Where is Pope John Paul II taking the Roman Catholic Church?

On October 16, John Paul II will celebrate his seventh anniversary as Pope and spiritual head of 750 million Roman Catholics spread around the world. At the time of his election, he was 58 years old. Now he is a strong and vigorous 65; and if he lives as long as most of his last nine predecessors, he will remain Pope well past the year 2000.

This son of a Polish army captain and a German-speaking Lithuanian schoolteacher has proved to be the most popular pope of this century. Already his firm hand has reversed the direction in which the Roman church was headed when he came to power. In the two decades that may well remain to him, what new directions may we expect of this powerful leader who is determined not to let things drift?

One thing we may say for sure: he will not restore the Roman church to its narrow isolation and rigid conservatism of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Vatican II settled that. And Pope John Paul II not only helped formulate that new face of Catholicism, but time and again since becoming Pope, he has reaffirmed his commitment to its basic principles.

Has this Pope, then, joined the new wave of radical Catholicism set to modernize the Roman church and bring it into line with the twentieth century? By no means! Anyone who knew him as bishop of Kraków or as Polish Cardinal Wojtyla knows better. Like Churchill, who opined that he was not about to preside over the dismemberment of the British empire, John Paul II is determined not to sit idly by and watch the disintegration of the Catholic church. And this is just what he thinks would be the end of the road if the Catholic revisionists had their way.

With a faith forged in the ...

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