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John Paul's "purification of memory".

A monthly journal like ours has a hundred topics to cover and keep up with; but for this edition I decided to push all these into the background and concentrate on Pope John Paul II's journey to the Holy Land.

One commentator called it the Pope's "greatest performance," an expression which fails the nature as well as the meaning of the event. And so, perhaps, do titles such as "John Paul's moment in history."

Acting out

The Holy Father was "acting out" in his travels God's previous decisive dealing with us, the calls to Abraham, Moses and above all, to His Son made flesh, Jesus.

The first thing to remember is that the Holy Father was not visiting and speaking in his own name but in the name of Christ. He desired with all his might--despite his personal physical handicaps, age and the political problems of the day--to walk in the footsteps of Jesus, who traversed this same region two thousand years ago. The visit stood in the light of the Holy Jubilee and the desire to start the new, third, millennium with a clean slate, to wipe away--if this were possible--the sins and transgressions of the past and then to start afresh.

Again, the Pontiff came to Jordan, Israel and Palestine during Lent, the season for seeking forgiveness, doing penance and finding reconciliation, first with God, then with our neighbour. In order to prepare for this sojourn lasting from March 20-26, he and fellow Church dignitaries had made a general confession in St. Peter's, Rome, on Sunday March 12, an event without precedent in either Jewish pre-Christian history or in 2000 years of Christianity.

Yes, the prophets of old had asked God's pardon for the nation's sins. Yes, the Our Father teaches Christians to ask God's forgiveness just as "we forgive those who trespass against us." But at no time has either Jew or Christian asked for pardon for sins of the past, including those through whom a collective "we," that is, the human members of the Mystical Body of Christ, have offended.

Pope Adrian VI acknowledged in 1523 that the Church leadership and members had contributed to the religious convulsions of his time. Pope Paul VI and the Second Vatican Council of 1962-1965 acknowledged that Catholics, too, contributed to disunity among Christians and to anti-Semitism. But they did not ask pardon from those who had been offended in the past or the present.

Pope's mea culpa

This is what our Pontiff did on Sunday, March 12. The confession of sins and asking for forgiveness in St. Peter's covered seven areas:

* sins in general;

* sins committed in the service of truth;

* sins which have harmed the unity of the body of Christ;

* sins against the people of Israel;

* sins committed in actions against love, peace, the rights of peoples, and respect for cultures and religions;

* sins against the dignity of women and the unity of the human race;

* sins in relation to the fundamental rights of the person.

Contrary to the demand of some, John Paul declined to leave himself open to disputes about the pros or cons of particular historical events. Instead, "among sins committed in service of the truth," for example, he asked pardon for the use of force, an idea rejected by Jesus himself.

The Holy Father regards the purification of memory among the signs "which may help people to live the exceptional grace of the Jubilee with greater fervour", as he puts it in his letter on the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000 (Nov 29,98). Like a personal confession, this purification liberates the personal and communal consciences, preparing us to fight the same offences with greater determination in the future.

One newspaper, commenting on what it expected to happen on March 12, listed nine "Vatican crimes" (Nat. Post, March 11). But as John Paul has pointed out several times, the crimes--insofar as they are valid at all and not the products of unscholarly generalizations by ignorant people--are not those of the Church but of some of her members.

We ourselves should not hesitate to adopt the course of truth just because somebody here or there might misunderstand it or make use of it for purposes of anti-Catholic propaganda. As the Pope puts it: "Let them do so without seeking anything in return, but strengthened only by the 'love of God which has been poured into our hearts' (Rom 5:5)".

Canadian confession needed

It is my conviction that the Church in Canada should ask the pardon of God and of all those misled by the mistaken deviation from the encyclical Humanae vitae in September 1968, the so-called Winnipeg Statement. Since that date the Canadian leaders of the Church have failed to oppose the permissive society with the vigour and decisiveness required for what is essentially a spiritual battle. That apology would fall under John Paul's last category, "sins in relation to the fundamental rights of the person."

Let us pray for that grace.
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Title Annotation:Pope John Paul II
Publication:Catholic Insight
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:May 1, 2000
Previous Article:BOOK REVIEW.
Next Article:Letters to the editor.

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