As the world mourns the passing of Pope John Paul II, University students and faculty reflect on his impact on Church doctrine and their own personal connection to the man who was the face of Catholicism for the past 26 years.

Ken Srdjak
University alum Jeremy Meuser picks up a fallen flower by a photo of the late Pope John Paul II after the Sunday Mass at St. Mary Student Parish.(AMY DRUMM/Daily)

Some Ann Arbor residents praised the pope for speaking out against communism, fostering tolerance of all religions and changing the role of women in the Church, while others criticized him for going too far or not far enough.

Dennis Glasgow, associate pastor of the St. Mary Student Parish, said he met the pope about 10 times over a period of eight years while living in Rome. He said the pope left a legacy that embodied the progressive mentality molded by Vatican II — a general council of the Church in the 1960s that introduced several reforms.

“I think that the pope was a man of the Second Vatican Council. I think he’ll be remembered for the duration and courage of his reign, by going everywhere and bringing the Gospel values to every nook and cranny of the world. He went to the periphery — he went to the poorest of the poor, “ Glasgow said.

The pope also upheld one of Vatican II’s greatest changes — allowing liturgy to be recited in vernaculars instead of Latin. But Glasgow said the pope still wanted to maintain tradition and implemented parameters for the liturgy so different cultures could enrich services while maintaining the core ideology.

Along with these reforms, Glasgow said he remembers the pope for his impassioned, trembling prayer.

“He really was in communion with God. He had a deep prayer life — there would be tears in his eyes, and he would groan during prayer. He would pray so intensely that his being seemed to be wrapped up in the presence of God,” he said.

Many associate the pope not only with his intense faith but also for his contribution to democratic reform in the world.

Political Science Prof. William Zimmerman said the pope was instrumental in bringing about the fall of communism by visiting his homeland of Poland in 1979 where he spoke in support of the nonviolent Solidarity movement.

“His trip to Poland served as a symbol which linked the Church with Polish nationalism. The statements were very guarded, but it was clear that he was making a statement on individual freedom. It was not a diatribe, but everyone got the message,” Zimmerman said.

The pope also improved relations with the Jewish community by apologizing on behalf of the Roman Catholic Church for failing to protest the Nazi Holocaust and by visiting the Auschwitz Holocaust memorial.

RC sophomore Monica Woll, chair of the governing board of University Hillel, said John Paul II had an unprecedented role in helping the Jewish community.

“He denounced anti-Semitism by calling the Jews the Catholics’ beloved brothers and saying that under no circumstances should there ever be any discrimination or persecution. Obviously, this loss transcends the Jewish community, because he was such a great person and leader,” Woll said.

The pope also eliminated many boundaries for women by allowing them to hold administrative positions but stopped short of allowing them to become priests. Women’s Studies Prof. Anna Kirkland said that although his reforms were expansive, they did not push far enough.

“The pope’s legacy is a rich one, but it is a shame that it never included recognition of the role of birth control, and if necessary, abortion in establishing women’s equality, dignity and autonomy,” Kirkland said.

Even though the pope shaped an era of Catholic history, Reverend Tom McClain of St. Mary’s said University students would remember the pope more for what he represented, than what he actually accomplished.

“Students have been moved and touched — this is the only pope they have known. He served for 26 years, which is before most college students were born. He has been a human symbol for Catholicism. When these images change for the first time, it can affect someone very much,” McClain said.

Alum Mary Valentine mirrored this sentiment when she described her shock in learning of the pope’s passing and her reluctance to accept a new leader.

“Even though we were expecting it after watching the news on Thursday, it still came as a shock,” she said. “It hit me because the pope was both a leader (and) a very warm man. He was not just an administrative leader, but also a father. I might be reluctant for another pope, because the Holy Father Pope will always be in my mind and be special.”

RC senior Beth Bovair said that despite some ideological differences, she admired the pope.

“I did not always agree with everything he had to say, but I had a lot of respect for him as a man of faith,” she said.

LSA sophomore Rick Bastien said he was concerned with the unity of the Church after the pope’s death.

“I hope the Church can stay strong in this time of mourning,” he said.

To honor the pope, McClain said that each priest at St. Mary’s incorporated a reflection of the pope’s life into his liturgy yesterday.

McClain said there will be a special liturgy at 7 p.m. tonight to celebrate the life of John Paul II and pray for his eternal rest.

Even though it had to come at the expense of a tragedy, he said he is hopeful about the vision the new pope will bring.

“A new person will bring new ideas and a way of doing things. It will bring energy, since he will see things John Paul II didn’t,” McClain said.

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