- The Washington Times - Monday, April 4, 2005

Reciting the Nicene Creed as part of the liturgy from the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer, I am ever mindful of the phrase that used to trouble me: “We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.”

Catholic, with a small “c,” I came to understand, means “universal” in the practice of my Christian faith. It is not the holy Eucharistic Mass, but worshipping with a worldwide body of believers that is the greatest similarity between dogmatic Catholicism and free-thinking Anglicanism.

No matter who we are or how we worship, the collective canon or tenet of religion or spirituality for the faithful is our universal certainty of a benevolent and omnipotent divinity greater than ourselves. The literal definition of catholic also connotes “including or concerning all humankind” and “free from provincial or prejudice or attachments.”

With the weekend death of Pope John Paul II — the 84-year-old Catholic (with a capital C) pontiff — we repeatedly heard the words “universal” and “evangelical” from an array of speakers who summed up his lasting legacy.

The evangelical teachings of tolerance and inclusiveness explain why we don’t have to be Catholic to feel the impact of this large life and the immensity of this loss. That is why we have witnessed such a catholic mourning at his passing.

“May the pope’s passing lead to deeper thinking among Christians about our own beliefs and about how to reconcile our differences as Christians in the spirit of the reconciliation among faiths throughout the world that was the hallmark of his papacy,” D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton said.

Though some criticized his conservative stance on the role of women in the church, Pope John Paul II was a true catholic, a moral man who spoke strongly about the humanity and dignity of everyman. He used his powerful pulpit to boldly preach universal peace and love for our fellow man, to the powerless as well as to the powerful far beyond the Vatican.

Ed Wiley, editor of BET.com, writes that Pope John Paul II “traveled more than any pontiff in history, preaching to more people — particularly people of color. During his 26-year reign, he named more African and more South American cardinals than any of his predecessors.”

Mr. Wiley’s staff listed the pontiff’s words particularly relating to racial injustice. Addressing South African President Nelson Mandela, the pope said prayers for “all those who have worked and suffered and continue to strive for that day when everyone’s dignity will be fully acknowledged, respected and safeguarded through this land and all over this continent.”

Speaking at the United Nations’ World Conference Against Racial Discrimination, the pope said, “Every upright conscience cannot but decisively condemn any racism no matter in what heart or place it is found. Unfortunately, it emerges in ever new and unexpected ways, offending and degrading the human family. Racism is a sin that constitutes a serious offense against God.”

“This was a universal pope,” said Jerry Phillips, public affairs director of Clear Channel Washington. Mr. Phillips, who was a Catholic seminarian and currently attends Mass with the small cloistered order of St. Dominic’s Monastery on 16th Street NW, said, “I love this pope for building bridges from the church to Jews and for his outreach to the Muslim world.” However, Mr. Phillips suggests it is imperative that the Catholic Church continue the outreach of Pope John Paul II by “opening its windows and becoming extremely multicultural and global in its thinking” to remain viable.

“The imagery of the Catholics is going to have to show that they respect everybody,” he said. One signal of that universality Mr. Phillips suggests would be for the cardinals to choose a new pope from the Third World, where most of the church membership resides today. Cardinal Francis Arinze of Nigeria is one example. He also suggests that the Catholic Church must open up its leadership to women.

“What we can take away from [John Paul’s] life is the bridge he started in bringing people of all religions and all nations to the table and to the altar,” Mr. Phillips said.

“I don’t have any problem with any human being facilitating the works of the Lord,” he said, continuing by citing the deeds of Mother Teresa and the female disciples of Jesus.

The Rev. Barbara Reynolds, a former journalist who now teaches religion at Howard University’s Divinity School, agrees about elevating women as priests in the spirit of Jesus’ example of exalting women. As for a papal successor from the Third World, Ms. Reynolds recently wrote for BlackPressUSA.com an extensive history of the African influence from the infancy of the Catholic Church and about three Africans who have served as pontiff. Cardinal Arizne would be the fourth, should he be selected.

Ms. Reynolds, author of “Out of Hell Living Well: Healing From the Inside Out,” an autobiography of her “spiritual makeover,” also is host of a religious radio show on XM Satellite and WOL-AM. This past weekend, she heard from many Muslims expressing their sympathy about the pope’s death. The pope’s passing is particularly grave because of “the absence of moral leadership in the nation and in the world; his death doesn’t just touch Catholics, it touches all of us.”

Indeed, Pope John Paul II was, as she said, “the symbol of a universal person, and I hope we all take a piece of his life and all try to put our faith into action as he did.”

That’s a committed, conscientious catholic faith with a small “c.”

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