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Pope's suffering teaches 'message of the cross,' says papal biographer

Washington DC, Mar. 25, 2005 (CNA) - In the twilight of his pontificate, marked by suffering and physical weakness, Pope John Paul II is challenging the world with the message of the cross, said papal biographer George Weigel in a comment published Tuesday in the Washington Post.

Since the Pope's health took a sharp turn for the worse last month, a flurry of questions have been raised in the press and elsewhere about the future of the papacy and the possibility of the Pope resigning.

But these questions, though interesting, "miss the more compelling point," Weigel wrote.

While "the world tries to understand [the Pope] in political terms, as another power player on the global stage. … that is not who he is, or what he's about, at his deepest level," he wrote.

The Pope is "first and foremost, a Christian pastor who is going to challenge us with the message of the cross - the message of Good Friday and Easter - until the end."

The senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington commented on how contemporary Western society seeks to avoid suffering at all costs.

"Embracing suffering is a concept alien to us," he observed. "And yet suffering embraced in obedience to God's will is at the center of Christianity."

He compared the way the Pope is living his suffering with the way Jesus accepted and lived his Passion. "The Christ of the Gospels reaches out and embraces suffering as his destiny, his vocation - and is vindicated in that self-sacrifice on Easter.

"That is what John Paul II, not a stubborn old man but a thoroughly committed Christian disciple, has been doing this past month: bearing witness to the truth that suffering embraced in obedience and love can be redemptive," he wrote.

In his comment, the author of "Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II" shared parts of a recent conversation he had with Francis Cardinal Arinze in Rome.

According to Weigel, the Nigerian cardinal suggested that the Pope's example demonstrates that suffering can have meaning; it can teach and remind us that "we cannot control our lives, and it elicits a compassion that ennobles us."

The cardinal also suggested that the ailing pontiff is "a tremendous encouragement to the elderly, the sick, the disabled and the dying, who find strength and hope in his example," reported Weigel.

Weigel concluded by citing former Polish prime minister Hanna Suchocka, who described the 84-year-old Christian leader as someone living his way of the cross.

"It's not something the world has watched a Pope do for a very long time," Weigel wrote. "We should recognize it for what it is, and be grateful for the example."

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