profiles a year for the Pope who has travelled the ision of a strong defender
equivalent of the distance from earth to moon
POPE John Paul presided over a nervous Catholic Church in 1985. All the talk in the press of clocks being turned back, of revisionism and reaction disconcerted many about the future.
It was the year also of three gruelling major foreign tours, during which the .Pope encountered some of the most vociferous public opposition in his seven-year pontificate.
But in official Church circles, few were as bold as Hans Kung in voicing their reservations about the direction in which the Pope appeared to be taking the Church. In October, Kung complained of "seven lean years" of Pope John Paul The top leadership lined up to knock nails into Kung's coffin.
The Pope's right hand man, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, was the focus of ecclesial angst. The prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, through his call for "restoration", became a symbol of a feared "couliterrevolution", a return to preconciliar values. Publicly, the Pope neither endorsed nor repudiated Cardinal Ratzinger's stance.
Through it all, the Pope steered a steady course. As an old Polish friend said of his footballing days: "Karol Wojtyla was a strong defender with a clear vision of what had to be done".
Pope John Paul visited 14 countries in 1985 and is now reckoned to have travelled the distance between the earth and the moon, an enviable record. It prompted one Italian reporter to quip: "What's the difference between God and John Paul II? God is everywhere, but John Paul has already been there".
The Pope chose the eve of his South American tour to set the tone of the coming year. He announced at the end of
January, the meeting of the extraordinary synod. It was going to be no ordinary year. The same week, the four priests in the Nicaraguan Government were suspended a divinis (from performing their priestly functions). Pope John Paul headed for Venezuela, beginning a four nation, I 2-day trip.
All three big foreign tours 'brought out hot issues particular to the regions visited. Liberation theology dominated the first, particularly in the home of one of its founders, Fr Gustavo Gutierrez of Peru. In the Low Countries, especially Holland, church teaching on sexual, morality generated fierce controversy. In Africa, adaptation of Christianity to meet indigenous needs and culture confronted the Pope at every stage.
In Venezuela, the Pope's doubts about liberation theology came across loud and clear. He urged his bishops to discipline what he called "erring" priests, who "disfigure the Gospel message, using it at the service of ideologies and political strategies".
In Peru the Pope arrived in the midst of what some would call a real live class struggle. Lima airport was blacked out just as the papal jet was about to land. A burning hammer and sickle was seen on the hillside above the Peruvian capital. It was not announcing the harvest festival.
It was the work of Maoist guerrillas of the Sender() lurnino.so (Shining Path). The Pope ventured to their southern heartland. From a platform surrounded by sandbagged machine gun nests, he called for peace and reconciliation. Later, he made further oblique references to liberation theology, warning against "trendy interpretations" of the Gospel.
At the beginning of May, Brazilian liberation theologian, Fr Leonardo Boff, was silenced for a year, another sign of Vatican disapproval of events in South America.
What story would be complete without the Princess of Wales? Early May saw the royal couple engulfed in a controversy, when during their Italian tour, declined to attend early morning Mass, said by . the Pope. Cardinal Hume called it "a serious set-back for ecumenism". But Charles and Diana still had their audience with the Pope, the Princess dressed all in black.
But it was Pope John Paul's trip to Holland, which really caught the world's attention. Accustomed to seeing the Pope cheered wherever he goes, Catholics and non-Catholics alike were shocked to see him the object of angry demonstrations and his presence the catalyst for political violence.
A bomb exploded in the Hague. In the most dramatic incident, in Utrecht, 10,000 Catholics held a peaceful march in protest at the Pope's teaching on birth control, abortion, and women priests. The demonstration was taken over by stonethrowing youths, who tried to storm the building nearby where the Pope was speaking.
Banners at a later papal visit to the Hague declared: "John Paul, stand aside, we can't see Jesus" and "If the Pope could be pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament". Although the violence was clearly, orchestrated by small groups, nothing to do with the Church, the events did the Dutch Church, in the forefront of Catholic liberalism, no good in the Pope's eyes.
Perhaps the most satisfying event of the year for the Pope was the huge celebration in Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia in July in honour of the Slav saints Cyril and Methodius.
Pope John Paul, the first Slav Pope, was unable to attend the celebrations, which symbolised the unity of East and West. But to coincide with the eleventh hundredth anniversary of Methodius' death, he issued a major encyclical, Slavorum apostoli, in praise of the brothers' work as the "authentic precursors of ecumenism". Pope John Paul II has certainly religiously put the East back on the world map.
And in August, the Pope visited another part of the world, whose importance to the Church is only slowly being realised — Africa. On a sixcountry tour, his third visit to the continent in five years, the Pope was keen to acknowledge Africa's heritage and character, while also asserting Church unity. He called for a church which would "mature and bear fruit that is authentically African and authetically Christian".
The Pope's twelve day trip included a visit to the Eucharistic Congress in Kenya, a stop-over in Moslem Morocco, and also one of the most extraordinary religious ceremonies of the year. The Pope wished to have an audience with an African elephant, but a small, tamer, rhinocerous was accepted as an alternative. The Pope duly blessed the animal, which had been specially flown in and fed for a week by Pope lookalikes, dressed in white, so that it would not bolt during the blessing.
Apart from a brief visit to Liechtenstein on Our Lady's birthday, the Pope stayed closer to home for the rest of the year, making a short excursion to Sardinia in October. He was too busy preparing for the largest "at home" of his pontificate the extraordinary synod.
But the Pope, who celebrated his 65th birthday in the Year of the Youth — remains energetic. The coming year will include trips to India, Australia and New Zealand, and Latin America. It will begin with his New Year broadcast to the world in over 40 different languages. Try doing that the morning after New Year's Eve.