The pope is much more than the head of the Catholic church.
He is the head of a city-state called Vatican City that actually issues passports and has a population count (about 800). That makes him a world leader. And even though he heads the smallest city-state on the planet, no world leader’s reach comes close to the pope’s. This is a position for which national boundaries mean little. His jurisdiction and followers are scattered all about the countries of the world.
A papal visit can be a life-changing, even world-changing event.
Moreover, ours is a world starving for moral leadership, regardless of religion or denomination. What other leaders in peace, love and morality come quickly to mind?
Indeed, many believe that John Paul II was one of the great world leaders of the 20th century. The Poland native’s gentle staff stood up to Eastern Bloc communism and fractured it in much the same way Moses’ own freed the Israelites.
John Paul II was a decidedly difficult act to follow – and Pope Benedict XVI also was cast into the fire of a blazing pedophilia scandal. Benedict’s fatigue and his frustrations – even about a lack of privacy – were evident in his last public addresses this week before becoming the first pope in six centuries to walk away from the job, effective today.
The leader of 1 billion Catholics, and the voice of conscience for many others, a pope carries the world on his shoulders. What a burden it must be for even the holiest among us. And that weight is usually added at an advanced age; Pope Benedict is 85.
Even Cuba’s Raul Castro plans to kick back in five years when he’s 86.
The process to choose Benedict’s successor is shrouded in smoke – literally. But here’s hoping the next pope can be a shepherd of peace not only for his own flock but for a world awash in conflict, confusion and chaos.
Catholics and non-Catholics alike could sure use a John Paul the third.