TOMORROW will be Pope John Paul H's 1,400th day as Pope. Desmond O'Grady from Rome here touches on some of the highlights of his pontificate so far.
SHORTLY after Karol Wojtyla's surprise election as John Paul II, a certain story began to circulate. Many years before, it was said, he had confessed to Padre Pio, the Italian Capuchin friar who had Christ's wounds, or stigmata, and clairvoyant powers. Padre Pio told the young Pole he would be elected Pope and have a short reign which would end in bloodshed.
This may account for the hectic pace John Paul has set. And it did seem that his pontificate was to terminate in May last year in bloodshed when Ali Agca made his assassination attempt. But John Paul has bounced back and tomorrow is the fourth anniversary of his election.
His first 1400 days have been a remarkable performance, particularly as Karol Wojtyla, as archbishop of Cracow, was reserved, scholarly, comparatively liberal, prone to seek dialogue rather than confrontation. As John Paul II, however, he had revelled in big crowds, has turned thumbs down on Catholic progressives and shown a taste for confrontation.
He has challenged the Warsaw regime and, through it, Moscow. He challenged death after the St Peter's square assassination attempt — and came out winner but doubtless there will be a return bout.
He is also challenging the Church now: ignoring the "progressives" priorities and preoccupations, goading the Jesuits, needling bishops. He wants Catholics to stand up and be counted, he needs enthusiastic cohorts.
But despite his dynamism, his overall programme is unclear. Perhaps he has no overall programme although he did have an ambitious Eastern Europe strategy which, if it had been successful, could have had far-reaching consequences.
Perhaps he is a victim of the shift from the Polish situation, in which it was clear what to fight for and there were few changes of action, to one which he can act first if is no longer so clear what should be done.
John XXIII (1958-1963) produced the exciting proposal to "open the windows and let in fresh air" (The second Vatican Council — 1962-65). Paul VI outlined his programme in the "Ecclesiam Suam" statement of how the Church should dialogue with others.
Secretariates (for non Christians; for nonBelievers) were established to organise this. When Paul said he intended to apply the Council he could point to the establishment of organisms such as the triennial Synod of Bishops and pastoral councils.
But once this was done John Paul II, while affirming that he too intends to apply the council, has little tangible evidence to show.
His situation resembles that of the preconciliar Pius XII (1939-1958). But Pius could concede some reforms (for instance in the liturgy) to a compact Church whereas John Paul has tried to restore solidity by "nay-saying" on progressives' issues whether married priests; priesthood for women; laicisation for priests which he has made far more difficult to obtain than under Paul VI; or artificial contraception.
This reassured many Catholics who had been unsettled by postconciliar confusion and the lack of energetic leadership during the last half of Paul VI's-15 year rule. And even many of those who did not like John Paul's song like the singer.
It was remarkable that his first major statement "Redemptor Hominis," issued only five months after his election, did not specify his pontificate's aims but was a meditation on the Church in relation to the world.
John Paul could claim that his programme is Christ, that he has no other aim than to preach the Gospel but after four years the lack of a detailed programme is debilitating.
It almost seems John Paul intends to coordinate rather than govern the Church. His attitude probably derives from his Polish experience and he seems to have inherited something of the spirit of the late Polish Primate Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski who not only stared down Communist authorities but won out also in the more subtle contest with the Vatican over controlling his own affairs. Wyszynski survived Vatican incomprehension and barely tolerated Vatican representatives.
If John Paul conceives his role as communicating with other bishops, he will emulate St Peter but upset the Church's central bureacracy, the 3000-strong Roman Curia. Its members feel neglected, complaining the Pope is never present to examine documents and that he makes his major statements wherever he (and the media) happen to be rather than from the Vatican.
A shadow seems to have fallen for the time being across John Paul's pontificate. It may be simply that the first 100 days become the first 1400 without the new Jerusalem appearing and the old very much in evidence. It may be because of Ali Agca's bullets that ripped into him or the news last 13 December that his Solidarity friends were imprisoned. Whatever the cause it seems he is still seeking for appropriate instruments, apart from personal appearances, to transmit his abundant spiritual energy.
At times John Paul has spoken of preparing for the year 2000. Old Testament prophets used such intriguing horizons, not too near but within the possible lifespan of their audience, to threaten and inspire. A Church for the year 2000 could be John Paul's project. Certainly his problems will not paralyse him: he is still a dynamo and unpredictable even for his Vatican assistants.
He not only has itchy feet but, a philospher, poet and playwright, is a richer personality than the public performer'. Only 62, despite Padre Pio's prediction he could still lead the Church in the year 2000. Marvel Comics may have to bring out another instalment of their John Paul booklet: not "Son of John Paul" but perhaps "John Paul and Spaceship Earth bound for the Third Millenium".