Wave of Hagiography

I’m back – perhaps in a bid for small-screen immortality? But be advised that this is going to be a day-to-day decision – or, more likely, even week-to-week.

The timing is a bit strange, since I re-emerge onto the blogging scene, eyes blinking, into the blinding light of the story dominating world news: the Pope’s death, of course. Assenting to “go with the flow” for now, in fact turning into a glutton for punishment, I immediately resort to what is sure to be “all Pope news, all the time”: the Polish press. Continuing to take things to the limit, why not head straight to the leading Polish daily (long-time EuroSavant readers – if there are any left – will know immediately whereof I speak): Gazeta Wyborcza.

Strangely, the founding editor of Gazeta was Adam Michnik, famous Polish dissident and atheist, whose family background is actually Jewish. Michnik still is connected to the paper – at least in the sense of owning quite a bit of the holding company – but, clearly, he withdrew to the sidelines long ago when it came to matters editorial. In any case, you don’t stay Poland’s leading daily by steadfastly refusing to cover the news that Poles want to hear, and at the intensity with which they want to hear it. (You might remember that Gazeta became Poland’s leading daily in the first place, on the other hand, out of unique historical circumstances involving the first half-way free election allowed in Poland since the Thirties, in the summer of 1989.) Now, that link to Gazeta that I give you at the end of the preceding paragraph is to its homepage, and so will have to have changed by the time most honored readers read this and perhaps try it out themselves, so let me just try to give you some sense of what I see: “Jan Pawel II, Papiez, Jan Pawel II, Papiez, etc.” I’m sure you can make out what those mean. The articles there have titles like “How to Get to Rome for the Funeral of Jan Paul II,” and “An Interview with Archbishop Tadeusz Goclowski”; only three links lead to stories dealing with something else, and they include (by the way) They Killed Patients for Money – nothing to do there with John Paul II, I assure you.

Hey, these should be some permanent links: check out the actual front page of today’s Gazeta paper edition – huge picture of his body being transported to St. Peter’s, banner headline reading “Last Time to See the Pope,” and of course off to the side leads for other main articles in today’s issue, under the rubric “Today in Gazeta.” Yes, all five of them also deal in some way with the Pope. I like the fourth from the top best: “Good God, the Pope can speak Russian!”, the account of a Russian journalist who once met him. And believe me, in a Polish context, bothering to know Russian is indeed an unmistakeable sign of someone’s broad-mindedness and even, in a secular way, ecumenicalism. Then, at the bottom, is the lead to Timothy Garton Ash’s comment on the Pope’s life. Fortunately, you can read it in English here.

And then the second page (Don’t worry: I’ll stop here): The headline reads “Little cards for a Friend,” and treats all the “thank-you” cards, flowers, photos, and the like, that visiting “pilgrims” have placed in St. Peter’s Square in what has by now become the standard public expression of mourning. Or below that: “Arturo, He Wants to See You,” about Arturo Mari, the pontiff’s personal photographer for his entire 26-year reign. Then, down and to the right, there is “John Paul the Great” : whether John Paul II’s name should go down in history as one of the few truly “great” popes. Yes, it’s hagiography, but pretty much in line with all the other material.


What do I think, you ask? Well, I’m a blogger, remember, if intermittent, but that means I can answer with a link . . . CAREFUL, careful, that doesn’t mean you have to go ahead and click on it right away! That link leads to the Rude Pundit’s take on this “Pope Corpse” situation (his blog’s subtitle: “Proudly Lowering the Level of Political Discourse”), and I have to warn you first of all that that dude is indeed rude: adult language, wild imaginings, and, through it all, a very detectable stream of irony – which ironic stance I more-or-less embrace as my very own attitude, as the reason I can’t stand to listen these days to the BBC World Service News for more than five minutes at a time. Indeed: just don’t you let that *^?%$%^ rest in peace.

OK, but of course that is not good enough by itself, especially for someone allegedly able to peruse the national presses of something around nine countries. And indeed, it didn’t take me long to find the article on the late Pope that I really wanted to bring to your attention, namely Need for Modernity by Peter Vandermeersch in Belgium’s (Flanders’) De Standaard. “An extraordinary man,” Vandermeersch is willing to concede, “who set his stamp on the Catholic Church and the world.” But . . . there was a dark side to Pope John Paul II, and Vandermeersch feels it his duty to bring it up. He was conservative; he was doctrinaire; and so he drove away from their faith millions of Catholics who could not accept his teachings forbidding birth-control, divorce, abortion, women priests, and homosexuality generally. He ultimately was, says, Vandermeersch, the “on the one hand . . . and yet on the other hand” pope – that is, if you can escape these days from the suffocating cloud of hagiography. And now the world awaits the selection of his successor. The developing world hopes that it might finally be time for a new pope out of its own ranks, but in any case for one ready to deal with the problems of poverty, social injustice, and of course AIDS. Asia hopes for a new pope able to continuing to build bridges to Islam. And Europe, says Vandermeersch, hopes for a new pope “who can reconcile the Church with modernity,” the implication being clear here who it was who did not bring about that sort of reconciliation, at least.

I certainly expect that this is the last that EuroSavant will deal with the subject of John Paul II – but only because another commentary linked to from Vandermeersch’s piece, with the beckoning title of “The Polish Myth,” unfortunately is already behind De Standaard’s paid-content wall. And you see, I don’t subscribe anymore; it’s tempting, because De Standaard is a good paper, but we’re week-to-week here at €S, folks, after all.

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on DotNetKicks.com
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)

Comments are closed.