Pope John Paul II is scheduled to be picked up in the bulletproof Popemobile at Newark International Airport on Oct. 3. From there he will be escorted under heavy police security by helicopter and secret motorcades to rallies and parades in the New York/New Jersey and Maryland metropolitan areas.
He will address the United Nations. It is reported that during the visit the police will create a "no-man's land" around the Vatican's Permanent UN Observer's residence.
Behind the carnival atmosphere stirred up by the visit runs a deeper thread. Great masses of people will flock to catch a glimpse of a man they have been taught to believe embodies a direct mystical connection to the Christian god through the institution of the Catholic Church.
Under this authority the pope has issued Vatican edicts. He has banned divorce, contraception, the right of women to control their bodies, the right of sexual orientation, the right of people to protect themselves from AIDS through the use of condoms, the ability of women to participate in the church with the same rights as men, and the right of priests to marry.
A vast reservoir of human suffering and violence has grown out of these edicts. They have touched just about everyone's life, religious or not. Can the murders of clerks and doctors who serve women's health clinics be forgotten? Can gay bashing be overlooked?
Gay groups, women's organizations and atheists, among others, are planning to protest the pope's visit.
This pope is said to have encouraged "political freedom" in Eastern Europe. But political activity is another thing banned by the pope.
Father Jean Bertrand Aristide, before he became president of Haiti, was excommunicated by Pope John Paul II for following what Aristide believed was the teaching of Jesus-- that is, "throwing the money changers out of the temple." But that figures. The pope's home, the Vatican, is one of the largest repositories of wealth in the world. Financial scandals at the highest level have leaked out of this medieval fortress.
This may be the most political, right-wing pope since a Borgia prince knifed his rival during the collapse of feudalism. Pope John Paul II gained his stature in the church when it was openly working with the CIA to undermine the building of socialism in Poland. He shares responsibility for the re-emergence of capitalism there, the loss of jobs, the rapid polarization of wealth and the general decline in living standards. He is an ideologue who openly sides with the religious right wing against what is called liberation theology.
The pope's history during the period of the Nazi occupation of Poland is remarkably invisible. Even though he has visited Auschwitz to distance himself from the Holocaust, he has refused to apologize for the church's open collaboration with the Nazis in Poland and across Europe. In Croatia, for example, Franciscan monks administered a fascist death camp during World War II where up to a million Jews, Serbs and Romany people were slaughtered.
The church's base in the working class here is shrinking. It used to comprise mainly Catholics of European descent, but now is shifting to more Latino and Asian people. They are poorer and have fewer resources for the church to absorb.
John Paul is desperately trying to shore up this base. His speeches will certainly reflect this, with promises of peace, hope and social justice for the poor. Yet no matter how passionately he may pray for "the meek," this pope and his church are bulwarks of reaction. They stand in the way of social change that must come, if life in this world is to be more than the present living hell for the poor.
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