The father of all mankind — A tribute to the Holy Father by Monsignor Thomas Hartman

30 June 2002

Since 9-11, our world has been scarred by terrorism, and we realise the wisdom of what Pope John Paul II said at the United Nations in 1998. He said that the next Millennium will he decided by nations — whether they live in a functional or dysfunctional way. A functional nation is one that takes care of the weak, nurtures the weak, shores up the weak. A dysfunctional nation is one that takes advantage of the weak.

As the world acknowledges the role that the Pope has played in international politics, for interfaith religions, and as an example of a spiritual leader before his God, we pause to acknowledge the great contribution that this wonderful Father of all mankind has made.

He has taught us that prayer is at the beginning and the end of our actions. When I had the opportunity to celebrate Mass with him, it struck me that he lives like Jesus on the cross and takes on all the pain and suffering he has seen in the world. He lifts it up to God and says, "Please bring food for the hungry, bring shelter for the homeless and bring peace for those who are in pain."

This holy man is certainly one who knows people. He himself was the victim of the Nazi regime during World War II. He suffered the loss of his mother at an early age as well as his brother. He knew what it was to study hard for a goal, and he studied not only for himself hut so that he could shape his mind to assume a leadership role in the Church.

When he was elected at 58 years old, he took on the burden of being the apostle for the world. He has travelled the entire world to bring people together. His grasp of other religions and other languages speaks volumes to so many and especially to anyone who may believe that the Church or he himself is narrow-minded. His awareness of science and his comfortableness with world leaders, his relentless pursuit of religious freedom and his magnificent, magical way with children are an example for all of us who seek to be people of faith. Pope Paul VI once said that a Christian is one who, when somebody has tears and not enough people to share these tears with, would he there to cry with that person; and when somebody has laughter and not enough people to share the laughter with, would be there to laugh with that person.

There is no clearer example of one who understands both sorrow and joy than the Holy Father. He understood the sorrow of World War II, the sorrow of oppression of his people, the sorrow of the hunger of the world, and at the same time, anyone who has been with him when he is with children notices a smile that is contagious.

So I join with Sri Chinmoy in acknowledging Pope John Paul II as our leader in faith, and as he declines physically, his light is only shining brighter.

He is not only an example to us of the Church that is youthful or the God who is receptive to the strong, hut he is also a person who believes with all his mind, in all his prayer and in all his soul that God is just as present to him. While each of us fears death, he reminds us that we have something greater awaiting us, and that is the true revolution, that is the true freedom, that is the true salvation.

Those who question whether God has visited the universe or abandoned it need only look at the model of this Pope — talking to young people in Canada at a World Youth Day, talking every Wednesday to thousands of people from different parts of the globe, and talking while he is on his knees, in his chapel alone with his God, as he is photographed so often and so accurately — to see that this is a man who knows his God. And for that we say, God bless you, Pope John Paul II.

Sri Chinmoy: Monsignor Thomas Hartman, whom I affectionately call Father Tom, is the Director of Radio and Television for the Diocesan Television Centre on Long Island, New York. He is a highly acclaimed television host and author.