I loved Pope John Paul II. In fact, I’m not sure I’d be Catholic today without his writing, example, and leadership. No matter how his papacy is measured in the long run, to me he reigns supreme as a man who combined personal holiness with brilliance.
While his administrative failures related to the sex abuse scandals are being debated inside and outside the Church, I was touched by the inaugural speech of Franciscan University of Steubenville’s “John Paul The Great” Fine Arts Lecture Series, given in March by Dr. Kazimierz Braun.
Braun knew the pope well. In fact, he used to belong to a group of university students in Warsaw whose mentor was Bishop Professor Karol Wotyla. The group met for seminars, retreats, vacations, and activities like volley-ball, skiing, hiking and kayaking. As a theater student, Braun felt a special connection to Bishop Wotyla who had a strong love for theater and the arts.
The affection and closeness between Wotyla and the students would continue. They never stopped calling him “Uncle” or “Unc” — even when he wore the papal miter. Braun, now a writer, director, scholar, and author, spoke movingly about the pope’s influence on his life:
…This exclamation, “Be not afraid!,” had both a religious and moral dimension: Do not be afraid of affirming Christ, living out his teachings, and using them in your life and work. It had a political and social dimension: Do not be afraid of demanding freedom from tyranny, do not be afraid to stand up for human rights and human dignity, and do not be afraid to always defend human life. Do not be afraid of your neighbor of a different religion, race, or culture. It also was an encouragement directed to artists and scholars: Do not be afraid to search for beauty. Do not be afraid to search for truth. Do not be afraid to search for excellence. Do not be afraid to stand alone. And to all: Do not be afraid to love.
John Paul the Great has enabled people to put fear behind them. Like a broken reed he has raised and made whole our hope. He has fanned the sparks of faith and courage into a flame. Above all, he has embraced all in unconditional love.
The entire speech, “John Paul II As I Remember Him” is worth reading in its entirety.