Even the secular world against which he stood so defiantly recognized his greatness. But what was it that was so special about John Paul II, the supreme pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church? What set him apart and above all the secular leaders of his time?
At 84, he was old, stooped, suffered from Parkinson's and slurred his speech. He was decried by our media and cultural elites as a moral reactionary who had failed to bring his church into the 21st century.
But wherein did his greatness lie?
What set John Paul II apart from the other leaders of his time was his goodness, his holiness, his sanctity, his moral courage in defending the truths of the church and his uncompromising refusal to alter moral truth to accommodate the spirit of an immoral age. His charisma, like that of Mother Teresa, came of the fact that he was a Man of God, not a man of this world. He became popular by testifying to the unpopular truths of Jesus Christ.
What those most disappointed with John Paul's failure to conform church teaching to trendy views on contraception, abortion, stem cell research and homosexuality fail to understand is that it was because the pope defied the spirit of the age that he was great. He believed in moral absolutes in a world of moral relativism. He was a beacon of light in a darkening age, a beacon of truth in a moral wilderness.
He died in the 40th year following the close of Vatican II, the church council called by a predecessor, John XXIII. And by the time John Paul II died, all the fashionable and trendy clerics of that time, from Hans Kung to the "Are-You-Running-With-Me-Jesus?" clergy were gone and forgotten
"How many divisions does the Pope have?" Stalin cynically asked. But it was this Polish pope with no army who would inspire Solidarity to stand up to Stalin's empire and help bring it down peacefully in 1989.
"We're more popular than Jesus now!" John Lennon exclaimed back then. Where are the Beatles now? "Is God Dead?" Time famously asked in the 1960s. Now people ask, "Is AOLTimeWarner dead?"
But if John Paul II achieved greatness as a man, a leader, a pope, the same cannot be said of the church he led.
Here in America, there has been a dramatic contraction in the numbers of nuns, priests, churches and parish schools since Vatican II. The church in America has been horribly scarred by the ugliest scandal in its history, the abuse of thousands of altar boys and Catholic children by pedophile and homosexual priests, who crept into the seminaries and were not purged when their predations were discovered.
Moreover, there has been a widespread loss of faith and belief in traditional teachings. On birth control, divorce, sexual morality, abortion, assisted suicide and euthanasia, millions of Catholics now embrace Hollywood values and the culture of death. Indeed, it was because John Paul II would not yield on any issue that the "Cafeteria Catholics" still cannot concede his greatness.
Today, we are told a new pope must reconcile Catholic teaching to the views of American Catholics. But the proposition is demonstrably absurd.
While the mainstream Protestant churches shrink, the more orthodox and militant churches that make demands upon their flocks to live by Christian truths are attracting converts.
It was the philosophy of John Paul II that he would do all he could to defend and advance the truths Christ came to earth and died to teach the world. After that, it was up to the Holy Ghost. Now that God has called his good and faithful servant home after a long lifetime of labor, it is up to the Holy Ghost.