What’s the Rush?
On May 1, Pope Benedict XVI will beatify Pope John Paul II during a Mass in Rome that is expected to attract two million people. Perhaps some of these pilgrims were among those who filled St. Peter’s Square on the day of John Paul’s funeral shouting, “Santo Subito!” If all goes as planned, Karol Wojtyla’s beatification will have happened in near-record time. Benedict waived the standard five-year waiting period required before a person’s cause for canonization can begin. And recently the Congregation for the Causes of Saints accepted as miraculous the cure of a French religious sister from Parkinson’s disease, clearing the way for the Polish pope’s beatification.
But does it make sense to rush John Paul, or anyone, to sainthood? For millions, John Paul already is a saint, and perhaps Benedict is responding to the sensus fidelium, the wisdom of the faithful, by moving his former boss to the head of the line. But in addition to his towering accomplishments and personal piety, John Paul’s worldwide popularity could also be a result of his extensive travels and frequent media appearances. Does that make him holier than other, less well-known candidates? And is it seemly to have Vatican officials who owe their positions to John Paul examining his cause? In centuries to come, will Catholics wonder if the rush meant that corners were cut? Cardinal Angelo Amato, head of the congregation, denies this, saying the case has undergone “particularly careful scrutiny.” Many think John Paul should be canonized. (Apparently so does God: a miracle is taken as evidence that a person is in heaven.) But John Paul will be just as much a saint if the normal procedures are followed.
A Christian Calling
Sargent Shriver, who died on Jan. 18 after a long struggle with Alzheimer’s disease, asked himself a question at the end of every day: What have I done today to improve the lot of humanity? Mr. Shriver—who ran for vice president in 1972, played a key role in the war on poverty, directed the Peace Corps and later helped run the Special Olympics with his wife, Eunice—treated the Christian command to love God and neighbor with the steadfast commitment it deserves. That he did so while working in the rough-and-tumble world of U.S. politics is worthy of no small praise. A leader of his kind, who fought as fiercely to eradicate poverty as he did to protect the rights of the unborn and the mentally challenged, is unlikely to appear again on the political stage anytime soon.
Perhaps Mr. Shriver’s death will serve as a reminder to the growing number of Catholic legislators, Republicans and Democrats, that faith is not just a source of personal solace, but a rigorous way of life that sometimes demands public action. His career also stands as a challenge to those who would shut themselves off from the secular world for fear of being morally compromised. Speaking in 1979, Mr. Shriver hailed the election of Pope John Paul II because he believed the pope would not turn his back on the problems of the world but would engage them. This was the duty of every Christian, Shriver said: “Christians are needed in politics, in the law, in medicine, in the marketplace….” Maintaining a Christian identity begins by reflecting on another question favored by Sargent Shriver: Am I living my life as Christ would want me to?
The Arab Revolt
The popular uprising begun in Tunisia has raced across North Africa and the Arab world, especially Egypt. Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak has announced he will not run for re-election; so has Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh; Jordan’s King Abdullah II has appointed a new cabinet; and the Palestinian Authority has announced local elections. The whole region is in upheaval. The movement arose not from militant Islam but from popular discontent over political repression and deteriorating economic conditions, and is led by largely secular forces.
The future is by no means decided. It is unclear whether the protestors will accept promises to decline re-election in the place of immediate resignations. What the impact of political Islam will be on the transition to democracy and the formation of new governments is unclear. Except perhaps in Yemen, Americans should not fret yet about any Islamist hegemony sweeping the region.
It will take some time for things to be sorted out, and there are sure to be some expressions of anti-U.S. and anti-Israel sentiment. But, as long as the basic direction of the revolution is for democratic government, respect for human rights and economic improvement, the international community, including the United States, should not overburden the new Arab politics with outside expectations. It should be supportive of the transitions in government, offering help on terms acceptable to the local people, assisting in relieving their immediate economic distress and contributing to long-term development. Israel will certainly have worries, but its long-term interests also counsel patience. Any precipitous action by Israel, particularly in Gaza or Lebanon, might push the Arab street beyond the tipping point, transforming a popular, secular uprising into a more radical Islamist one, with negative consequences all around.