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Jesus! He Means It......

Pope John Paul at The Wailing Wall

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, March 29, 2000.

It is impossible not to mention Pope John Paul in Jerusalem. I am not Catholic nor am I Jewish, nor am I a believer in God. Still, watching that rugged old man who unmistakingly radiates charisma and character, grasp the Wailing Wall with his palsied arm and pray, inserting a written prayer asking forgiveness from God for 2000 years of his church's bigotry and prejudice and intellectual stupidity is a moment I, for one, am glad I lived to see. There are millions of Jews and other people through the centuries who wished they simply could have lived, but perhaps they somehow saw, and know. You want to think so.

The extreme Jewish elements were annoyed he did not fling himself on his knees and beg their personal forgiveness (as if it were theirs to give), and the Palestinians were annoyed he didn't castigate Israel and grab the Palestinian flag and wave it from the balcony, and the ferret-faced oligarchs of the minority Christian churches were annoyed he didn't declare a Crusade to take back the 8 PM service from the Orthodox church at the Holy Sepulchre or at least get a higher percentage of the concession money, but the vast majority of people of all faiths in that touchy area, Islam included, reportedly were at least mildly impressed with the whole trip. Humility and kindness are rare in Christian hierarchies, and it was therefore wondrous to see at least some of Christ's suggested personal attributes manifested in the land of his birth by the Pope. Nobody, to my knowledge, has trundled down the road of inquiry to what I consider the big blow John Paul struck to the Catholic establishment and Vatican Curia. If Popes ask forgiveness for the actions, essentially, of past Popes and their church, what does that do to the Law of papal infallibility? It seems to me that this ridiculous doctrine was tossed into sea or, more appropriately, ripped from Catholic law and used as a scratch pad for John Paul's note to God in Herod's temple wall. If the Pope is infallible, surely there is nothing to ask forgiveness for from God.

The Doctrine, mulled about during times of papal imperialism during the Crusades and the Renaissance but not made manifest until last century, was clearly bogus given the fact that during the fourteenth century the Church split in two with their own separate Popes, one in Rome, one in France. The Church has never successfully patted this into shape, but if you needed a single shot to blow infallibility out of the water, even in the metaphorical sense, there's the issue to lock and load.

But the conservatives in the church love it. The whole genre of social issue religion is, essentially, based upon it. Birth control, abortion, homosexuality, and women in the priesthood are issues not successfully addressed, much less resolved, because of that infamous, stupid, and ludicrous law of human perfection. An infallible Pope needs no forgiveness, or otherwise God himself needs it. Catholicism ain't what it used to be from the completion of the Pope's trip to the Six Flags - literally - Over Holy Land Theme Park and Combat Zone.

I wonder how a Muslim views the well-prepared Pope respectfully and rather cheerfully calming his flock during the service while the scheduled Islamic call to prayer echoed through the city. Surely, he would not have expected a similar reaction among any of the native holy men so interrupted. The Pope did not take it as a blow against his manhood, or an insult to church or God. He did not fire an AK-47 into the sky in celebration when it was over. He calmly continued in peace. I wonder how the bitter, mean spirited local Christian clerics viewed the Pope's embrace of Judaism as his church's Elder Brother, or what the religious and secular Jews thought when a Catholic descendent of the Inquisition and Crusades, and pogroms, and forced baptism, asked their forgiveness and personally and professionally acknowledged both descent and indebtedness to the Jewish faith, and did so in their capital at their most religious site. Whirrrrrr, click. Flap, flap, flap…..Does not compute. Splice tape and re-enter data.

The Vatican is openly concerned that the wounded old Pope, who cannot be replaced unless he resigns, might live for years and settle into a sort of dementia and succumb to Alzheimer's or senility. This trip might provide evidence to them that his derangement has begun. Perhaps, they fear, he might do something demented like declare Haile Selassie co-Christ of the church and make ganja part of the sacrament. He could do all that plus cut the Shroud of Turin into a bitchin' cape to wear during his mandatory disco night every Tuesday in the Sistine chapel or declare casual Friday attire okay for the gay female priests he actively recruits at Club Med. He can do all that and he will still be recalled as the guy who stood up when history called for an admission of accountability and pretty much took it on the chin. Nobody who saw the Catholic Pope literally holding on the Wailing Wall for support after inserting his message to God into the stone crack can doubt that this Pope, whatever else, thought he felt the pain of others through the pain of his lifetime and responded as best he could. All things considered, it is more than could be reasonably asked of an ancient man, and he elevated his office and the lives of all who witnessed it. You can only hope some Palestinian, Lebanese, Syrian, or Israeli kids today, faith unimportant, will recall and emulate in later years the structurally symbolic trip to Jerusalem of John Paul the Second, and decide that they need a lot more of that around there.