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His Tragedy -- or Ours?


As the Pope lays dying, I am reminded
of an extraordinary assessment of his legacy offered several years ago by
Washington Post reporter Roberto Suro, who spoke as part of a PBS
“Frontline” documentary on John Paul. The entire interview, which is fairly
critical of the pontiff, is here.
Here is the money quote:

I think the pope has to be a prophetic figure, somebody who changed
humanity. What he offered, what he suggested, the road laid out, if
followed, would have transformed humanity in a spiritual sense. He was
calling at the end of the twentieth century for a spiritual life to become
the center of man’s humanity, for all men, and certainly for all Catholics
and all Christians to rediscover spirituality as the guiding force in their
lives. If he had accomplished that, he would have been a millennial figure,
not the man of the century. Somebody who produced much grander changes than

Instead he is a historical figure, he’s somebody who lives within the period
of time, who had a message that had impact, that changed events, that
changed lives, but did not nearly reach the dimensions that were the
ambitions that its author set out.

At the end of the day, when you look at this extraordinary life and you see
all that he’s accomplished, all the lives he’s touched, the nations whose
history he’s changed, the way he’s become such a powerful figure in our
culture, in all of modern culture–among believers and not–taking all of
that into account, you’re left with one very disturbing and difficult
question. On the one hand, the Pope can seem this lonely, pessimistic
figure–a man who only sees the dark side of modernity, a man obsessed with
the evils of the twentieth century, a man convinced that humankind has lost
its way. A man so dark, so despairing, that he loses his audiences. That
would make him a tragic figure, certainly.

On the other hand, you have to ask, is he a prophet? Did he come here with a
message? Did he see something that many of us are missing? In that case, the
tragedy is ours.


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