The Wesak Festival
Arguably the greatest spiritual event of the year approaches - the Festival of Wesak at the full moon during Taurus, also linked to the Kalachakra Initiation and the legend of Shamballa.
As mentioned in the last newsletter, the Aries, Taurus and Gemini solar festivals are the most esoteric in terms of establishing the principles and plans of each spiritual year. That which was begun in Aries is now carried forward and consolidated upon in Taurus before it is distributed in the following sign of Gemini.
This Wesak full moon period could well be one of the most important in years - if recent events both public and behind the scenes are any indication; it is certainly worth taking full advantage - for reasons that will be explained.
This time is uniquely known as the festival of the Buddha in the East, following closely after the Western festival of Easter whose major representative is the One who holds the Office of the Christ. Yet it is also a time when these two representatives of the hemispheres of this planet work in close conclave with the major directing agency upon Earth, Sanat Kumara or Melchizidek, Lord of Shamballa.
It is said that the Buddha came into incarnation in Taurus, gained enlightenment under the Bodhi tree during Taurus and also disincarnated in this sign. Buddha pointed the way in his Four Noble Truths to the timeless and eternal verities that underlie human liberation:
- Existence in the phenomenal universe is inseparable from suffering and from sorrow.
- The cause of suffering is desire for existence in the world of phenomena.
- Cessation of suffering is brought about by eradicating all desire for existence in this universe of phenomena.
- The way to the cessation of suffering is by treading the noble Eightfold Path, wherein are expressed right belief, right intentions, right speech, right actions, right living, right endeavour, right-mindedness and right concentration.
Many of you are familiar with these teachings and they are elaborated upon in last year's newsletter for Wesak. Taurus is a sign of desire and the acquisition of that which is desired - yet it is also the Mother of Illumination - light conferred upon us once desire is relinquished.
One method of transmuting desire is to transform it into aspiration, that force that moves us from the origin of desire in the solar plexus to the fiery light within the chalice of the heart. It is interesting that the word 'aspiration' is related to 'asp' or snake, such as the cobra, frequently depicted hovering over the head of the Buddha - a 'serpent of wisdom'. The coiled serpentine forces rise or 'aspire' from the lower centres to their final awakened soul state depicted by the hooded cobra.
During the Wesak period the cultivation of aspiration can lead us to alignment with co-workers path and to make contact with the very heart of the planet, the Hierarchy or Masters of Wisdom.
Wesak is essentially a great gathering in of the spiritual government of the planet; that means that the major four planetary chakras are engaged and brought into alignment:
- Shamballa, the crown chakra - from where 'the Will of God is known' and outward directed by Sanat Kumara.
- Hierarchy, the heart chakra - Masters of love-wisdom and compassion, in contact with the Will of Shamballa and lovingly guiding Humanity.
- The New Group of World Servers (N.G.W.S.) - the ajna centre - the most spiritually advanced aspirants, disciples and initiates on Earth; they bridge between Hierarchy and the rest of humanity.
- Humanity, the throat centre - spiritually intelligent, creative Humanity who utilise their free will to determine their destiny.
Wesak affords us an opportunity to grasp some part of the immediate Intention of Deity:
"…those in the Hierarchythe initiates and disciples in their ordered ranks and various gradings … cooperate with that immediate aspect of the Plan which they can grasp and which comes down to them through the inspired minds of their Directors at certain stated times … At those times, when the Hierarchy meets in silent conclave, a part of God's vision, and His formulation of that vision for the immediate present, is revealed.." 1
Wesak is unique in that it is the only time that Buddha makes contact with this planet (having moved on to other evolutions), descending to the level of the mental plane and linking up in a triangle of force with The Christ and Sanat Kumara. From this triangle is transmitted 'the Plan' to the waiting Hierarchy and those disciples who can make themselves receptive to impression.
The 'Plan' is not 'spelt out' to the letter. The great Being incarnate as our 'Planetary Logos' has a definite Path and evolutionary goal to reach - just as us 'soul-cells' within that greater body have our goals. We have free will to creatively express how our destinies manifest - yet ultimately, within the greater scheme of things. As Carl Jung once said, 'free will is doing that which I know I must do' - in other words, being aligned with the greater Plan.
So it is incumbent upon Humanity as a conscious co-operator with the Will of God to exercise its divine free will in how it chooses to work out the planetary purpose.
Pope John Paul II. Jesus and the Papal Prophecy.
John Paul II's soul started its withdrawal most appropriately at Easter, where he was able to give one last public blessing. The Pope is of course to catholics and much of the world what the Dalai Lama is to the East and some of the West. Pope John Paul II was a tenacious and resolute Taurean and his death has marked a milestone in the Catholic Church, as it asks itself 'where to from here?'.
His life has been applauded by world leaders and his profoundly moving funeral was attended by those of all faiths from every nation. John Paul II's death recalls some passages from the Master D.K. who discusses the externalisation of the Hierarchy once more amongst Humanity:
"The Master Jesus will take a physical vehicle, and with certain of His chelas effect a re-spiritualisation of the Catholic churches, breaking down the barrier separating the Episcopal and Greek churches from the Roman. This may be looked for, should plans progress as hoped, about the year 1980." 2
John Paul II took up his post in 1978 and one may speculate success-wise on how much the Master Jesus effected by working through him, as an undoubted disciple of the Hierarchy.
John Paul II's legacy is contentious. Whether he managed to 'break down the barrier separating the Episcopal and Greek churches from the Roman' is unknown (The Greek orthodox clergy were at his funeral), but he did encourage a better inter-faith dialogue, being for instance the only Pope in history to enter a Jewish synagogue.
He travelled much and spoke eight languages, befitting his Moon in Gemini. Also on the Gemini theme, he used the media extremely well, giving as many as 25 different speeches in one day (!) and of course the whole world was able to attend his funeral via television. He was a brilliant Gemini communicator and through this 'common' sign was able to give hope with his 'common touch' to millions of ordinary humanity.
Polish trade union legend, Lech Walesa, says (as have many others) that John Paul II contributed to not only the liberation of Poland but also the fall of the Berlin Wall, through his championing of human freedom.
His Taurus Sun and planets are all in the eighth Scorpionic house, esoterically the house of discipleship and associated spiritual disciplines; exoterically the house of 'love, sex and death'. These Taurean placements reflected his enormous acquisitive intellect, having gained two masters degrees and a doctorate. Yet that which is acquired by Taurus is distributed via the throat over which Taurus rules:
"Taurus, as you know, rules the neck and the thyroid gland. This is essentially the region whence must emanate the creative activity of the man who is upon the Path. The throat is a point to which the energy of the sacral centre must be lifted so that creation through love and by the will eventually will prove the sublimatory effect of the transference to higher use of the sex energy.
The right use of the organs of speech gives the clue to the processes whereby the disciple must bring about certain basic changes. The Taurean upon the way of liberation would do well to employ the method of directed and motivated speech of an outgoing and explanatory nature in order to transform himself from one who goes wilfully on his personality way into a wise cooperator with the Plan." 3
Many commentators have remarked that he was way behind on issues such as abortion, birth control, gays and euthanasia - and perhaps that may have been part of his stubborn Taurean nature - as well as playing politics within the conservative Vatican. Yet it is reasoned that abortion is the result of the misuse of sex and wrong relationships; birth control because sex is for procreation only; gays as 'unnatural' and euthanasia as not protecting the sanctity of life. These themes have certainly played out in John Paul II's horoscope, with his prominent Venus, Mercury and Sun in Taurus the sign of desire and Libra rising - esoterically concerned with sexuality.
According to John Paul II's biography, 'Though he had close women friends, he apparently never dated or had a romance.' 4 And, 'Unusual for a bishop, Wojtyla was willing to talk with his students about sex, with which he stressed a "personalist" view of fulfillment, equality of men and women and the importance of the female orgasm.
The main source of his views was Wanda Poltawska, a Polish psychiatrist and sexologist, a close friend of his for many years. He unflinchingly upheld the policy of the church on banning birth control.
He also founded and ran a service that dealt with marital problems, from family planning and illegitimacy to alcoholism and physical abuse. Time magazine called it 'perhaps the most successful marriage institute in Christianity.'" 5
Both the areas of sexuality and relationships are partially Libra's domain, so in terms of realising the potential of Libra rising, one could argue that this occurred with some success. The irony is of course that John Paul II may never have had sex and certainly had no relationships, yet as an old soul with plenty of experience, this may have been immaterial from one perspective. Yet others see his legacy as having enslaved women and perpetuated the AIDS epidemic through his views on abortion and birth control.
John Paul II was also a formidable debater, by which his Mars in Libra and Libra rising were no doubt potent allies. His co-worker in the East, the Dalai Lama, also has Mars in Libra (The Peacemaker) and both have been outspoken champions of world peace.
As to the abovementioned issue of euthanasia (eight house/death), it is interesting that during John Paul II's dying days, Terri Schiavo was also dying - in the middle of the euthanasia debate that raged around her; she died two days before the Pope. The Vatican of course weighed in on the debate with its anti euthanasia stance. Yet an occult perspective may give some objectivity:
"Some students are concerned over the organised effort to legalise euthanasia, and wonder about the placing of power of life and death in the hands of the physician. At the same time, they are aware that there is involved also the humane factor, in cases where no surcease can be given to prolonged suffering. To them I would say:
The problem which a consideration of the proposed practice of euthanasia involves will not exist when continuity of consciousness (which negates death) is achieved. That means that the time will come, in the racial development, when the soul will know that its term of physical life is over and will prepare itself to withdraw, in full consciousness, from the form. It will know that the service of the form is no longer required and that it must be discarded. It will know that its sense of awareness, being focussed in the mind nature, is strong enough and vital enough to carry it through the process and the episode of abstraction.
When that consciousness has been developed in man, and the process has come to be recognised by the medical profession and the scientific students of the human mechanism, then the whole attitude to death and its processes, involving as they do pain and suffering, will be altered materially. Then the man whose time has come to die may avail himself of certain methods of release which, from the average point of view, might be regarded as involving euthanasia. Modes of abstraction will be studied and applied when death is near, and the process will be regarded as soul withdrawal, as a process of liberation and release. That time is not so far away as you might think.
Today, grave dangers attend the process of hastening withdrawal, and the legal safeguards will require most careful working out, and even then grave and serious issues might develop. But some hastening of the processes of death is in order and must be worked out. Primarily, however, the will-to-die of the patient is not based at this time on knowledge and on mental polarisation, or upon an achieved continuity of consciousness, but on emotional reactions and a shrinking from pain and from fear.
Where, however, there is terrible suffering and absolutely no hope of real help or of recovery, and where the patient is willing (or if too ill, the family is willing), then, under proper safeguards, something should be done. But this arranging of the time to go will not be based on emotion and upon compassion, but on the spiritual sciences and upon a right understanding of the spiritual possibilities of death." 6
Returning to the theme of papal prophecy:
"…the whole field of religion will be re-inspired and re-orientated from Rome because the Master Jesus will again take hold of the Christian Church in an effort to re-spiritualise it and to re-organise it. From the chair of the Pope of Rome, the Master Jesus will attempt to swing that great branch of the religious beliefs of the world again into a position of spiritual power and away from its present authoritative and temporary political potency." 7
Again, one can only speculate as to what is meant by 'from the chair of the Pope of Rome', as to whether Jesus will work through a chosen disciple or have something else in mind.
Nevertheless, Wesak 2005 is a great opportunity for the Hierarchy to effect powerful plans, as the voting for a new Pope takes place during the Wesak full moon period. It is interesting to hear the cardinals talking about how they will 'open themselves up to the Holy Spirit' to seek guidance, not unlike being 'impressed by the Plan' discussed earlier.
Some observers have also remarked that using the new world prayer (The Great Invocation), whilst millions of Catholics offer up their prayers during the nine days of mourning, will help consolidate the Hierarchy's position in the lead up to Wesak over the next couple of weeks; in other words, a deliberate harnessing of these forces.
The Catholic Church. Rome and the Vatican. Italy.
Aiding all of the above are two more important points:
- The Catholic Church is ruled by the first ray of will or power at its soul level.
- Rome, the seat of the Catholic Church, is a Taurus soul.
This gives some major alignments via the Wesak festival:
- Vulcan is the soul ruler of Taurus and ruler of the first ray of Will-Power which corresponds to the first centre, Shamballa. Hence these forces are most conducive for influencing the soul of that first ray entity, the Catholic Church.
- As a Taurus soul, Rome has a major opportunity to align with the Plan of Shamballa and hence help effect alignment of the greater Plan with the Catholic Church and its jurisdiction.
- In Italy's 1946 Republic horoscope set for Rome, the Moon is in Scorpio at the precise degree it will be at this Wesak period (Sun in Taurus, Moon in Scorpio). As the other co-ruler of the first ray of Will-Power is Pluto (co-ruler of Scorpio), all these factors have potentcy to bring transformation and widespread change.
Currently the progressed Moon in Italy's chart is making a close conjunction to Pluto, perhaps reflecting the death of the Pope, but also the transformation of ideas and beliefs that may shortly ensue.
Another interesting point is that Italy's soul ray is that of the sixth ray of Devotion or Abstract Idealism shared by the Chohan or Custodian of that ray, the Master Jesus. Pope John Paul II had Mars, co-ruler of the sixth ray, conjunct his Libran ascendant, perhaps indicating his soul ray and/or affiliation with Jesus on the inner planes.
Neptune, the other co-ruler of ray six and said to be another name for the Christ, is conjunct Jupiter (ruler of the second ray) and the midheaven in Leo - completely dominating the whole horoscope. Upon reflection these are quite astounding placements with extraordinary power.
That the Italian-based Roman Catholic church is in need of reformation is most obvious:
"1. The Roman Catholic Church is distinguished by three things which are all contrary to the spirit of Christ:
a. An intensely materialistic attitude. The Church of Rome stands for great stone structures-cathedrals, churches, institutions, convents, monasteries. In order to build them, the policy down the centuries has been to drain the money out of the pockets of rich and poor alike. The Roman Catholic Church is a strictly capitalistic church. The money gathered into its coffers supports a powerful ecclesiastical hierarchy and provides for its many institutions and schools.
b. A far-reaching and far-sighted political program in which temporal power is the goal and not the welfare of the little people. The present program of the Catholic Church has definite political implications; their attitude to Communism has in it the seeds of another world war. The political activities of the Catholic Church have not built for peace, no matter under what guise they are presented.
c. A planned policy whereby the mass of the people are kept in intellectual ignorance and, through this ignorance, are naturally to be found among the reactionary and conservative forces which are so powerfully at work resisting the new age with its new civilization and more enlightened culture. Blind faith and complete confidence in the priest and in the Vatican are regarded as spiritual duties.
The Roman Catholic Church stands entrenched and unified against any new and evolutionary presentation of truth to the people; its roots are in the past but it is not growing into the light; its vast financial resources enable it to menace the future enlightenment of mankind under the cloak of paternalism and a colourful outer appearance which hides a crystallization and an intellectual stupidity which must inevitably spell its eventual doom, unless the faint stirrings of new life following the advent of Pope John XXIII can be nourished and developed." 8
This was written around the end of WWII but is no less pertinent today. Here we can see the Taurean rulership of Rome in its lower octave as it expresses through the Vatican as a 'strictly capitalist church'. This is further compounded by the fact that the Catholic Church's personality is conditioned by the third ray of Active-Intelligence, a most materialistic ray in its lower expression. It is proposed that John Paul II's Taurean planetary placements were only susceptible to the lower octave expression stubborness or inflexibility: '…Pope John Paul II … believes the northern nations should share their wealth with the southern hemisphere.' 9
The 'far-sighted political program in which temporal power is the goal' is a classic reflection of the Catholic Church's first ray soul - also in its lower octave expression. Politics is the jurisdiction of the first ray. We can see how the combination of first ray Taurus rulership of Rome combined with the first ray soul of the Catholic Church creates this entrenched lower expression.
The 'mass of the people are kept in intellectual ignorance' also relate to the Catholic Church's third ray personality whose shadow expression is manipulation and deceit. DK comments elsewhere:
"The sin of the Roman Catholic Church is its effort to dictate to people what they should thinktheologically and politicallywhat they should do, read and wear; this, to a still greater extent, is the crime of Russia [1940's]. The mass of the people in the strictly Catholic countries are not as free in their thinking as are those living in the Protestant lands; the Russian people know no freedom and have no opportunity to form their own point of view; commercial interests and expediency impose restrictions in other countries. By means of these sources of control, the growth of true understanding is prevented, distorted or stunted. Curiously enough, the intention of the dictating agents, in both the Catholic Church and in Russia, is basically good; they believe that the uneducated masses are not fitted to decide for themselves what they should hear, think or decide; they must therefore be protectedin the one case by decrees and prohibitions from the Vatican (via the organised priesthood) as to right attitude and right action to be followed without questioning; and in the other, by withholding the truth as to events and happenings. But men are awakening everywhere andgiven some sound leadership, which at present is not to be found in any country in the worldthey can be trusted to swing the tide into a great harmonising and unifying movement." 10
Appendix: Biographical Sketch of Pope John Paul II (From astrodatabank.com)
Pope John Paul II Polish ecclesiastic, a Roman Catholic priest who rose in the hierarchy of the church to be elected the 264th Pope on 10/16/1978, c. 5:15 PM, Bishop of Rome, Vicar of Christ, Successor of St. Peter, Prince of Apostles, Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church, Patriarch of the West, Primate of Italy and Sovereign of Vatican City.
A passionate anti-Communist, social activist and socialist, Pope John Paul II had much to do with bringing down the Iron Curtain in 1989 and believes the northern nations should share their wealth with the southern hemisphere. No pope in history has had more scope of influence than he has through the modern media, and he once gave 25 speeches in a single day without repeating himself.
"Lolek" as he was known in childhood, was born in 1920, the second son of Karol Wojtyla (voy TIH wah) Sr., a retired army officer and tailor, and Emilia Kaczorowska Wojtyla, a schoolteacher of Lithuanian descent, strict Catholics. They lived a Spartan lifestyle in a one-room apartment, and his dad was strict with the boy, making him study in a cold room to learn concentration. There was no anti-Semitism in the family and the boy had Jewish playmates. Indeed, Wojtyla became the first pope to visit a synagogue and the first to visit the memorial at Auschwitz to victims of the Holocaust. In ending the Catholic-Jewish estrangement, he called Jews ""our elder brothers."
He was an athletic kid who skied, hiked, kayaked and swam in the flooded Skawa River, later becoming goal-keeper in the school soccer team. Death was part of the family history, with an infant sister who died prior to his birth and a month before his 9th birthday, his mother's death of heart and kidney problems. When he was 12, his older brother, Edmund, 26, died of scarlet fever. Lolek himself had two close brushes with death; once when he was hit by a streetcar and secondly, when he was nearly struck by a truck in 1944.
The pope, 5' 10" and 175 lbs in his prime, had a few physical difficulties from his early accidents and as an adult, had a dislocated shoulder, a broken thigh that led to femur-replacement surgery, the removal of a precancerous tumor from his colon in 1992 and an attempt on his life by a gunman whose two bullets wounded him in the abdomen, right arm and left hand. The Pope had an appendectomy operation 10/08/1996, Rome.
From the time he was a kid, Wojtyla was aware of the fragility of life and the presence of suffering, and he learned early the comfort of prayer and peace of meditation. As a young man, he was very religious but also drawn passionately to the theater and to writing mystical, somewhat murky poetry. He was a bohemian youth with long hair, and totally apolitical. Though he had close women friends, he apparently never dated or had a romance. Gregarious and charismatic, he was the male star of his theater groups and usually seen at the social mixers.
After the Germans invaded Poland, he escaped deportation and imprisonment in late 1940 by taking a job as a stonecutter in a quarry. A few months later, in February of 1941, Wojtyla's 61-year-old father died, leaving his dream of seeing his son commit to the priesthood unfulfilled. The pope has said that his father once told him, ""I will not live long and would like to be certain before I die that you will commit yourself to God's service.""
At 22, he entered a secret nighttime seminary operated in Nazi-occupied Poland by the Archbishop of Krakow. An excellent student, he was ordained four years later and sent to Rome for two more years of theological studies. He was ordained in 1946 in Krakow, and spent much of the next few years studying -- he earned two masters degrees and a doctorate -- before taking up priestly duties as an assistant pastor in Krakow.
He returned to Communist Poland in 1948 where he flourished, first as a parish priest and even more as a university professor. Along with his obvious fine intellectual and linguistic abilities, he was an unusually strong hiker, mountain climber and skier. His outward bound-type expeditions into the mountains and forests made him almost a cult figure among the university students. He would take dozens of students on strenuous expeditions almost every weekend, spending the evenings talking philosophy, ethics and religion. His appointment as a bishop came when he was on a camping trip. Arriving home, learned the news - and then returned to the mountains.
Unusual for a bishop, Wojtyla was willing to talk with his students about sex, with which he stressed a ""personalist"" view of fulfillment, equality of men and women and the importance of the female orgasm. The main source of his views was Wanda Poltawska, a Polish psychiatrist and sexologist, a close friend of his for many years. He unflinchingly upheld the policy of the church on banning birth control. Very much the Catholic traditionalist, he strongly supported human rights.
In 1954, he was hired by the Catholic University of Lublin, the only Catholic university in the communist world, as a non-tenured professor. The arrangement turned Wojtyla into a commuter, shuttling between Lublin and Krakow on the overnight train to teach and counsel in one city and study in the other. He also founded and ran a service that dealt with marital problems, from family planning and illegitimacy to alcoholism and physical abuse. Time magazine called it ""perhaps the most successful marriage institute in Christianity.""
In 1956, Wojtyla was appointed to the Chair of Ethics at Catholic University and his ascent through the church hierarchy got a boost in 1958 when he was named the auxiliary bishop of Krakow. When the Vatican Council II began the deliberations in 1962 that would revolutionize the church, Wojtyla was one of its intellectual leaders and took special interest in religious freedom. The same year, he was named the acting archbishop of Krakow when the incumbent died.
In 1967, he was appointed a cardinal by Pope Paul VI. He observed Catholic beliefs and traditions while accommodating the communist government, discretely keeping his distaste for communism private. Wojtyla bided his time, engaging in a strategy that honored Catholic beliefs and traditions while accommodating the communist government. However he remained ""a resilient enemy of Communism and champion of human rights, a powerful preacher and sophisticated intellectual able to defeat Marxists in their own line of dialogue."" (Current Biography)
Pope Paul VI died of a heart attack on 8/06/1978, Rome. Though Wojtyla was established as a formidable intellectual presence -- as well as an able administrator and fund-raiser, he was not generally considered a front-line candidate for the vacated appointment. However, after seven rounds of balloting, he was elected by the Sacred College of Cardinals in the afternoon of 10/16/1978. He reportedly formally accepted his election before the cardinals with tears in his eyes. He was also the first non-Italian pope in 455 years (the last was Adrian VI in 1523) and, was, at 58, the youngest pope in 132 years.
The pope survived an assassination attempt on 5/13/1981 by Turkish gunman Mehmet Ali Agca (born 1/09/1958) in the streets of Rome as he rode in his open car. The time of 5h21'31" PM is precise as his watch stopped at the exact time of the shot. It was a Chilean citizen who saved the Pope. He was visiting the Vatican as a tourist, and was just beside Agca when he saw the gun and he knocked the gun from the hands of Agca, and that action saved the Pope from receiving more bullets. John Paul always credited the Virgin of Fatima for saving his life because he was shot on her feast day, May 13. Italy's president pardoned Mehmet Ali Agca on 6/13/2000, returning him to Turkey where he went to prison for another, unrelated crime. He has served 19 years for shooting the Pope in the stomach.
Although he draws enormous crowds, sometimes in the millions, whenever he gives public appearances, the pope's health is slowly deteriorating. On 1/21/1999, an elderly and frail Pope made a hailed visit to Mexico, traveling to St. Louis, Missouri five days later. Suffering visibly from Parkinson's disease, trembling and unsteady, John Paul is still a potent and remarkable presence. During his 31-hour pastoral visit to the U.S., he celebrated mass, shared a photo op with President Bill Clinton and persuaded the Governor to commute the death sentence of a convicted killer.
On 12/24/1999, John Paul II opened the Holy Door to Saint Peter's Basilica at 11:26 PM MET, ushering in a holy year that is supposed to set the tone for the entire third millennium. Over the past 20 years, he has visited over 115 countries, displaying a remarkable charisma, modesty and sincerity. As Time noted in naming him Man of the Year in 1994, he generates an electricity ""unmatched by anyone else on earth."" Not only is he the most traveled pope in history but he speaks eight languages, learning Spanish after he became the pope. With an appreciation of modern advances, he also has been quick to use the media and technology to his advantage.
He has survived many crises, reforms and turmoil within the church, from Vatican Councils to Vietnam to the growing loss of young men joining the priesthood. His critics claim that he is closed-minded and rigid, maintaining policies of opposition to contraception, abortion and euthanasia that are no longer viable in today's world. His inflexibility on issues with international ramifications -- birth control in Africa, for example -- has drawn strong criticism. His refusal to approve the use of condoms is incomprehensible at a time when AIDS is life threatening. The denial of ordination to women and the doctrine of celibacy remains controversial and the scandals of pedophile priests in the early 21st century are as deeply disturbing as the cover-up of the church in paying settlements to keep the victims quiet. Many observers say John Paul's record is mixed. Although the church has expanded in Africa and Latin America -- the latter accounts for about half of the estimated one billion Catholics -- it has lost followers in the industrialized world, including Poland.
The pope has often explained himself with dense, closely reasoned and deeply philosophical encyclicals which, along with his letters and other writings fill more than 150 volumes. Though the spiritual well-being of the world is his business, Pope John Paul II has not neglected his own spiritual life. He has been found kneeling on the ground in the middle of winter before a statue, and deep in prayer with his head resting on an altar. Even when not interacting with others, he has been seen moving his lips, apparently in prayer. John Paul II is a towering figure at the moral center of modern life.
As an historic ""first,"" the Pope spoke to the Italian Parliament on 11/14/2002, 10:58 AM MET, Rome. [Died Rome, 2nd April 2005. 9:37 pm]