Friday, August 13

Colm Tóibín, Among the Flutterers (via Helen DeWitt):

Twice Wojtyla spent long periods with his hands over his face. The crowd below watched him, fascinated. All the lights were on him. It was hugely dramatic and unexpected, the pope unplugged, as it were. He was offering an example of what the spiritual life would look like; his message was mysterious and charismatic. If you did not know anything about the religion he represented, you would say that it was one of the most beautiful ever imagined, wonderfully speculative and exotic, good- humoured and sweet but also exquisite and exalted. While he lost nothing of his strength and power, the glory of his office, Wojtyla seemed at times almost sad about his own elevated position, suggesting that his real life was the one he spent alone in prayer and contemplation, the one we had seen when he sat without moving, his face covered. He was offering this rich private life of his to the crowd as the life they could have if they followed him.

The spell was broken somewhat, and a sign of the future offered, by a press conference held the following day at the monastery. All the journalists were told to be there as a very important announcement was to be made. I wondered if John Paul was ready finally to announce that Catholics could use artificial contraception, or that women could be priests, or that he was going to abolish the rule of clerical celibacy, but instead a local journalist told me not to bother going, the conference would merely announce that Danuta, the wife of Lech Walesa, had not, despite the rumours, slept in the monastery the previous night, that no woman had ever done so. Scotching these rumours was, for the Church in Poland, a matter of the utmost importance, it seemed.

This is worth reading.