Magazine article The Spectator

The Pope Wises Up a Dumbed-Down World, but Silence Is Golden Too

Magazine article The Spectator

The Pope Wises Up a Dumbed-Down World, but Silence Is Golden Too

Article excerpt

Now that I am in my seventies, I do not work as hard as I once did. I see from my diary that last week I wrote six articles and gave two interviews. But my work on my final big book, A History of Art, proceeds slowly. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak; or, rather, I am too easily tempted to wander into my studio and resume painting, which I love more than anything on earth, and do not count as work. I am not inactive for a man of my age, but I nonetheless feel guilty - the work ethic is strong in me. I feel particularly guilty after looking through a proof copy of George Weigel's enormous biography of Pope John Paul II, which goes into the life of that hyperactive man in painstaking detail. It reveals the crushing burden of his workload which continues to this day, though he is far from well and heading for his eighties.

Karol Wojtyla celebrated his 20th anniversary as Pope last October, and by that date he had already served longer than all but ten of the 263 popes in history. During those two decades he travelled 670,878 miles - 2.8 times the distance between the earth and the moon - in the course of 84 pilgrimages throughout the world, 134 pastoral visits inside Italy, and more than 700 within his own diocese of Rome, where he visited 274 of its 325 parishes, besides hospitals, prisons, schools and religious institutes. The records of his theological teaching, bound volumes known as the Insegnamenti di Giovanni Paolo II, cover ten feet of shelf space, include 13 encyclicals, 45 apostolic letters and constitutions, 14 official epistles, nine exhortations and more than 600 addresses or speeches on formal occasions. He has also supervised and to some extent written the massive new Catechism of the Catholic Church, the first since the 16th century, which in my view is a masterpiece of doctrinal exposition. In addition he held 877 general audiences in Rome, attended by 13,833,000 people, plus group audiences given to 180,000 visitors, and 15,000 private audiences averaging five a working day. During these audiences, the Pope delivered many thousands of addresses.

The Pope also found time to canonise 280 new saints and beatify 798 brave, pious and holy men and women, who in due course will probably become saints also. This is the largest programme of sanctification ever carried out by a single pope. John Paul has created six new academies, institutes and foundations, conducted intensive talks with the Protestant and Orthodox Christian Churches, representatives of the Jews and Muslims, and learned dignitaries from half a dozen Oriental religions. He has held 12 synods, seven consistories at which he created 159 new cardinals, and consecrated 2,650 bishops (out of a world total of around 4,200). In his travels, he has presided over meetings attended by hundreds of millions of people, to whom he delivered 3,078 homilies.

No man in history has spoken personally to such multitudes. And there is never anything routine about this endless programme of daily exposition. The Pope always fills an occasion with excitement and he seems to radiate his personality over considerable distances. I have never come across anyone who has been in his presence, even in a large congregation, who has not been animated. All this is achieved without spindoctoring or verbal magic, for the Pope is a philosopher who pays close attention to the exact meaning of words and is not interested in their reverberations. …

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