Toyohiko Kagawa, Friend of the Poor

The following was written by Joshua for Telling the Stories that Matter.

When Toyohiko Kagawa was asked to come and speak to the seminarians at Princeton–one of his alma maters–he went willingly and eagerly.Toyohiko had been displeased with much of his own seminary experience because he found that the students there were far more interested in arguments, rhetoric, persuasion, and the fine points of doctrine and textual study. He repeatedly begged them simply to live out what Jesus had taught in the parable of the Good Samaritan. He knew he was asking for much of the seminarians but he hoped that they would–as far as people go–be the most likely to answer a call to genuinely and sincerely practiced allegiance to Jesus as Lord and Savior. When he finished speaking to the assembled Princetonians he accepted some questions and then dismissed them quietly and gathered his things from the podium. As he was doing so, two ofthe seminarians turned to each other in their seats and discussed his lecture.

One insisted that it had not been quite what they had expected from a man who was so well respected around the seminary. Turning to his friend, he quipped, “He didn’t have much to say, did he?”They shared their own little laugh knowing that they were better educated than Toyohiko but not knowing that they were still fools. Both of them had heard of his background and how he had been the illegitimate child of a powerful Japanese man and a geisha. He was hated by his mother and liked by his father but soon both his mother and father had died and he was orphaned. He was given over as the ward of the widowed wife of his father. She and her mother struggled not to resent little Toyohiko because it had not been his decision to be a child of infidelity but they failed in their struggle and Toyohiko knew he was hated by them. They sent him away to a boarding school. He began attending a bible study given by a Christian minister so that he could learn and practice his English. Yet while he was learning the language, he was hearing and considering the truths and teachings of the Faith of the minister. When he was a teenager, he converted to the Christian Faith that had gripped him by the heart over a long time of reflection and meditation. Soon after this conversion he knew clearly that he would be a minister of the Gospel that had spoken to him when hehad walked in darkness, desperation, and death.

Though they didn’t seem to prize it, those two young seminarians knew that after receiving more education in preparation for the calling he was already living into, Toyohiko had stepped out in faith and moved into the Shinkawa district of Kobe. These slums were some of the worst–if not the absolute worst–in all of Japan. He lived in a three-walled dwelling so filthy and small (only six feet wide by six feet long) that it would be an overstatement to call it a shack. For nearly fifteen years he tended to the sick, suffering, hungry, poor, and dying in Shinkawa. Toyohiko was able to make a little money (not nearly as much as he would have been able to if he had moved out of Shinkawa, though) but he spent it all on medicine, food, and clothing for those who came to him asking for it. He was regularly abused and beaten for his love and compassion. At one point, a band of thugs accosted him knowing him as an “easy mark” who would give over anything to them not out of fear but out of love. They demanded his clothing and mentioned that they knew he was a Christian. He took off his clothing and handed it over to the criminals and they walked away with filthy rags and an increasing awareness of the goodness of Toyohiko’s God and their own inherent sinfulness shown by their willingness to beat and strip a poor and loving man in the slums.

Those two young seminarians probably had no idea that Toyohiko had spent nearly every night for nearly fifteen years tending for the sick and homeless in his own meager dwelling. He gave over his bed to the sick and filthy people he loved and slept in the cold with little to protect himself from the elements. He gave over his food and drink with such regularity that he was regularly ill from hunger. He did not have intense theological debates but he regularly lived out the teachings of Jesus in a way that granted him an inherent understanding of the Gospel that Jesus brought into this world. Every night for four years he held the hand of a murderer as that murderer drifted off into a fitful sleep in Toyohiko’s own bed. The murderer could not bear what he had done any longer but Toyohiko still spoke of forgiveness to and refused to abandon the poor man who feared isolation and judgment. He organized workers in the slums and shipyards all while fighting for increased voting rights in Japan. Eventually, he was arrested and held in prison for two particular crimes: 1) he organized the voiceless so that they might speak in unison to those with power and be heard, and 2) he apologized to the Chinese for the Japanese occupation of portions of China. Toyohiko’s commitment to peace–one he felt compulsory for all who hoped to follow Jesus even if it cost them their lives–made him a dangerous criminal in the eyes of Japan.

Perhaps the two young seminarians knew that a terrible earthquake hit Tokyo and Yokohama in 1923. The ruins of those cities were flooded with the sick, suffering, hungry, poor, and dying. The government was overwhelmed by the need and was uninitiated into taking care of its citizens since it had been so long practicing power and control and forsaking compassion and mercy. So they came to Toyohiko in prison and released him. They knew he had made a difference in the lives of those needing help and they also knew that it was Toyohiko who would be able to do it again. They made him Chief of Social Welfare and offered him a home and a sizable salary. He rejected them and insisted that he could neither help the poor from a position of comfort nor allow his Christian duty to be purchased. He slowly helped rebuild cities devastated by earthquake, neglect, and need. For this he was lauded and honored even as he insisted that he was only doing the bare minimum of what God had called him to do.

As the two seminarians continued to share their own criticism of Toyohiko they ignored that Toyohiko was struggling to see the steps he was trying to descend. He had acquired a serious eye disease because of his practices of offering hospitality even in the slums. Those he lived with were sick and soon so was Toyohiko. As the two men missed the point of all they had heard and continued to pass the drug of intelligent pride back and forth an elderly lady overheard them and interrupted them. She leaned forward to interject one simple sentence into their conversation while pointing at Toyohiko as he carefully descended the stairs: “You don’t need to say much when you’re hanging on a cross.”

Advertisements

Corrie ten Boom and Family, Righteous Among the Nations

The following was written by Joshua for Telling the Stories that Matter.

When Corrie ten Boom heard the knocking at the door she checked to make sure that the family was ready for her to open it. This was a habit–and a good one–because they never knew who might be standing outside their door in Haarlem, Holland, in the year 1942. The Nazis and their brutal gestapo were always keen on surprise searches and raids. So, a family like Corrie’s knew that they should tie down any loose ends–or visible refugees–before they opened the door. The challenge was, of course, making sure that there wasn’t much hesitation in answering the door, however, because the Nazis were always looking for an excuse to rationalize their violating searches. Casting glances around her–while her family did the same–she decided that they were ready for whoever might be on the other side of the door. As the door swung open and obscured her view she readied herself to be courageous and to stand by her faith regardless of who waited for her on the threshold. As her expectation turned to vision, she was glad to see a finely dressed woman in traveling clothes with a briefcase. She didn’t need the woman to tell her what she was there for but she knew it was important to the woman to say. The woman told Corrie that she was a Jew–quietly so that any nearby informants might not have cause to run to the Nazis–and that her husband had been arrested by the Nazis. After finding a hiding place for their son she had left the watchful eye of her city’s predators and arrived at the house of Corrie and her family seeking refuge and a sanctuary. Corrie led her inside without a moment’s hesitation.

Corrie and her family were committed to offering a haven of protection for those that the State despised and abused. They had given refuge to Jews and members of the Dutch resistance for over two years by the point that the young woman arrived on their doorstep. They had a special place in their home–a small room accessed in Corrie’s closet–where those that the Nazis pursued could hide when they inevitably came looking. Otherwise, they were the honored guests of Corrie and her family. They observed the Sabbath with their guests and kept their kitchen kosher so that they might not present any problem to those the world called refugees and they called brothers and sisters. Their Christian convictions led them to understand the Jews as their kin and family–the chosen people of God to whom they had been joined by their faith. However, as this heroic work continued they were presented with a challenge. The members of Corrie’s family each had a ration card but none of the Jews were ever given ration cards. This meant that they had a limited amount of food for an increasing number of people. They shared what they had but it wasn’t enough.

Corrie, who was known to say not only “Let God’s promises shine on your problems” but, also,”Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God” went at night to a man who was a government employee and was connected to the ration cards. Corrie had once cared for this man’s mentally handicapped daughter and had even run a special Church service for the girl and others like her. She had shown love and kindness to another of those whom the world avoids and fears and in doing had shown God to the girl and her mother and father. She knocked on his door and began to tell her story but eventually he cut her off because he knew what she must be preparing to ask him for. He asked her how many cards she needed. She had been planning on asking for five because that would have made the situation at home much easier. But, then when she went to say how many she needed she realized that she had an opportunity to expand her family’s ability to protect those they loved.She asked for one hundred and received the man’s help with some hesitation.

Eventually, their goodness became public knowledge and shortly thereafter a Dutch informant sold them out to the Nazis. The Nazis raided the house and took the family captive along with all their beloved guests. Corrie and her family were sent to Scheveningen prison for their efforts and her already ailing father died only ten days into his captivity. Corrie’s nephew, brother, and younger sister were all released after some time in prison but Corrie and her older sister were transferred first to Vught concentration camp and finally to Ravensbruck. Corrie’s older sister died at Ravensbruck but, perhaps sensing Corrie’s growing desperation, she told her: “There is no pit so deep that God’s love is not deeper still.” Inspired by her sister’s faith, she continued offering comfort and solace to those she was captive with until she was released–because of a clerical error–on Christmas Day in the year 1944. They had not meant to release her but they did and so she was spared the death that was scheduled for her in a week’s time.

Perhaps the most shocking moment, though, came two years later when she was in Germany and brought face to face with one of the guards from Ravensbruck. She was immediately furious with him but this would not last. Instead, she reminded herself of her call to love and forgive even her enemies and that “Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart.” She forgave the man and held his hands and prayed for him. She would look back at this event for the remainder of her career as a speaker and storyteller as the one moment when she most felt the love of God surging through her. In that moment, she had slipped the bonds of broken sinfulness and attained to the great calling that Jesus had placed upon her life: to redeem a broken and sinful world by laying down herself and loving others.

Damien of Moloka’i, Leper

The following was written by Joshua for Telling the Stories that Matter.

The kingdom of Hawaii had one particular advantage when it came to the spread of disease since they were a chain of islands they were quarantined from the rest of the world. Of course, this boon carried a danger with it: the inhabitants were especially susceptible to infection and disease when ships began bringing more and more merchants to the Hawaiian islands. The influx of commerce and foreign visitors was accompanied by crippling outbreaks of influenza that weakened and killed many. But whereas influenza was a fast killer and survivors were able to develop a fairly sufficient immunity in a little while, there was another disease that proved to be a slow and torturous killer. This killer was “Hansen’s Disease” but it is also known as leprosy and those who contracted it were known as lepers. It was hard to hide and soon the king–Kamehameha the Fifth–decided to quarantine those affected to protect the rest of his people. They were forcibly detained and sent to live on the island of Moloka’i at a place called Kalaupapa. Contrary to common assumptions, leprosy does not cause body parts to fall off and isn’t especially contagious but it does cause extensive nerve damage and can cause permanent damage to the skin, eyes, and lungs. The other–perhaps intentionally forgotten–damage it does is the relationships it crushes by fear of contagion and threat of quarantine.

Damien de Veuster had been ordained a priest in Belgium but due to the coaxing of his brother he became interested in becoming a missionary. He became determined to travel abroad in service of the Church when it was determined that his brother would be unable to go himself. Damien stepped into the opportunity and was sent to Hawaii shortly before the outbreak of leprosy there. The lepers had been sent to their isolated place and given little in supplies, though, and Damien began to worry for them. They had been given some help in growing their own food–having been fully divorced from their land and people–but this support also proved to be insufficient. They were disconnected from those they loved and made to feel as if the world didn’t want to–couldn’t afford to–associate with them. There wasn’t any semblance of community and the 816 lepers outcast to Moloka’i fended for themselves. Damien couldn’t stand their abandonment and petitioned the vicar to be sent to them as their priest. The vicar made sure that Damien knew he was likely signing his own death warrant but Damien insisted and was sent by boat to the people. By becoming one of them, he was effectively exiling himself as he would no longer be able to leave once he lived among them. He went without hesitation for his Lord had called him to take up his cross and follow. In this case, it meant going to Moloka’i.

Damien built a church with the help of the lepers there and organized them into a community around himself. He treated their pains and lesions with his own hands. He conducted services of worship. He heard confessions and gave spiritual direction to the willing. He built furniture and homes. He painted houses to give their place another measure of comfort. He built coffins, dug graves, and performed funerals. In short, he became a devoted member and leader in the community at Moloka’i. Because of his involvement, the people gathered around him and joined together as one people to share in their suffering and carry each other’s burdens. Because of his leadership they were able to work together to sow and reap crops each year and sustain themselves in their exile. One night he went to soak his feet in hot water–as he did every night after a hard day’s work–and was frightened to find that he could not feel the heat of the water. He had contracted the disease but he kept it as his secret for a little while he worked hard to prepare the citizens of his community to go on without him when he was forced to leave them by death. As he got more and more sick the Church sent three people to take over his duties and one to care for him as he died. They carried on his legacy of love and compassion while he slipped out of this life and into the arms of the Lord who had called him from before time began. Damien died on the fifteenth day of April in the year 1889 after serving the people the world wanted to forget for over sixteen years. He was buried where he belonged: Moloka’i.

Isaac the Syrian, Man of Prayer

The following was written by Joshua for Telling the Stories that Matter.

The monks must have balked at first at Isaac’s strange instructions–did he really think it was wise to leave their gardening tools out in the garden at night?”Surely,” they said one to another, “he must know that thieves will come and steal them.” But Isaac’s story had earned their obedience even if it seemed a ridiculous instruction that almost certainly meant trying to garden without their tools in the days to come. They did as they were instructed because they had grown to trust Isaac completely and had, in fact, left their previous lives behind simply to be his disciple after hearing stories about him. Many of them had first heard of Isaac shortly after his arrival in Spoleto, Italy. He had traveled from far away and when he arrived he requested from the local officials at the cathedral that he be allowed to stay in the cathedral as long as necessary to make his prayers and to give thanks to God. When they consented, he went about his prayers with a fervor that was at first charming but grew tiring for the men in charge of the upkeep of the building. When he had been there for nearly sixty hours, one of the men had had enough of what he believed to be Isaac’s hypocrisy. The man reasoned that Isaac was attempting to gain favor with other worshipers by faking a devout prayer life all while keeping a roof over his head. So, the man approached Isaac to tell him to leave and not to pester anyone else.

With venom on his tongue, he harassed Isaac and told him to move one. But, Isaac continued in his prayers. So, the man struck him on the side of the face and knocked Isaac to the floor. The man was suddenly seized by an unclean spirit that took advantage of his spiritually weakened state and his sin against his brother. Under the conviction of God and having been driven to the floor by the unclean spirit, the man begged Isaac to drive the spirit out of him and grant him forgiveness. Isaac said nothing, continued his prayers, and leaned over the stricken man. In an instant the man was delivered from the spirit and from his sin and offered his heartfelt gratitude to Isaac as Isaac continued to pray. This story spread quickly and soon Isaac was deluged by people seeking not only to learn from him but to give him money, possessions, and land to build a monastery. Isaac politely refused all these offers and when asked why he responded, “A monk who acquires possessions is no longer a monk.”He left Spoleto behind and moved into a nearby wilderness to build a small cell and take up the devoted prayer life of a hermit. In his wake came those who were willing to cast aside all things to gain what it was that Isaac already seemed to have–an intimate connection with the God that others just seemed to talk about.

So, the monks under his care went to sleep that night confident that their tools would be gone in the morning. Indeed, shortly after they had all fallen asleep, thieves scaled the walls of the monastery and began the task of gathering up the gardening tools. But, as each man picked up a spade he felt a heaviness upon his heart concerning their plan to pilfer the monks’ livelihood. So, one by one they decided to finish the work that the monks had started before leaving with the tools. In the morning, Isaac gathered the monks and asked them to prepare a breakfast feast for some unexpected guests from the produce in their garden. When the monks went to the garden, though, they found the thieves still working and were amazed at the wonderful care that each man had taken in tending the garden. As the thieves and the monks stared at each other in surprise, Isaac entered the garden and began gathering produce while inviting the thieves to sit at the table and join in their feast. Each thief and each monk ate his fill and enjoyed the fellowship of one another. As the meal finished, Isaac spoke to the guests. He didn’t shame or guilt them but he simply encouraged the men to leave their lives of theft behind. He invited them to join with the monks in prayer whenever they wanted to do so and then he gave them each permission to come and harvest as much as they liked from the garden any time they were hungry. Many of the thieves left their sin behind while some were converted and even joined the monastery. Isaac had simply followed after his Lord Jesus and offered grace and mercy to any who would have it.

Martin Luther King, Jr., Dreamer

The following was written by Joshua for Telling the Stories that Matter.

The audience in Mason Temple was justifiably enraptured as Martin Luther King, Jr., preached yet another griping and inspiring sermon. As he moved to conclude the sermon his mind–and the minds of the audience–were drawn once again to the weapons and bombs that were threatened and used against them.Martin’s flight to Memphis for this cause had been delayed by yet another bomb threat.He concluded the sermon, “We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind.” As the imagery settled, he continued: “Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will.” This would prove to be a dark foreshadowing of the limited time left on earth for Martin. He finished”And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. So I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”With these words, Martin ended his sermon and went back to room 306–a room he had stayed in often–at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis.

Martin led countless individuals in the struggle for civil rights in the United State of America. He was one of the founders of the influential Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and gave direction to people looking for a way to resist the powerful and abusive parts of the American power structure. They marched and met and slowly raised the consciousness of the American people in relation to the struggle that they were undergoing simply for equality and justice. One of the foundational tenets of Martin’s leadership was the philosophy of nonviolence. This philosophy led to many sit-ins and passive forms of resistance which proved to be esspecially powerful in a nation where media were looking for a story. He drew the inspiration for how he might best resist nonviolently from Jesus, Gandhi, and the writings of Howard Thurman. With each nonviolent protest, they were met with violent opposition from those who hated their very existence. They absorbed the wrath and evil intentions of their enemies and offered them something resembling love and forgiveness in return. As the violence escalated, Martin and those who followed after him suffered even more. But the power was found in the increased awareness of the rightness of their side and the wrongness of their enemies as their enemies perpetrated great evil in an attempt to remain powerful. In other words, the nonviolent protest of Martin and his people provided a canvas upon which the inherent, institutional evil could take form and be recognized. With every blow and wound they received they gave witness to the evil that motivated such injustice.

Martin was a preacher and recognized the power of the spoken word both to inspire and provoke. It seems that at every stop he would be in a church preaching to a capacity crowd about the inherent spirituality of what was going on. The civil rights campaign was not his only cause. After much reflection his nonviolence extended into his political life and he became a leader in the cause to end the Vietnam war. This did not gain him any popularity among the powerful–many of whom he had already offended–but it did help to ease his own conscience as he considered what his faith and calling demanded of him. He preached and he taught and in so doing he excited the joy of his audience and the antipathies of his opponents. So many of them were regular members and attenders of a church but saw no problem with the injustice and evil that they supported. Martin’s preaching demanded awareness from those that supported him and those that resisted him. He didn’t just help reform American political attitudes. He began the process of reforming the Church in America and around the world.

At 6:00 p.m. in the evening of the fourth day of April–in the year 1968–Martin prepared to leave room 306 and go to another church to preach another sermon in support of the sanitation workers in Memphis. By doing this, he was further living into his conviction: “true compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar….it comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.” As he stepped out the door he turned to the musician who was with him–Ben Branch–and said: “Ben, make sure you play Take My Hand, Precious Lord in the meeting tonight. Play it real pretty.” At 6:01, a shot rang out and a bullet entered Martin’s head and settled in his spinal column. The man who had received the Nobel Peace Prize for working through nonviolence and civil disobedience to end racial injustice was gunned down in Memphis on his way to preach a sermon commanding love for enemies. He died a martyr and was buried shortly thereafter in a funeral that was widely attended. According to his wishes, nobody talked about his many awards or degrees but, rather, his wife chose to play a recording of a recent sermon in which he said he’d rather be known for being a man who tried to “feed the hungry”, “clothe the naked”, “be right on the war question”, and “love and serve humanity.” As the preacher got one more chance to preach–an honor he would have indubitably enjoyed–Mahalia Jackson sang Take My Hand, Precious Lord and a nation laid to rest a martyr and prophet.

G+M Worship – April 1, 2012 (Lent 6b – Palm Sunday)

The following is a liturgy/guide that was written by Joshua for the service of worship and prayers held at Grace and Main Fellowship on April 1, 2012. It was also posted at the site for Third Chance Ministries.

Worship on the Sixth Sunday in Lent – Palm/Passion Sunday – April 1, 2012

On this sixth and final Sunday in Lent, let us remember that the word the crowds yelled as Jesus and his disciples entered the city of Jerusalem was “Hosanna.” This word means “save us” and could be the word that we use roughly 2,000 years later to call upon this same Jesus to be Lord of our lives. But, we cannot and should not forget that it was only five days later, on the day we call “Good Friday,” that Jesus  was crucified and killed. Oh, how quickly “save us” can turn to “leave us alone.” This has been the story of the scripture from creation until this pivotal week that we have entered again today.

Today, we begin the Christian celebration of Holy Week on the day we call Palm Sunday and Passion Sunday—for there is so little separation in our hearts between devotion and treason. As we light this candle to symbolize Jesus’ presence here with us in worship, let’s take a moment to say “hosanna” in our hearts and humbly to welcome Jesus into the place to teach and guide us.

Lighting of the Christ Candle

The sacrifice of God is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.

Even as we journey to the cross : let us raise our voices in song.

Song: Baruch Haba B’shem Adonai

Lyrics:
Baruch Haba B’shem Adonai
Blessed is he who comes
Baruch Haba B’shem Adonai
Who comes in the name of the Lord

 

I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation.

Psalm 118:5-7, 17-26
Out of my distress I called on the Lord; the Lord answered me and set me free.
The Lord is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?
The Lord is on my side as my helper; I shall look in triumph on those who hate me.
I shall not die, but I shall live, and recount the deeds of the Lord.
The Lord has disciplined me severely, but he has not given me over to death.
Open to me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through them and give thanks to the Lord.
This is the gate of the Lord; the righteous shall enter through it.
I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation.
The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.
This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.
Save us, we pray, O Lord! O Lord, we pray, give us success!
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! We bless you from the house of the Lord.

I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation.
Zechariah 9:9-13

I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation.
John 12:12-16
I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation.

 

Group Reflection on the Scripture

 

Saint Andrew of Crete, the 8th Century bishop and Church Father, once wrote, “ So let us spread before [Jesus’] feet, not garments or soulless olive branches, which delight the eye for a few hours and then wither, but ourselves, clothed in his grace, or rather, clothed completely in him. We who have been baptized into Christ must ourselves be garments that we spread before him. Now that the crimson stains of our sins have been washed away in the saving waters of baptism and we have become white as pure wool, let us present the conqueror of death, not with mere braches of palms but with the real rewards of his victory. Let our souls take the place of the welcoming braches as we join today in the children’s holy song: Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Blessed is the King of Israel.”

Prayers for Others

The Lord’s Prayer

Song: Great is Thy Faithfulness

May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you : wherever he may send you.
May he guide you through the wilderness : protect you through the storm.
May he bring you home rejoicing : at the wonders he has shown you.
May he bring you home rejoicing : once again into our doors.

Amen.

Karol Wojtyla (Pope John Paul II), Apologizer

The following was written by Joshua for Telling the Stories that Matter.

Karol loved soccer. He loved it enough that he took any opportunity to go and play it with his friends. In many ways, it was a type of escape for young Karol who had lost his mother one month before he turned nine-years-old and had lost his brother and his sister long before he had left childhood behind. Though life was hard for young Karol in Poland he found comfort when he was playing goalkeeper in the games that he and his friends were able to play. It didn’t make the pain go away but it gave him something else to care about for a little while. It helped that Karol was an able goalkeeper and often asked to play as one. In the part of Poland that he was raised in there were many Jews and Karol was friends with their children. Many times the soccer games were devised along religious lines: a team of Roman Catholics versus a team of Jews. They would play their competitive but friendly game and Karol was always quick to volunteer to be a goalkeeper for the Jews if they couldn’t find one or didn’t have enough players. This attitude–this reaching across lines of religious difference–would continue in Karol’s life even when he began to be known as John Paul II. Karol’s love for his brother–perhaps brought about by the tragic loss of his immediate family–was not bound up in labels and restrictions.

When Hitler and those who committed atrocities with him swept into Poland Karol was attending university and doing well in his studies. Yet, soon the Nazis shut down the university and forced all of its male students to work in the jobs to which they were assigned. While he refused to take up a weapon or commit violence he was forced to serve as a manual laborer in a limestone quarry among other things. In 1941, when Karol was only twenty years old, his father died and Karol was suddenly without any immediate family. In the wake of his father’s death he began to hear a still small voice whispering quietly of a calling to the priesthood. He risked his life and welfare to attend the underground seminary in Krakow run by the Archbishop. He proved to be an excellent student and soon had learned nearly twelve languages. While studying he was occasionally forced into hiding when the Nazis would crack down on potential uprisings but this was not the only risk he experienced. He endeavored to protect Jews from the Nazis even though he knew it could cost him his life if he were caught. Eventually, the Nazis would recede from Poland and roughly a year later Karol was ordained to the priesthood.

Karol’s priestly calling was an excellent fit for him. He was lauded as a priest who genuinely loved the people of his parish. He rose through the hierarchy to bishop, archbishop, cardinal, and finally pope. As he became more and more involved in the leadership of the Roman Catholic church he found himself in the position to shape the stances and positions of the Church that he loved. He was present at the Second Vatican Council and he was influential in the statement concerning religious freedom. Further, he helped craft the Roman Catholic stance on life and combating what he saw as a “culture of death” in the modern world. As pope he did something incredible:he made confession and penance on behalf of the whole Church. He apologized for the Church’s treatment of Galileo Galilei. He apologized for the Church’s role in slave trafficking in Africa. He apologized for the Roman Catholic executions and torturing of protestant Christians. He apologized to Muslims for the Crusades. He apologize for victims of inquisition. He apologized for the Church’s mistreatment and abuse of women. Perhaps most dearly, he apologized for the Church’s inactivity and silence during the Nazi atrocities. He insisted that apology was the way forward for the Church just as it was the way forward for individuals.

John Paul II died on the second of April in the year 2005. Though an assassination attempt had been made on his life–and he pardoned the man who shot him–it was not a bullet that took his life but simply old age and a hard life lived well. He was mourned with passion throughout the world by both Roman Catholics and non-Roman Catholics alike. John Paul II had traveled throughout the world and every place that he had touched–every place where he had knelt down to kiss the earth–cried out at the world’s great loss in his death. He had led the Church forward in reconciliation and growth that had been inspired in him by the need for love and forgiveness in a world that favored death and destruction.