As I watch the hundreds of thousands of people paying homage to Pope John Paul II this week I am well aware of his greatness as a human being and as a world leader. However, my thoughts and prayers are centered specifically with the hundreds of millions of Catholics for whom he has provided such excellent leadership.
I’m not Catholic. Nevertheless, my appreciation and respect for Catholicism and its people has grown throughout my life. Growing up in the fifties I never heard much kindness expressed toward Catholics, but even the Protestant denominations argued amongst each other about religious doctrine. Gossip aside, I did what most people do and formed my opinions based upon the Catholic people I’ve met and known. After all, Christ said, “By their fruits ye shall know them”.
The two qualities that best describe my Catholic friends are “traditionally-dedicated” and “non-judgmental”.
The traditional dedication of Catholic people truly amazes me. On Sunday morning they go to mass in great numbers. While their liturgy is a lot more formal and automated than I’m used to, it works for them. And why shouldn’t it. The magnificence of the Catholic empire is truly amazing. With seventeen percent of the world’s people under its umbrella, in virtually every country in the world, the Catholicism is the undisputed “king” of Christian religions.
I will never forget a midnight Christmas mass I attended in Mangalore, India. Dressed in both western attire and gorgeous traditional saris, Mangalorian Catholics flooded the church to celebrate the birth of Christ. It was a night I’ll never forget. In my son’s neighborhood in south Minneapolis a Catholic church conducts mass in Spanish for the neighborhood’s growing Hispanic population. After the conclusion of the mass I am particularly impressed by the Hispanic sense of family. Mothers, Fathers and children spill onto the street, beautifully dressed in their best clothes. My hometown boasts stately St. Stanislaus Kostka Catholic Church, built in 1894 by hard working Polish immigrants. Making only fifty-cents a day they sacrificed to build a church of European quality.
Whether they are Indians from Mangalore, Hispanics from Minneapolis, or Poles from Warsaw, the Catholic fabric represents a beautiful collage of humanity. The essence of traditional Catholicism is people from different races, countries, and languages, all in unified dedication to the Lord God and his son, Jesus. Some are rich, most are poor, many of them bear the yoke of personal tribulations and political persecution, but Catholics are for real.
I especially appreciate the non-judgmental side of Catholics. None of my Catholic friends have ever criticized another religion in my presence. Maybe it’s because the Catholics are #1 in the Christian world and have nothing to prove. Probably it’s because they are secure and satisfied with their religious beliefs and find little time to cause trouble for others.
When my daughter entered sixth grade my wife and I decided to enroll her in a Catholic school. Being of another faith, my wife was reluctant initially because she didn’t want our daughter to be indoctrinated into Catholicism. Both of us were primarily concerned about my daughter’s lack of academic progress in the government (public) school, so we enrolled her in the Catholic system.
Her first year was tough because she had to catch up academically. She made the adjustment successfully and graduated from the Catholic high school. My wife and I were active in the band boosters, serving as co-presidents for three years. We were always welcome and never felt that we were on the “outside looking in”. My wife’s initial fears were unfounded. Our daughter was blessed with a faith-based educational experience. She remains a non-Catholic today but has been enriched by both the academic and religious teachings she learned in their schools.
Today, my Catholic friends, as you mourn the loss of your Pope, I pray for you. Thanks for touching my life in so many positive ways over the years. May you continue your historic and marvelous journey as a great and loving people.