To the volumes written and spoken about Pope John Paul II over the past few weeks, there is not much to be added. I will simply make a few personal observations. First, after reading two of his books and closely monitoring his leadership over the 27 years of his papacy, it seems to me that he came as close as one could come to the proverbial “philosopher-king”—a man who combined wide-ranging and deep philosophical insights with enormous spiritual conviction, compassion, and moral courage, and who personified leadership with an acute awareness of the highest anxieties and yearnings of his constituents. Second, I was struck by Rabbi Daniel Lapin’s identification of the idea that was his singular coherence—the sanctity of life, and the triumph of life over death. For him, human dignity was not only primary, it was almost everything. Third, I agree with Charles Krauthammer’s analysis of what I will call the convergence of forces and personalities, in which John Paul (along with Reagan, Thatcher, and Solzhenitsyn) was prominent, in the defeat of Soviet totalitarianism. I will quickly add that, although I am a believer, it doesn’t require an inordinate amount of faith to buy into Krauthammer’s suggestion that there was a providential hand at work in the choice of Karol Wojtyla as Pope at a critical juncture in history when the Brezhnev Doctrine appeared to be a permanent fact of life. And I will go further in asserting that it is not a big reach to assign a significant role for this providence to the choice of his successor at this particular time, a point to which I will soon return.
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