POST-GAZETTE - Res Publica

Of Politics, Players, and Pontiffs

by David Trumbull

April 8, 2005

The Papal audience Mary and I attended --one of the customary Wednesday audiences that attracts thousands of pilgrims and other visitors-- was the first one for the Holy Year of 2000. It was also the day the circus came to town. Moira Orfei, Italy's beloved star of the circus paraded into the audience hall with her troupe of performers all in dazzling sky-blue costumes ready to perform for the Pope and get his blessing. The broad smile on the face of the Holy Father as the acrobats performed before him reminded us of John Paul II's great love of the theatre.

As a young man the future pope had himself been an actor. As pope he commanded the world's largest stage. Like President Ronald Reagan, another former play actor become world actor, Pope John Paul II was a master of rhetoric. Soviet communism fell because those two men who towered over the 1980s spoke truths that conventional wisdom held to be unspeakable or ineffective. Reagan's "Tear down this wall," and "Evil Empire," along with Pope John Paul II repetition of a single word "Solidarity" surely did as much or more to bring down godless and inhuman communism as did America's military build up.

The temporal power of the papacy in modern times is slight. At least that is the official story. The pope is head of state of one of the tiniest of countries. Even the most Catholic of nations today are secular states in which religion is, officially, relegated to the purely private sphere. And yet, the pope, or rather this pope, was one of the most influential political figures of our time.

Recently I put together a list of "required reading" for political conservatives in the Bay State. Of course it includes the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution, along with speeches of Lincoln and Reagan. I also included Pope John Paul II's 1991 encyclical, Centesimus Annus. I doubt if any such list prepared before this pope's reign would have included a papal encyclical. To me it was an obvious choice. The pope's statements supporting the right of private property and defending the profit motive in business while balancing these with the justice for the economically vulnerable provide modern conservatives with the intellectual rational for the pragmatic compassionate conservatism of President George W. Bush.

"Families" was the theme of the pope's address at that December 29, 1999 audience. He said, "It is important that believers energetically reaffirm that marriage and the family constitute one of the most precious of human values. For this reason the Church never tires of offering her services to every person who wonders about the destiny of marriage and the family." Defense of the family and defense of human life were central to Pope John Paul II's message to the world. It is a message the world needed to hear. And in John Paul II, the world was given a message-bearer who broke through our willful ignorance and hardness of heart. For the twenty-six years we had him among us as pastor, we say Deo gracias.


David Trumbull is the chairman of the Boston Ward Three Republican Committee; he may be contacted at (617) 742-6881 or Boston's Ward Three includes the North End, West End, part of Beacon Hill, downtown, waterfront, Chinatown, and part of the South End.