Blessed John Paul II. Murderous Osama bin Laden. The news of the last 24 hours ironically juxtaposes the lavish ceremonies of the beatification of the soon-to-be Saint John Paul with the gritty stealth operation in Pakistan that resulted in the death of the world’s most-wanted man, someone whose face came to symbolize the epitome of evil to most Americans and millions of others around the world. Good v. Evil. The ultimate struggle of human existence.
Pope John Paul II led the triumph of freedom over oppression in eastern Europe. He took on the evil of tyranny. His singular achievement forced the end of Communism, brought down the Berlin Wall, reunified Germany and led to the end of the Soviet Union. His entire life gave witness to the power of faith over human arrogance.
Osama bin Laden masterminded the most horrific act of terrorism ever committed against the United States. He could not tolerate freedom; he hated what he perceived as the excesses of Western culture. He built a powerful force for terror — Al Qaeda — based on fear, ignorance and hatred. He misused the Islamic faith for his own ends. He used mass murder as a tool to inflict paralyzing fear on civilized people. His arrogance set people of faith against each other, Christian v. Muslim, in ways that neither faith should ever tolerate.
Many saints have walked on Trinity’s campus, unheralded except to those of us who had the privilege of enjoying their presence in our lives. We now have a special thrill to know that someone who will soon be declared an “official saint” also walked on these grounds. Pope John Paul II visited Trinity in 1979, praying with leaders of many faiths in Notre Dame Chapel and visiting the sick on Kerby lawn. I will always remember being this close to the Pope as he walked into the Chapel that day, smiling warmly and greeting each person as a true sister or brother in the faith.
I will also always remember that terrible morning on September 11, 2001, when I first heard the name Osama bin Laden. We are still cleaning up after the massive destruction wreaked by this one warped personality.
We should not feel too much cheer at the news of Osama’s death. The celebrations this morning, while understandable, are naive if they represent any belief that the presence of the evil of terrorism is over. It’s not. If anything, today’s news will surely provoke some other warped personality to step forward, to use the evil of human arrogance to try to inflict new pain on civilized people.
Killing ultimately solves nothing, one way or the other. John Paul II would surely say that were he here. While eliminating an enemy is a necessary part of war, and justifiable as a means of defense, the death of anyone, even someone who is evil, is not a triumph of civilization, but merely an expedient means to the end of safety and security.
True justice, true peace, will never come from war or violence. The most remarkable aspect of John Paul II’s triumph over tyranny is that he never fired a shot or ordered a tank to rumble through a town square. The downfall of communism was an act of faith coupled with the best use of reason, a manifestation of the Catholic belief that faith and reason must work together to transform human society.