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15-year papacy sets direction for church years to come.

VATICAN CITY -- At the beginning of the 16th year of his pontificate, Pope John Paul II is adjusting his social message to a new world order and refining his call for obedience among the faithful.

These two tasks are at the top of the 73-year-old pontiff's agenda as he looks to the end of the second millennium and beyond, with a vision of a more doctrinally united church and a world more receptive to its teachings.

For the pope, passing the 15-year mark brings a time to set new goals for what has been one of the most dynamic papacies in history.

The global scene has changed dramatically since the evening of Oct. 16, 1978, when the stunning election of Polish Cardinal Karol Wojtyla was announced -- the first non-Italian pope in 455 years and he first ever from a communist country.

The pope's crucial role in communism's demise, many believe, will be the lasting legacy of his pontificate. But today, with the Cold War over and the church in a reuilding phase throughout Eastern Europe, the pope is shifting his moral spotlight to the shortcomings of Western society and the imbalance of the global economy.

The pope calls the economic disparity the "North-South" problem, and he has seen it up close during frequent trips to the Third World. Warning that the poor are getting poorer, the pope is saying the West cannot keep living on "an island of abundance surrounded by an ocean of suffering."

During a September trip to the Baltic countries, his first visit to a part of the former Soviet Union, the pope was an unusually stern critic of unbridled capitalism. In a speech that hinted of more to come, the pope said capitalistic ideology was responsible for "grave social injustices" -- and that Marxism's "kernel of truth" lay in seeing capitalism's faults.

As the pope fine-tunes his teaching on economic justice, he is also stressing the mnoral duty to respect the environment. This "greening" of Pope John Paul's message is likely to continue through the 1990s.

War looms large in the pope's mind and prayers as he begins his 16th year in office. But unlike the 1980s, this is not the nightmare scenario of nuclear conflagration. instead, it is the deadly reality of smaller ethnic of tribal wars that have flared up in places like the Balkans, Africa and the southern Soviet republics.

The pope's challenge in the '90s in to help ensure that religion does not fuel these miniconflicts, but acts as a reconciler. Further significant contributions could arrive when the Vatican completes documents in progress on the arms industry and nonviolence.

When it comes to the church's moral teaching, the pope will rely in futures years on two new, important documents: The Catechism of the Catholic Church and his latest encyclical, Veritatis Splendor ("The Splendor of Truth"). Together, they form the foundation of a growing papal crusade for morality in public and private life.

Veritatis Splendor is the pope's strongest answer to dissent within the church, insisting on the validity of universal moral norms and objective truth -- particularly in such troublesome areas as human sexuality -- as spelled out in church teaching.

But its wider audience is modern society, which the pope sees as dangerously absorbed in self-gratification and increasingly comfortable with ethical relativism. It is a society, the pope has warned, that "denies the value of anything unless it brings immediate advantage."

Many at the Vatican say this encyclical is a prelude to a much more specific document on "the protection of life." which would treat the social policy aspects of abortion, euthanasia, sterilization and other practices. The 1994 International Year of the Family also will give the pope a yearlong forum for sharpening his attack on what he has called the "culture of death" that threatens the weakest members of society.

In this most personal of ponitificates, Pope John Paul's age and energy level will also help set the tone in future years. The pope grabbed the world's attention in 1978 with his activism and youthful charisma. Today his shoulders are somewhat stooped and there is less bounce in his step, but he still has plenty of stamina.

Following the removal ofan intestinal tumor in 1992, the pope gradually resumed a heavy schedule of meetings, speeches and audiences at the Vatican. After 15 years of grueling travel, however, his foreign trips are shorter, and only two -- to Belgium and Africa -- are currently scheduled for 1994.

The calendar is being kept open (and fingers are being crossed) for a possible trip to Jerusalem, too. But a visit to Russia is still blocked by continuing Catholic-Orthodox tensions, the biggest ecumenical obstacle left on the horizon.

Two synods, one of Africa and one on religious life, will keep the pope busy in 1994. Both will underscore new area of development: The church in Africa has more than doubled in size under this pope, and the Third World is enjoying a boom in religious vacations.

The coming year, according to Vatican sources, is also expected to bring a papal decision opening the way to female alter servers -- not a move the Vatican sees as major, but which could make many local churches happy.

Sometime during 1994, the pope will probably name a new batch of cardinals. When he does, Pope John Paul will have appointed more than 80 percent of the cardinals eligible to vote in a conclave. Combined with the pope's appointment of about half the world's active bishops. it leaves no doubt that at age 15, this pontificate has set the church's direction for a good many years to come.
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Title Annotation:John Paul II; Looking Ahead...
Author:Thavis, John
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Date:Oct 22, 1993
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