Page 1310 - Week 05 - Tuesday, 5 April 2005

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Saturday night—was that one of the people still around said to me; “Mrs Dunne, why is it that of all organisations only the Catholic Church has managed to have the one world leader thing when no-one else has succeeded?” I think it is because of that. If we could change, it would not be the church. I saw my children’s eyes roll as I rose to the occasion and gave the answer that, perhaps when Peter was told that the gates of hell would not prevail against it, Jesus Christ really meant it; and that, when we are told as children that this is the one true church, they really mean it. And this is why the so-called conservatism that people criticise is at the heart and soul of what is John Paul II.

The point is not that John Paul II preserved the essentials because he was conservative; the point is that, even though he was in every sense a modern thinker, in every sense a man of the 20th century, yet he was the leader of the Catholic Church and knew that a church which denied its historical basis would be denying itself. This is not to say, of course, that the church is entirely free of practical considerations. In our time, the church undertook great experiments. The experiments centred on the Second Vatican Council, whose key documents for their stand showed the influence of the present pope years before his election.

In practical matters, in appearance if not in fundamentals, the church has largely reinvented itself or at least in the way it presents itself to the world. The legacy of John Paul II has been to manage much of the implementation of change—the working out of the new vision to steer the church from a period where shockwaves of change were still echoing through the corridors and cloisters towards a period of new stability and, hopefully, of greater strength where those changes have been assimilated but it is still recognised that change is not an end in itself.

At this point, Mr Speaker, it is perhaps useful to remind ourselves that the church is truly a world organisation. The view that we have of the church in the West, where the TV cameras mostly are, is not the whole picture, nor even the largest part. We tend to forget the principal concerns of the church in most of the world are not with scandals and bio-ethical dilemmas or arguments about the physical resurrection, important though these things are, but about the struggle to provide the basics of care for the souls and bodies of the poor, the poor in spirit, for the starving in Sao Paolo, for the oppressed of Sudan or Aceh or for the dying in Calcutta.

We also have to remember that the Catholic Church is not just a church for the poor. I would like to quote from Father Robert Sirico, an American Catholic priest and commentator. In one of the things that he has written recently on John Paul II, he says:

One of the marks of John Paul’s greatness was his rejection of ideological categories and limitations and his ability to hold complex thoughts together as a result. For him, there was no contradiction between the celebration of the vocation of business leaders, as he does so innovatively in his 1991 encyclical Centesimus Annus, while upholding and defending the rights and dignity of simple peasants. In his view, both positions flowed, not from some poll he took, but from the intrinsic dignity and eternal destiny of the human person: a being at once unique, unrepeatable and immortal.

The people engaged in this work are, on the whole, not wracked by self-doubt. They are not giving interviews or dancing on the edge of dissent and they are not holding seminars and being too busy for people. John Paul II, from his perspective as a man involved in

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