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Open Mike

The Pope was one-of-a-kind

I am no fan of religion, believe me. There are too many hypocritical aspects of religion nowadays that really turns me off to the church.

But I have long been a fan of Pope John Paul II and his recent death provided me with a different outlook on life.

I have long said it is funny the two men that can get the undivided attention of the world were both senior citizens, one being the pope and the other being Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan.

You know you have made the big time when your death becomes a constant blurb on the sports ticker at ESPN, as did the pope's.

It is a shame they don't make more people like Pope John Paul II and what is even worse is that it will be only a matter of weeks before we forget what this wonderful figure taught the world over nearly three decades.

While most religions tend to divide people into categories based on their beliefs, the pope was a bit different. The one enduring quality of the man was how he embraced all of society. While the pope's purpose was to promote the ways of the Catholic church, he was never one to turn away someone for their beliefs. The pope embraced everyone and understood it was OK that we all had differences. In fact, it seemed as if the pope enjoyed the fact we were all different.

Think about this. If we all embraced others the way the pope embraced us, wouldn't society be just a little bit better.

One of the sayings that the pope was best known for is "be not afraid" and that is certainly how his Holiness addressed life.

This small man changed the world for the better. Think about the courage it took for the pope to stand side-by-side with the Solidarity movement in Poland, a movement that would have probably failed if not for the pontiff's undaunting support. The Solidarity movement was one of the key triggers in the downfall of communism.

The pope taught us the power of forgiveness. Think how much faith it would take to meet and forgive the man who tried to take your life. The pope taught us to believe in second chances.

Think how much courage it took for the leader of 1 billion plus Catholics to apologize for Cathlolic atrocities of the past 2,000 years.

The pope, though, was a stubborn man. He sternly chastised the current President Bush for the happenings in Iraq. He wasn't too hot on President Clinton either. He held firm on his beliefs surrounding such issues as contraception, abortion, homosexuality, allowing women to become priests, the death penalty and economic matters of the world.

In his lifetime, the pope spoke to millions upon millions of people. In 1995, the Pope held mass for some four million people in Manila. Imagine speaking to four million people and have them hang on every word you say. I can barely get my own children to pay attention.

According to a rather good article in the April 11 edition of "Newsweek", the pope traveled some 775,231 miles, met 1,599 heads of state, held more than 1,160 general audiences at the Vatican, attracting 17.64 million people. The smallest crowd the pope ever spoke to for a papal mass was 200 people. Think about all of that, some of just have trouble talking with our neighbors.

I am not shy to say I am great fan of the pope. The pope understood what so many of us miss, me included. Life is short, embrace life and those around you. Be not judgmental and open your heart. The pope understood the enduring value of a child's smile or the tranquillity of a fresh breath of air.

The pope taught us the importance of living life and that religion is not the back bone of society, but rather humanity is. It is all of us that make the world what it is.

While we shared in the pope's life and he shared in ours, the pope let us be part of a more private journey. A journey to the end of what was a wonderful life that words can't do justice. Perhaps the pope was showing us how we can all become united in even the most trying of times.

There is one passage that sticks with me that came out of that "Newsweek" article I mentioned a bit earlier. A few years ago, the pope wrote a passage in regards to how he felt about his inevitable death.

"When the moment of our definitive 'passage' comes grant that we may face it with serenity, without regret for what we shall leave behind. For in meeting You, after having sought You for so long, we shall find once more every authentic good which we have known here on earth, in the company of all who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith and hope."

The pope understood death is inevitable, but he didn't focus on that. Instead, he focused on what we do while we are alive. While odds are that few of us will ever be pope, learn from what his Holiness taught us. It is not so much the religious aspects of his teachings, but rather that the world is a fascinating place to be. Enjoy it while you are here. Have faith. Be not afraid.

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