Karol Cardinal Wojtyla, who was not on the list of those from whom the pundits had guessed that the new pope would be nominated, draws together many disparate parts of the Roman Catholic Church.
The first non-Italian pope in four and a half centuries, he yet speaks good Italian, having studied in Rome. And, by speaking in Italian, he disarmed the mainly Italian - and rather stunned - 200,000 people packed into St. Peter's Square to receive his first papal blessing. I'm not sure, he said, avoiding as did his immediate predecessor the regal we, that I can express myself in your rather than our Italian language - if I make a mistake correct me.
Pope John-Paul II comes from Poland, that Communist country which remains resolutely Catholic. He must have considerable powers of conciliation, for he has been able to maintain quietly correct relations with the Polish Government and also with Poland's primate, Stefan Cardinal Wyszynski, who could not. Cardinal Wyszynski was one of the cardinals who appeared on the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica to present the new pope to the people.
The new pontiff comes from the workers. He was a chemical factory laborer and a worker priest. He is thus in the tradition of Pope John XXIII and Pope John-Paul I. He has been described as socially progressive and theologically conservative; he is on record as opposing what makes the church appear authoritarian. He is, at 58, the youngest pope in more than 100 years. He speaks fluent French as well as Italian, and a little English. He has a particular connection with North American, and with Canada.
He came to Canada in 1969, two years after his elevation to cardinal, to celebrate the 25th aniversary of the Polish Canadian Congress. He came, he said, to meet with as many as possible Polish immigrants. They desired deeply for a bishop from Poland to visit, and this is the reason I come to them, he said. He visited them in Montreal, Ottawa, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Toronto, Hamilton, St. Catharines, and then went to the United States, spending two months on this continent. Two years ago he returned for a conference of bishops in the United States, and came again to Canada to visit boyhood friends.
The new pope, though he is 264th in the line of St. Peter, has a new task. Not of Rome and not of the Curia (yet very near because of the Catholic faith and the traditions which we share), of the dispersed and of the workers, one who speaks to the Communist world and to the Western world, he could be a bridge.