I got personal doubts as to whether Peter should be considered as the first pope, but those don't figure into the present proceedings).
But even from the strictest secular thinking, this pope was one of the three people who most affected the world during the past quarter-century: John Paul II, Ronald Reagan, and Margaret Thatcher. Now only Thatcher is still with us and when she's gone... well, I fear that the age of statesmanship will have drawn to a close. Leaving us with only petty and vicious politians to fill their void.
The thing of it is, John Paul II never really was a "political" figure at all: he merely tried to interpret scripture as best as he understood it and apply that to the church that he headed. I don't think it was ever his intention that there would be the kind of worldly interest in the power that came to surround him... and yet, there it was.
Which is why I made this sad prediction more than ten years ago: that all hell would break loose when the next pope was chosen.
The next two weeks or so, until the papal enclave meets at the Vatican to elect a new pope, are going to be mad as all get out. There'll be some quiet now in respect and deference to the man and moreso than because of his office. But after that... well, if you thought the Reagan funeral was something, you ain't seen nothin' yet.
See, this is an entirely different world than it was when John Paul II was coronated in 1978. Less than a hundred people on the planet had full access (whatever that entailed) to something called the "Internet" and a good slice of them still lived under communism. Things like "gay rights" were a laughable joke. The average person really didn't have that much sway over the world around him, for good or ill.
No more. But it won't be the average person I'm worried about.
I'm willing to lay down good money that a few days from now, after John Paul II has been interred, they'll be descending on Saint Peters' Square like flies on a cow: homosexuals, Catholic feminists demanding that women become priests, the pro-abortion crowd, socialists and then capitalists to meet them, the "safe sex" gang that wants condoms for every man woman child and dumb animal on the planet, animal rights activists and radical environmentalists... in short, just about every possible "special interest group" on the planet is going to have some kind of representation at the Vatican during the next few weeks.
And each of them is going to claim having a "say-so" in who it is that will be the next pope.
That's the way it is in today's world of media-empowered "you can have it your way and right now". We've been made to think that we can do anything, so long as we have two or more gathered in our name with us. That if we have just a little more faith and strength in numbers, that even the mountain millennia-long traditions would cast itself into the sea at our command. And if not merely the twain but the multitude should meet to coalesce that belief... well, what is there left on Earth that is not within our reach?
To put it bluntly: there's gonna be a lot of bullies outside the Sistine Chapel trying to push their way to a seat at the table. It's going to be the most politically-charged papal election in history, and a lot of people are setting themselves up for a disappointment when they discover that none of their group efforts mattered at all. I just wonder what their reaction is going to be then.
That's the serious side of things. On the more whimsical, I'm betting that no less than a hundred video cameras tied into the Internet get pointed at that little chimney at the Vatican that the black or white smoke will come from as the scrutinies are burned during the voting process. Maybe someone will even figure out a way to make the cameras pick up on chroma of the smoke so that if it's white enough it'll automatically flash on the site "WE HAVE A POPE!"
Call it "Pope Smoke Cam" :-)
Anyway, a good man has gone on to his eternal reward, leaving the rest of us a little more poor for the absence of his spirit. So dear God, even though I'll never be a Catholic, thanks for letting John Paul II be among us for a short while here on Earth.