Tuesday, May 30, 2006

John Paul II and Benedict XVI: Two Historic Visits to Poland

There is no denying the the visits of John Paul II and Benedict XVI are historic events. I was planning to do a post on this after Benedict finished his visit. But I need to thank Viva for the comment in another post for making me think a bit more deeply on these events. It is likely that I would have done a post Wednesday and it would have been a news round up around the time the pope did his overview of the trip. Instead I began to look in deeper prayer at the visits of two Popes and what they tell us.

All week in the media I've been hearing about how important it is that Benedict XVI is visiting Auschwitz. And it is. The visit of a german born Pope to that place of horror is important on many different levels. The coverage in the west has ignored the importance of the vist overall.

I think that is because the coverage has not really been about Pope Benedict XVI visiting Poland. It has been about Joseph Ratzinger visiting Auschwitz. What many people do not realize is that he has been there three times now. This is not something that he has done because his office demanded it. This is not a show or symbolic gesture. This is more. And this whole trip, as well as John Paul II, has been more than symbolic.

Is there symbolism in Benedict XVI taking his first trip to the homeland of John Paul II? Yes.
Is there symbolism in the trip to Auschwitz? Yes.

But what else is said:

There is the message to the Polish people that they are not forgotten.

There is the message that they are not a fad to be a historical oddity in the history of the Papacy.

There is the message that in an age where values are so often relative that the strong faith and determination of the Polish soul is sorely needed in Europe.

There is the message that to never have Auschwitz happen again there must be courage in the face of darkness.

Yes, there is symbolism. Just as there was symbolism in John Paul II trip. But this is of Christ. And with Christ the symbols do not reflect a reality we want, but a reality that is.

The church has many symbols in her worship. But each symbol has behind it a substance greater than what we see in daily life. These are not empty symbols to be turned by onlookers to whatever view of politics fit the current flavor. These are the outward signs of a reality we are called to embrace.

The love of Christ is a reality deeper and stronger than any other. When we have faith, we are not ignoring reality. It is the voice that cries out to ignore love and dignity that ignores reality.

The Polish people are not forgotten.
They are not a historical oddity.
Their faith and strength is needed in Europe.
There is courage in the face of darkness.

When at Auschwitz both John Paul II and Benedict XVI visited the cell of St. Maximilian Kolbe. The saint who gave his life for a jewish prisoner (link). Was this a symbol of what can be accomplished when we love each other? A symbol of what can the cost can be for love? A symbol of courage in darkness? No. It is a reminder.

It is a reminder of the reality that there is courage in the face of darkness and the cost is high.

There was nothing empty about John Paul II visit to Poland. And because it was not empty, because it expressed a deeper reality, it became an event that changed the world. An event that brought the reality of dignity and love through the illusion of hatred that the weak place on others.

There is nothing empty about the visit of Benedict XVI. It is about the reality of dignity and love and the cost of maintaining it.

They are about truth.

About those who did not stand for it at Auschwitz and those who did.

About those who tried to supress it in Poland for so long and how John Paul II helped open the floodgates of truth.

About how truth is needed now.

A disturbing reminder occured on Saturday when Michael Schudrich, Poland's chief rabbi was attacked in Central Warsaw by a man yelling, "Poland for Poles"(link). The quote from police:

"Police said they were treating the incident as a possible anti-Semitic attack"


That is not a symbol, but a reality. A reality that can only be conquered by the deeper reality of dignity and love.

Lord may the truth of Your dignity and love, that You give freely to Your children out of Your infinite love and mercy shown to us in the person of Christ, wash away hatred. And may You make us strong, to do what You will all over the world in love and service to our brothers and sisters.

1 comment:

Bent El Neel said...

Hi David
Great post and so many excellent points you brought up. I was listening to an interview with a political analyst on the ABC radio here in Aus...he and the host were talking about the significance of this visit but from a totally different point of view! I've actually been wanting to post about it since Monday but as always am running short of time.

The point they brought up was that the visit signifies the Catholic church's feelin of "guilt" over their role in the Holocaust. One actually stated that the Gustapo was predominantly Catholic...he said "it was almost as if you had to be Catholic to make it in the Gustapo". They also said a lot of things about the Church ignoring reports of genocide from Catholic priests in Germany, and they were helping major Gustapo personnel to escape from Germany and Poland after the war.

I know we spoke about this before in a previous post of yours, that's why I was going to post about it. I think people are missing the point about the Catholic church, the Pope and the faith in general. Thank you for raising this and clarifying a lot about the visit

Another great point you brought up is the meaning of "symbolic" in the church. Many people dismiss symbols and traditions as meaningless...far from the truth and I couldn't agree with you more.

Bless you and your efforts :)