My old boss at The American Spectator, Wlady Pleszczynski (pictured), gives us his take on the pope, and the view from Poland. The article, titled "Everyone's Pope," begins with the cheeky assertion that
Among the Christian religions only one is the genuine article and it's known as Roman Catholicism. It's an open secret, especially among non-believers. Reactions to the death of Pope John Paul II don't really allow for any other conclusion.
Only the other day our anti-religious zealots were ranting about America as a theocracy run by religious zealots and nuts. They couldn't wait for Terri Schiavo to disappear and to take Tom DeLay with her. Yet within hours of her death the dominant media shifted dramatically. John Paul II was on his deathbed, and well before 2:27 p.m. eastern time on Saturday the dominant media culture, which normally runs from religion like wild tribesmen from a voodoo curse, was canonizing this greatest imaginable Pope and leading the universal mourning. Vatican City became the center of the world, and no one could express anything other than deep sadness, grief, and a sense of irreplaceable loss.
The television coverage was not much to Pleszczynski's liking, however, because the broadcasters "couldn't let the mourners' tearful sorrow speak for itself. By nature television talks too much. Stopping to think would be more than its practitioners could bear."
As for print, he noted that many American newspapers ran "bigger headlines than after Pearl Harbor. Huge spreads. Special sections. A five-page obituary in the New York Times alone, and it only scratched the surface."
Much more to his liking were the "reactions coming out now from Poland," from a people who instinctively "know just how mysteriously God operates." To wit,
I went to one of [Poland's] leading secular voices, Adam Michnik's Gazeta Wyborcza, to gauge reactions. Among those it posted, two leaped out. There was former Czech president and famed dissident Vaclav Havel, commenting thus:
"... I regarded the Pope as my wise and forbearing confessor. John Paul II died a martyr who showed us all that it's not only important to know how to accept one's death, but that no less important is it to fight for life to the final moment, because life is the greatest gift which has been given to us."
This is followed by a long quotation by former Marxist philosopher Leszek Kolakowski and then Pleszczynski's own coda:
Notice that neither Havel nor Kolakowski described himself as a believer or even practicing Catholic. But they knew the benefit that derived from having been led by someone who did. The trick now will be to remain not afraid in his absence.