Page 3, 5th October 1979

5th October 1979
Page 3
Page 3, 5th October 1979 — Variations on a holy enigma

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Organisations: Roman Catholic Church
Locations: Nowja Huta


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Variations on a holy enigma

By John Carey

JUST one year ago, the name of Karol Wojtyla was virtually unknown in the West. Today that seems unbelievable as the lace of Pope John Paul II smiles out from the pages of every newspaper in the world.

He will enter the second year of his pontificate in ten days time having established himself as the world's biggest box office attraction, But he remains something of an enigma.

In a revealing ┬░IT the cuff remark made to workers in the Polish town of Nowja Huta in June, the Pope said "I am sorry that their eminences the Cardinals have not been able to understand what type of Pope they had chosen."

The extraordinary three days in Ireland have not solved that riddle. But slowly the pieces of the jigsaw are beginning to add up and a clearer picture is beginning to emerge.

The most obvious thing about him is of course his "presence", his ability to communicate warmth and affection to crowds and individuals at the same time. It is something everyone has come to expect but to those of us seeing him in the flesh for the first time last weekend it still came as a shock.

It is a quality which he knows he has and which he uses to the full. What admirers call charisma, critics term manipulation. But no-one questions its existence.

Ile thrives on the response. An actor in his youth, he is still an actor at heart and often it is an audience which lifts him, particularly when non stop activity has sapped his physical strength.

The exhaustion showed last Saturday night when he finally appeared to speak to the press. The demands of the day showed in his walk and in the bags appearing under his eyes. But as the journalists rendering of "For he's a jolly good fellow" died away. his face creased into a smile, his shoulders lifted and he moved back into gear.

Ile thanked us in halting and broken English. "'thank you for your song. It was very pleased to me of hearing that I am a good fellow, If not a good fellow at least not quite bad." The next twenty minutes were pure showmanship, a mixture of humour and seriousness.

It is compelling and attractive, and it conveys the man's love and humanity. It inspires devotion and confidence. The danger is that it can obscure what he says and get in the way of sober analysis.


Such analysis reveals some a ppa ren I co e I rad ictions. I n Phoenix Park. for example, the Pope praised at length the age-old devotion of Irish Catholics in an address whicl ate saw as a rigid affirmation f traditional Catholicism. V,:.t at Drogheda, later the same day, his dramatic appeal for peace revealed his openness to Protestants also as "true brothers in Christ".

Again, on Sunday he seemed equally at home in the revivalist atmosphere of the Youth Mass in Galway and in the solemn celebrations at the shrine in Knock.

He is impatient with the restrictions placed by protocol yet at the same time he insists that nuns must wear habits.

Some of the paradoxes disappear or diminish if the speeches are seen as a whole, as a kind of Irish symphony. There is a clear development running through them giving them a degree of unity.

The scene was set at Phoenix Park where in effect, he told the people of Ireland that he was there as a loving brother who valued their traditions and their culture. He appealed to them not U) reject their past but to build on it.

From that moment the Pope was an Irishman. It enabled him to go on to Drogheda as Ireland's friend and that gave him the freedom to criticise the stains of violence and bigotry.

In Galway came his message of hope. He had praised the past and criticised the present. Now he stretched out his hands to the future: "Young people of Ireland I believe in you . , . you will have the power to make dreams come true."

Then to Knock, to the shrine of Our Lady, which he held up not as an altar to the past but rather as a symbol of the pilgrim Church on its way forward. Mary was the sign pointing not to herself but to Jesus.

And so finally he came to Limerick where once again he stressed the traditional values ol Catholic Ireland and especially the need for stability in family life.

The overall impression was one of conservatism. But it was not an appeal for a return to the past.

However, that is the message that Ireland may have heard, and may hear again, particularly if that is how the hierarchy choose to put it across in the days ahead. And that is not impossible in the Irish context.

II is hard to avoid the feeling that Pope John Paul is still at heart very much a Polish Pope. He feels most at home when, as in Ireland, the Catholic faith is embedded in the people's consciousness.

His trip to America, which ends on Sunday, is a fresh kind of challenge, and the effects that it will have on him will take some time to surface. At the moment he has little sympathy for trends in modern western society or indeed for some of those in the western Church. Ile does not yet fully understand the way of life of which America is the fullest expression and his inclination is to see it just in terms of moral decline.

In turn some westerners, while falling in love with the person, find some of his opinions difficult to accept. Their reaction is naturally somewhat ambivalent.

One year into his pontificate. therefore, the riddle remains. For the moment, however, it is enough to enjoy it.

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