by Sheila Ojendyk
GREENVILLE — George Weigel, noted Catholic theologian and author, calls Pope John Paul II “the greatest Christian witness of our times.”
Father Jay Scott Newman, pastor at St. Mary, invited Weigel to Greenville as part of the parish’s 150th anniversary celebration. A capacity crowd filled the parish gymnasium for the Nov. 2 event.
Weigel said the papacy of John Paul II centers around one recurrent theme, Christian humanism, which he described as Christ’s vision of the human person. The pope’s role in carrying out the mission of the Second Vatican Council has defined the church’s relationships to the modern world for the next several centuries. Weigel shared with the audience the 10 major accomplishments of Pope John Paul II:
1 Returning to the roots of St. Peter; the pope is a pastor, an evangelist, and a Christian witness, not a CEO.
2 Interpretations of Vatican II have defined the nature of true freedom and the meaning of human life for the modern world.
3 Played a major role in the collapse of communism; the pope understands that history is driven by culture — not by economics or politics — and culture is driven by cultus, the heart of which is religion.
4 Focus on building free political communities on moral cultures.
5 Moved toward Christian unity; the pope resurrected the ecumenical movement a year later when his 1996 encyclical, “Unity in Truth,” stated that one Christ means one church.
6 Opened doors to theological dialog between Catholics and Jews.
7 Opened dialogs with religious leaders outside the Judeo-Christian tradition.
8 Stood firm against the sexual revolution. Weigel referred to the pope’s assembled writings, “The Theology of the Body,” as “the most creative Christian response to the sexual revolution in the 20th century.”
9 Recognizes that communities with a strong sense of doctrine and boundaries thrive, while those without wither. Catholicism is consistent: the truths have been the same in all times, in all places, and in all cultures.
10 The pope is a source of inspiration who has changed countless lives.
In a round of questions from the audience, one man asked, “Why is it that Cardinal Bernard Law is still in his position?”
Weigel said that the church cannot let itself be swayed by plebiscites or polling data when considering the removal of a bishop from his office, but a man who loses his capacity to govern or to teach must either be removed or step down. The church must develop formal criteria, he said, and establish a set of standards to use when the capacity to teach and govern has been lost.
Another man asked about the pope’s announcement that “the theory of evolution was more than a theory.”
Weigel anticipates many discussions at the Pontifical Academy for Sciences about the development of the physical world. The Catholic Church cannot, however, accept the Darwinian model that describes evolution as random and purposeless and reduces humanity to a chemical process. The pope addressed the issue of evolution in Fatima a year after he was shot. “In the design of Providence, there are no mere coincidences.”
A question was raised about the American schism. Weigel said the present church crisis is somewhat rooted in the scandal of church leadership and can be traced to the culture of dissent. The pope’s strategy is two-fold. The church has clear boundaries for authentic Catholic theology, and good ideas eventually drive out bad ideas. He added, “Things never work as quickly as we would like, but they are underway.”
Another participant asked if the ultimate goal of ecumenism is interreligious dialog or conversion to the Catholic faith.
Weigel explained the Catholic understanding of ecumenism. The church is the body of Christ. Christ has one body, and there is one church in Christ. The fullest expression of Christ is the Catholic church. He emphasized this does not mean that one church in Christ and the Catholic church are identical. The goal of ecumenism must be full ecclesial reconciliation and full communion with all Christian churches.
Weigel said the goal of ecumenism is simpler: Make them understand that we are all brothers and sisters in Christ through baptism, clear their misunderstandings about the Catholic faith, and emphasize our common moral values.
The failure to make more headway on ecumenism is one of Pope John Paul II’s greatest disappointments. However, Weigel reported that the pope is not a man who gives up.
A woman asked about the pope’s devotion to Mary and why he changed the rosary. The pope [who suggested the addition of the luminous mysteries] believes that devotion to Mary points to Jesus, said Weigel, which then points to the heart of the Trinity. The luminous mysteries are based on the public ministry of Jesus.
The last question pertained to the pope’s early plays and his influence with young people. Weigel said the reason Pope John Paul II appeals so much to young people is that he doesn’t pander to them. He tells them they are capable of spiritual and moral grandeur and they should not sell themselves short.
Weigel signed his books for participants. A St. Mary parishioner had purchased 500 copies of Weigel’s latest book, “The Courage to be Catholic,” for free distribution. All were gone before Weigel left the building.