Pope John Paul II 1920-2005: The People's Man of God; as the World Mourns the Death of Pope John Paul II, Archbishop Patrick Kelly Tells Dawn Collinson of His Legacy
Byline: Archbishop Patrick Kelly
HE was the people's Pope, a man just as at ease talking football as theology. And that, according to Liverpool's Archbishop Patrick Kelly, was his exceptional gift and the legacy he leaves for a world far beyond his own faith.
After many personal audiences with Pope John Paul II, Archbishop Kelly has no doubt that his empathy and accessibility set him apart from his predecessors.
'He was utterly approachable and I always enjoyed being in his company,' he remembers. 'He was a man with a tremendous humour, but also a keen actor who had written a play and he loved music.
'Of course everyone knows that he was a great sportsman, that he had been a goalkeeper in his native Poland as a young man. But he continued to follow football and not only the Polish national team. He even knew the difference between Everton and Liverpool!
'I think that was part of his gift, his ability to appropriate the huge panorama of the richness of the human family. He could relate to all sorts of people and felt at home with every one of them.'
Archbishop Kelly, who was installed as Archbishop of Liverpool in July 1996 following the death of Archbishop Derek Worlock, spent nine years in Rome and has met three different Popes.
Pope John Paul II, he says, was 'a truly outstanding human being'.
'He had incredible wisdom, compassion and vitality. He was massively widely read and had a tremendous breadth of interest. He could speak many languages, but really he was just somebody who could get under the skin of many nations and many cultures.
'There can be no doubt that for somebody to live under two tyrannies as he did - the tyranny of the Nazi regime and of Communism - but, throughout the whole of those years, reflect on what the implications of those regimes were, that was really remarkable.'
Archbishop Kelly says suggestions that Pope John Paul II was not a progressive Pope are untrue.
'Although you have to remember that the task entrusted to any Pope is to be faithful to that which he has received. We often forget that and I'm afraid we have made a word like tradition to be one almost of insult.
'But I think actions speak louder than words and I can't think of anyone else who has reached out to so many young people so powerfully and effectively as he did,' he explains. …