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Pope embodied courage, love, United Methodist leaders say


Pope embodied courage, love, United Methodist leaders say

April 2, 2005       

A UMNS Report
By Linda Bloom*

Pope John Paul II is being remembered by United Methodists as one of the great leaders of the Roman Catholic Church.

The 84-year-old pontiff, whose health had taken a serious decline over the past few weeks, died peacefully April 2 at the Vatican in Rome.

“John Paul II personified the Roman Catholic Church for more than a quarter-century,” said Bishop William B. Oden, ecumenical officer for the United Methodist Council of Bishops. “He embodied its conflicts, its strengths and weaknesses and its struggles.

“Without a doubt, he will be seen as one of Catholicism’s greatest popes—personable, charismatic and clear about his vision of the church,” Oden added. “Still, he left a legacy of many unresolved issues, including women in the priesthood, celibacy and the call for greater lay involvement in decision making.”

Bishop Peter D. Weaver, president of the Council of Bishops, expressed condolences to “our Roman Catholic sisters and brothers” on the loss of the pope. “He was a courageous witness for Christ and a compassionate brother to the poor and oppressed of this world.  We give thanks for his life and ministry among us and the new life he now has in Christ.”

Weaver said he had been reminded of the courage of John Paul II during a recent visit with United Methodists in the African nation of Burundi.

“Because of the excellent relationship between United Methodists and Roman Catholics in that nation, I stayed in a Roman Catholic seminary in a fairly remote and sometimes dangerous part of that country,” he explained. “A Vatican envoy had been killed not too far from there. And yet an example of the pope’s courage and commitment to forgotten places is that he came to visit this seminary and gave it support and encouragement as a part of his deep concern for Africa. Such visits never made the news but were at the heart of his ministry.”

Bishop Ann B. Sherer, president of the United Methodist Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns, remembered the pope’s commitment to the poor.

“We, as United Methodists, join the whole world in celebrating the way the pope has sensitized us all to the needs of the poor, the needs of the marginalized, the needs of the suffering,” she said. “We join our ecumenical partners around the world in bearing witness to the goodness of God in life and in death.”

The Rev. Geoffrey Wainwright has been chairman of the dialogue between the World Methodist Council and the Roman Catholic Church since 1986. He last saw the pope in November at a 300-member symposium organized by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

“Pope John Paul II’s contribution to ecumenism is epitomized in his encyclical letter of 1995, ‘Ut Unum Sint’ (‘That They May Be One’),” Wainwright told United Methodist News Service. “The most exciting element in that letter was his invitation to leaders of other churches and their theologians to join with him in ‘a patient and fraternal dialogue’ concerning how the ‘ministry of universal unity’ traditionally claimed and offered by the (Holy) See of Rome could be exercised in new ways in a new situation.”

That topic has been a discussion point in the Methodist-Catholic dialogue since 1986, according to Wainwright, who is the Robert E. Cushman Professor of Christian Theology at United Methodist-related Duke Divinity School.

Paragraph 62 of the dialogue’s Nairobi Report of 1986, “Towards a Statement on the Church,” said: “It would not be inconceivable that at some future date in a restored unity, Roman Catholic and Methodist bishops might be linked in one episcopal college, and that the whole body would recognize some kind of effective leadership and primacy in the bishop of Rome.”
Progress has been hindered over the past few years by the pope’s declining health. “One must hope that his successor(s) will take up the cause vigorously,” Wainwright said. “As John Paul insisted, unity among Christians and their churches is intrinsic to a credible witness to the Gospel before the world. In this, I like to say that he has been a successor to John R. Mott, the early 20th-century American Methodist layman and pioneer of the ecumenical movement.”
The fact that John Paul II was a friend to a Methodist pastor when he was the archbishop of Krakow, Poland, was confirmed last October when the international dialogue commission met in Krakow. “The story still circulates of how Archbishop Karol Woytila (as he then was) paid a hospital visit to Methodist Pastor Lucian Zaperty,” Wainwright explained.
Wainwright was one of three keynote speakers at the November symposium, which marked the 40th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council’s decree on ecumenism, “Unitatis Redintegratio” (“The Restoration of Unity”).

“The pope presided over a special service of Vespers in St. Peter’s,” he recalled. “When he was wheeled in, he looked radiant; and the thought struck me from the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:8-10:  this was ‘strength perfected in weakness.’”
The Rev. George Freeman, chief executive of the World Methodist Council, had met John Paul II on two different occasions and remembered being deeply impressed by the influence the pope had on so many people.

“In January 2003, I attended the Day of Prayer for Peace in the World, sponsored by the pope,” he recalled. “We rode from Rome to Assisi by train in the car adjacent to the pope’s car. All along the route for the two-hour train ride were hundreds of thousands of people, old and young alike, who lined the streets, roadways and train platforms just to get a glimpse of his train as it sped by. There were thousands and thousands of signs being held by those who love him, wishing him well and thanking God for his life.”

Freeman noted that while the president of the United States may be the most politically powerful man in the world, the pope had a different type of influence. “Pope John Paul II has offered leadership to the world for 26 years and represents a different power, one that transcends national identity and self-interest, which represents a kingdom that is eternal and cannot be shaken.”

United Methodist Bishop William Boyd Grove, former ecumenical officer for the Council of Bishops, called the pope’s death a loss for all people of faith and good will.

“My mind was not always with the pope’s mind—I disagreed with him about many things,” Grove said. “My heart was always with him. Who could not be moved by his strength and conviction?”

Calling the pope “a mighty force for peace and justice in the world,” the bishop noted that he was privileged to meet John Paul II in February 2003 as part of a small ecumenical delegation encouraging the pope in his opposition to the invasion of Iraq. “His life, like the music of Bach, has been lived ‘soli Gloria deo’—to the glory of God alone,” Grove added.

The Rev. R. Randy Day, chief executive of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, also saluted the pope as “a powerful champion” of peace and justice.

“He was consistent throughout his long papacy in the promotion of nonviolent solutions to disputes large and small, and he was unswerving in his opposition to the menace of nuclear weapons,” Day said.

Day noted the “great affinity” between the pope’s views on war and those expressed by the United Methodist Church through its Council of Bishops and General Conference.

“John Paul’s mighty voice for peace and his frequent calls to transform swords into plowshares will be acutely missed,” he said. “So will his strong opposition to capital punishment in all forms. I hope that his successor will be as clear and as forceful in his witness for a world of peace and justice.”

For the Rev. Bruce Robbins, former chief executive of the Commission on Christian Unity, the pope’s integrity and faithfulness made the world a better place.

“As United Methodists we could so often disagree with him—such as his stands against clergy marriage or the ordination of women—but we always knew his convictions were faith-based, genuine and not manipulative,” Robbins said. “And other times I so greatly appreciated his convictions, such as his strong opposition to the Iraq war.

“I hope United Methodists across the world will give thanks to God for the gifts and blessings we all received from Pope John Paul II.”

*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or

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