[FOUNTAIN]A courageous life, and a light in death“Those to whom the care of the legacy of the keys has been entrusted / Gather here, allowing themselves to be enfolded by the Sistine’s colors, / By the vision left to us by Michelangelo.” Two years ago, Pope John Paul II wrote those words in a poem about the conclave that is soon to take place, the one that will decide his successor.
“So it was in August, and then in October of the memorable year of the two Conclaves, / And so it will be again, when the need arises after my death... It is given to man once to die, and after that the judgment!”
The “year of the two Conclaves” was 1978, when two popes passed away. In the second conclave, which took place just two months after the first, Karol Wojtyla became Pope. He conveyed the message that death is unavoidable, but doesn’t mean the end.
During his lifetime, the pontiff described the spiritual encounter with eternity at the moment of death as though he had already experienced it. “Even if I die, not everything will disappear,” he said. “There is something inside me that will never be extinguished. That something is facing him right at this moment.”
The inextinguishable “something” is the soul, and “him” would mean eternity, and the God of the Catholic Church. According to the late pope, death is neither dark nor vague. Nor does it mean vanishing.
Death is the last clear truth to visit a man. It is a brilliant light that reveals everything. Facing death, even history and conscience reveal themselves. The pope was speaking of the immortality of the spirit.
Perhaps because of his philosophy, Pope John Paul II lived more than a millennium’s history in less than a century of life. He apologized to the Islamic world for the arrogance and cruelty of the Crusades, which were promoted by popes nearly a millennium ago. He also repented the sins of the Catholic Church against the Greek Orthodox Church.
This contrition meant accepting as his own the sins committed by his spiritual ancestors centuries ago, and repenting of them. It is a task that would seem to be beyond the scope of a man.
Such repentance requires historical and emotional understanding. It also means acknowledging the wrongdoings of one’s spiritual ancestors and denying the spirit of the organization at that time. It must have taken tremendous courage, acquired through prayer.
Those who understand the meaning of death can live a better life. Living life means marching towards death. The late pope must have understood death well to have lived such a worthwhile life.
by Chun Young-gi
The writer is a deputy political news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.