Commemorating the Life and Legacy of the ''Pope of Popes''

Christian leaders from all rungs of the theological spectrum honored the passing of Pope John Paul II and called him a champion of the ecumenical movement, the protector of religious and moral rights, the spokesperson for the voiceless, a warrior against communism, and a passionate advocate of the culture of life.

Characterizing the pope as “one of the most courageous spiritual leaders of our time”, the head of the world’s largest ecumenical body praised John Paul’s involvement in the ecumenical movement.

"In the one ecumenical movement he constantly affirmed as irreversible the deep involvement of the Roman Catholic Church in ecumenism,” Kobia said in a statement. “In responding to the challenging issues for the church in the world, he opened a dialogue with other religious traditions, and addressed constantly issues of social justice and moral and ethical values.”

Mark Hanson, the president of the Lutheran World Federation and Presiding Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, also celebrated the Pope’s commitment to the ecumenical movement.

“His commitment to the ecumenical movement will be remembered by many as the hallmark of his ministry,” Hanson said in a statement. “His many encyclicals contain numerous references to his desire to advance the unity of Christ's Church and he expressed longing for the day when all Christians could share the Body and Blood of Christ together. He even called for ecumenical conversations about his own papal ministry that he might better serve as a vehicle for Christian unity.”

Hanson specifically took note of the pontiff’s irreversible role in the signing of a doctrine that bridged the gap between Lutherans and Catholics in regards to justification.

“Lutherans will always remember John Paul II as the pope who fostered an unprecedented growth in Lutheran/Roman Catholic relations,” Hanson wrote. “Healing the wounds laid bare during the 16th century Reformation took on new meaning as the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification was signed in 1999.

“We live in new hope that the Spirit of the Living Christ will continue that work and bring about an even stronger relationship between the two church bodies.”

Rev. Bob Edgar, the General Secretary of the National Council of Churches, also hailed John Paul’s commitment to Christian unity.

“As an organization dedicated to Christian unity, we hailed the Pope's 1995 ecumenical encyclical, Ut Unum Sint (That They May Be One), and his emphasis on the importance of praying together and of committing ourselves to the long road of continuing engagement that leads to greater unity,” wrote Edgar in an April 2 statement.

The Rev. Geoffrey Wainwright, chairman of the dialogue between the World Methodist Council and the Roman Catholic Church since 1986, agreed that the pope’s dedication to Christian unity will become a lasting legacy.

“Pope John Paul II’s contribution to ecumenism is epitomized in his encyclical letter of 1995, ‘Ut Unum Sint’ (‘That They May Be One’),” Wainwright told United Methodist News Service. “The most exciting element in that letter was his invitation to leaders of other churches and their theologians to join with him in ‘a patient and fraternal dialogue’ concerning how the ‘ministry of universal unity’ traditionally claimed and offered by the (Holy) See of Rome could be exercised in new ways in a new situation.”

Meanwhile, Methodist Bishop Peter D. Weaver, president of the United Methodist Council of Bishops, gave thanks to the life and ministry of John Paul II and called him a “courageous witness for Christ”.

“He was a courageous witness for Christ and a compassionate brother to the poor and oppressed of this world. We give thanks for his life and ministry among us and the new life he now has in Christ,” Weaver said.

Bishop Ann B. Sherer, president of the United Methodist Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns, remembered the pope’s commitment to the poor.

“We, as United Methodists, join the whole world in celebrating the way the pope has sensitized us all to the needs of the poor, the needs of the marginalized, the needs of the suffering,” she said. “We join our ecumenical partners around the world in bearing witness to the goodness of God in life and in death.”

The Orthodox Archbishop, Metropolitan Herman, also commemorated the late Pope for his love for humanity.

John Paul “constantly reminded all humanity of our shared responsibility to defend the rights of the poor, the defenseless, and those who have no one to speak for them,” Herman explained.

The head of America’s Orthodox Church also praised the pope for remaining steadfast "in proclaiming the 'Gospel of Life' and in safeguarding the dignity and sanctity of life in all its stages.”

Conservatives meanwhile said that despite a “theological divide as wide as the ocean” with the pope, they honored his enduring commitment to the culture of life and democracy.

"Evangelical Christians should honor the courage of this man and his historic role in bringing Communist tyranny to an end--at least within the Soviet Union and in Eastern Europe,” wrote R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., in a commentary released Monday. “Added to this, we should honor his defense of human dignity and his eloquent and influential witness against abortion and the Culture of Death.”

Mohler, however, noted that unlike protestants, John Paul “rejected justification by faith” as well as “promoted an extreme Marian devotion, referring to Mary as "Co-Redemptrix," "Mediatrix," and "Mother of all Graces."

Richard Land, President of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberties Commission took note of the past pontiff’s dedication to universal human rights.

“He rallied the captive nations of Eastern Europe to throw off the yoke of Soviet communism. Furthermore, he emerged as one of the most eloquent spokesmen anywhere in the world for religious freedom for all human beings as a universal right, and for the sanctity of all human life from conception to natural death and everywhere in between,” he said to Baptist Press.

The Rev. Dr. Gerald B Kieschnick, President of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, also mourned the passing of the pope and characterized him as a great leader in favor of life.

“Pope John Paul II's strong voice in confronting issues crucial for our age with courage and conviction for more than a quarter of a century will be missed,” Kieschnick wrote. “He provided inspiration and leadership, not only to Roman Catholics but also to the greater Christian world and beyond with his uncompromising stances in favor of life and against the culture of death.”

Kieschnick noted that while “historic differences” remain between the Catholic and Lutheran Church, the late pope will “be remembered for his call for Christian churches to seek to work out their differences in faithfulness to their convictions and to their doctrinal heritage.”

Meanwhile, the Archbishop of Canterbury – the head of the Anglican Communion – wrote a brief statement expressing his sadness on learning of the death of Pope John Paul II.

“Pope John Paul was a leader of manifest holiness and a faithful and prayerful friend of the Anglican Church,” Archbishop Rowan Williams wrote. "There will be time in the days ahead for the proper tributes to be paid; for now we remember his life and ministry with thankfulness and hold the church that he led in our thoughts and prayers."

The leader of the U.S. Episcopal Church, Rev. Frank T. Griswold, characterized the pope as one of the world’s greatest Christian leaders.

“Like the householder in the gospel he was able to bring out of the treasure of his own deep spirit things 'both new and old.' His voice and moral authority gave inspiration and hope to millions well beyond the Roman Catholic Church,” Griswold wrote. “His commitment to the unity of the church expressed itself in his personal willingness to meet with representatives of other faith communities and to invite those outside his own tradition to reflect on how the ministry of the Bishop of Rome might be of greater service both in the cause of Christian unity and the wellbeing of the world."

Summing up the characterizations, the President of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops called Pope John Paul II a “friend to humanity”.

“For more than a generation, Pope John Paul has been the spiritual father of Catholics around the globe, a powerful force in world affairs, a moral compass in turbulent times. He was a scholar, a writer, poet, linguist, and a statesman, to mention only a few of his talents. He was a voice for the voiceless and the vulnerable. He was a friend to humanity,” wrote Bishop William S. Skylstad of Spokane”

“As a bishop and as president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, I want to note how grateful we bishops are for the ministry which Pope John Paul II gave to his brothers in the episcopacy,” Skylstad wrote.

“Pope John Paul took as an informal motto of his papacy the words of scripture, “Be not afraid!” Through these twenty-six years, he taught us in word and deed the meaning of this phrase – that all who wholeheartedly open their lives to Christ and belong to Him have nothing to fear in this world or the next.”