Archbishop Rowan Williams, who met Pope John Paul II in 2003, called the Roman Catholic leader’s last days "a lived sermon."
Anglicans around the world joined Roman Catholics in mourning the death and remembering the legacy of Pope John Paul II who died April 2 after a long struggle with numerous illnesses, including Parkinson’s disease. The Pope, who led more than one billion Roman Catholics worldwide for 26 years, was 84.
Following news of the death, Archbishop Andrew Hutchison, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, praised the Catholic leader’s willingness to make himself accessible and his ability to communicate the gospel “not only in words but also by action.”
Bishop John Baycroft, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s representative to the Holy See from 1999 to 2001, said, “I really do believe he’s a saint.” The bishop, who met the Pope on various occasions, said in an interview that the pontiff’s belief “in holiness, that ordinary people could be holy” was laudable.
Bishop Baycroft, former Anglican bishop of Ottawa, said that the Pope was “a real ecumenist” who faithfully lived out the ministry of St. Peter and Christ’s call to “strengthen your brethren.” Although Anglican-Roman Catholic relations were strained because of the ordination of women in the Anglican church, he said he considered the Pope’s push for continuing dialogue “irreversible.”
Ralph Spence, bishop of the diocese of Niagara, also issued a statement in which he recalled an ecumenical pilgrimage he made to the Vatican in 2001, accompanied by Roman Catholic bishops and a bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada. He said his diocese was “saddened by the loss of a great leader in our midst.”
Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, meanwhile, recalled the Pope as a leader of “manifest holiness and a faithful and prayerful friend of the Anglican Church.” Archbishop Williams, who attended the Pope’s April 8 funeral wearing the ring presented to his predecessor, Archbishop Michael Ramsey, by Pope Paul VI, described Pope John Paul’s last days as a “lived sermon” for Eastertide about facing death with honesty and courage. He was the first serving Archbishop of Canterbury to attend a pope’s funeral.
In a statement delivered in the precincts of Canterbury Cathedral, Archbishop Williams said that the Pope’s life had been a demonstration of faith lived out. He praised the way in which the Pope had approached his own death with courage and acceptance.
Undeniably the most recognizable person in the world, Karol Josef Wojtyla was a little-known archbishop from Krakow, Poland, when he became the 263rd successor to St. Peter as bishop of Rome on Oct. 16, 1978. He was only 58 when he became the first Slavic and first non-Italian pope in 455 years.
He was the first pope to achieve rock star status, at times drawing millions in countless visits to some 130 countries around the world. He was the first to visit a synagogue and a mosque, the first to publish bestsellers (including books of poetry), the first to make extensive use of technology to advance evangelism, and the first to draw both praise and condemnation for his liberal views on politics and human rights on the one hand, and conservative views on sexuality and women, on the other.
Jews speak of improved Catholic relations because of him and he had tried to mend relations between Catholics and Anglicans and Protestants, visiting Canterbury Cathedral in 1982 and preaching at a Lutheran church in Rome in 1983, on the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s birth. However, his hard line views on women priests blocked progress in his dialogue with Anglicans.
Indeed, his unyielding stance on divorce, abortion, birth control and the use of condoms (even as a precaution against HIV/AIDS) was seen, even by some Catholics, as anachronistic to his tough, liberal stance against war, the arms race, and globalization.
A tireless traveler who, until he became frail, often kissed the airport tarmac of each country he visited, he came to Canada three times as pope, on one occasion meeting with then-primate Archbishop Ted Scott and other representatives of the Anglican Church of Canada. In 1987 he met with the First Nations community of Denendeh; in 2002, an astonishing 800,000 people flocked to hear him speak in Toronto during World Youth Day.
Canadians, he said, on one occasion “represent the future of the world; but they also bear the marks of a humanity that too often does not know peace, or justice.”
As his health deteriorated and he publicly battled for his life, Pope John Paul symbolized what he had always emphasized: the old and chronically ill “retain their human dignity in all its fullness.”