It feels a little weird. I'm hardly Catholic, but I grew up in a very Catholic town, and I do have a lot of devotedly Catholic friends. The Pope has always been someone whose presence dwelled in the back of their minds; everything they did that was remotely religious was always somehow in relation to this faraway Polish priest. Some of them loved him, some hated him. Most of them seemed to keep him at a certain distance, uncertain whether he was friend or foe. But he was always a Presence.
And soon he will be gone. That seems so weird. JPII became Pope when I was two years old. I can't remember a time when he wasn't the Pope. The President has changed several times, and I've even participated in the event three times. Israel's prime minister has changed. My friends and I sat through Rabin's assassination in shock and Sharon's victory in anger. Tiananmen Square happened, and then the Soviet Union collapsed when I was just old enough to realize that I was watching history. But there were always three constants. There was always Queen Elizabeth in England, Yasser Arafat in Palestine, and the Pope. And in the space of a single school year, Arafat has died, and now the Pope is dying, too.
He was always so There. He was elected to help fight the Communists by being Polish. And it looks like he did what he was elected to do. From his position of power, he made many stupid statements about women and reproduction that angered my Catholic friends in two countries. He presided over the revelation that priests in the United States had been doing terrible things en masse that civilians would be lynched for doing. But he was also the first Pope to visit a synagogue and acknowledge the Jews as a worthy and equal people. And he seems to have done everything he did out of genuine conviction. I think he's one of the few world leaders who didn't lie habitually. I never especially liked him, but I couldn't help but respect him. He was always The Pope, and whatever happened in the world, he was There. And soon he won't be There any more.
Soon, an ancient ceremony will happen in the Vatican, covered breathlessly by all major and minor news outlets, that I've only ever heard about. And then the Pope will be somebody else. I wonder what he'll be like.