Mal Fletcher
Pope John Paul II: Voice for Life and Hope

This weekend saw the passing of a man who showed great conviction in an age of convenience and compromise.

Pope John Paul II believed not only in giving strong leadership to his flock, the largest part of the world’s Christian community. He also felt that the church, in an age of ethical confusion, has a duty to provide a strong yet hopeful moral compass to the wider world.

His stance on issues like contraception, abortion and euthanasia were not popular with liberal sections of either the mass media or society in general. Yet they demonstrated a consistent commitment to the notions that all life is sacred and the strong are responsible to care for the weak.

Many in the Christian community, Catholic and otherwise, have also held some of his statements up to question.

Yet few Christians would argue that John Paul was not a powerful voice for the protection of human life at every level.

Born Karol Jozef Wojtyla in the town of Wadowice, 35 miles south-west of the Polish capital Krakow, his commitment to life may have been shaped not only by his Catholic doctrine and personal Christian faith. He suffered great personal losses early in life.

His sister died before he was born, his mother died as a result of heart and kidney problems just after his ninth birthday and his adult brother died of scarlet fever when he was 12 years of age. He was well aquainted with death.

He also witnessed firsthand the pain of war and this shaped his lifelong opposition to warfare.

Already, John Paul's pontificate has been widely praised for its scope and reach.

He was the most travelled Pope in history -- aided, of course, by vast improvements in long-distant travel, but also by his decision to become a leader who connected with people the world over.

He was also a very athletic man, known in his early years for his skill on skis and for the long walks he liked to take. In his final days and weeks people could see traces of that physical fortitude in the way in which he dealt with illness.

In his homeland, John Paul was seen as a father to the nation. During his years as a priest, then a bishop and Archbishop, he constantly made his presence felt in defiance of the ruling Communist regime. Its leadership had consistently tried to stamp out Poland's strong Catholic faith and its Christian heritage.

He made a point of visiting his homeland not long after being crowned Pope, at the relatively young age of 58. Most authorities, including Lech Valesa, saw his presence and his calls for determination and hope among the people as key contributors to the downfall of communism in Eastern Europe.

There may be many ways to appreciate this man. For me, though, the greatest lesson of John Paul’s life and work, for all Christians, is that the church can and must play a role as a conscience voice in society – mixing strong convictions with positive and persistent hope.

His life also demonstrated that a consistent walk of righteousness, combined with humility, can and does inspire hope for the future.

The church is not at its best when it tries to play moral policeman for the rest of society. Christians cannot assume that other people will always appreciate their views on right and wrong, whatever those views might be -- and they do vary on different issues.

However, this Pope clearly believed that the church must take seriously the call of Christ to be the 'salt of the earth' and a light to the world.

Many sections of society will perhaps always be resistant to the voice of the church as a conscience.

Sometimes, people resist moral challenge from various institutional church groups because they see a church that appears to be divorced from real needs.

The church should not see itself as a ruling voice which gives discipline by divine right, but as a serving influence whose positive example shows communities a better and more healthy way to walk through life.

Every man leaves behind him a mixed legacy, but on the whole Pope John Paul maintained his dignity, his sense of righteousness, his calls for a positive view of human life and, above all, his love for and devotion to Christ.

Mal Fletcher (@MalFletcher) is the founder and chairman of 2030Plus. He is a respected keynote speaker, social commentator and social futurist, author and broadcaster based in London.

About us