TORONTO, April 5, 2005 (LifeSiteNews.com) - Since the death of Pope John Paul II, media is awash with commentators talking about his influence. An especially consistent theme is the surprise that the Pope, who is portrayed as a severe moralist, should be so especially loved by young people. Media commentators show a consistent tone of perplexity that a man who was known for his uncompromising stands on moral issues would have such wide appeal for youth who are portrayed as dedicated hedonists.

LifeSiteNews.com interviewed a number of young Canadian Catholics who revere the late Pope and asked them the question, “Why do young people love John Paul II?”

Michael Connell, 28, formerly the Communications Director of the Catholic Civil Rights League and currently a student at Ave Maria School of Law told LifeSiteNews.com that he feels that mainstream media coverage has missed the point. Connell said, “So much of it has been about John Paul as a ‘man of contradiction.’ But the reality is that it’s the world that is contradictory, when John Paul was perfectly consistent.”

Connell commented, “It’s the world that doesn’t grasp the consistency between being a champion of human freedom and opposing abortion. John Paul was a hero to younger Catholics who saw their elders being corrupted by the moral incoherence of ‘liberal’ Catholicism and secularism. His moral courage, not kowtowing to the world, is what was attractive about him.”

Kevin Belgrave, a seminarian at St. Augustine’s Seminary in Toronto, and former director of a youth pro-life movement said that the young people of the world have flocked to John Paul, not ‘in spite of ’ but ‘because of ’ his stand. He told LifeSiteNews.com, “A superficial look at this outpouring of devotion for John Paul II might mistakenly give the impression that young Catholics worshiped the Pope.” But Belgrave says that the Pope’s message of truth, uncompromised with the shifting values of the world is the secret of John Paul’s attraction. “He tells the truth. With a stunning clarity and depth he feeds the human heart the food for which it starves in our modern culture…the truth. We don’t love him in spite of the challenging demands of authentic love. We love the truth.”

Today, a group of students and volunteers at the University of Toronto were manning a pro-life display of photographs and literature. Andrew Chun reflected a common story when he said that John Paul II had been instrumental in his ‘re-version’ to Catholicism. Chun, a teacher at Mary Mother of God Catholic elementary school in Toronto said that it was more than the moral teachings of John Paul that attracted him. “I already agreed with all the moral teachings of the Church, I just thought they made sense. But I didn’t have the faith.” He told LifeSiteNews.com that the Pope’s witness to the greater reality of God turned him back to the practice of the Catholic faith.

Matthew Kubica a 19 year-old health sciences student at McMaster University said that as a life-long Catholic he is a fan of John Paul because, “He made his life the young people. He presided over 19 World Youth Days and he told us there that we are the salt of the earth, we can change things.” Kubica is also a life-long pro-lifer and said, “Because he made it his life’s journey to inspire the young people, I don’t see any alternative but to be drawn to him”

23 year-old Daniel Santoro, a recent graduate of the University of Toronto, said he was impressed by the Pope’s ability to focus on the particular problems of each culture in the world. “When he went to South America he would focus on social justice and economic issues. But when he spoke to North America he would address the moral decline. He knew that the biggest problem for North America is the Culture of Death.”

”(The media) would point out that the Pope was great in every issue they liked such as social justice or poverty or war, except for those moral issues where his old fashioned mind didn’t reconcile with modernity. They point this out as a defect in his mind, but would never make the connection that maybe the problem was not in his mind but in theirs,” Santoro said.

Santoro said he was another who had a ‘re-version’ to the Church at World Youth Day after personally encountering the Pope whom he sees as a representative of Christ. He said he read the writing of John Paul but that to believe, one needs more than intellectual knowledge, a personal encounter with Christ is necessary. “Even though I was intellectually ready to become converted, (seeing the Pope at World Youth Day) put me over the edge. This goes back to what I was saying about the encounter with Christ. He’s the vicar of Christ. He had been attracting me all along, World Youth Day was more the cap on the cap on the journey.”

Many have expressed their skepticism about the staying power of these young converts. Some are concerned that the great number of young Catholics who have come into the Catholic faith because of John Paul will experience a crisis at his death and the cult of personality surrounding him will fade. Santoro responded, “John Paul didn’t create ‘JPII Catholics,’ but just Catholics, believers in Christ. Through him you encounter Jesus. Jesus doesn’t go away because the Pope died. The Pope’s appeal was not John Paul, his charisma was that of the Holy Spirit, his appeal was his presenting of Jesus.”

21-year-old Megan Huddart, a U of T undergraduate student of philosophy said that the Pope understood young people. “His suffering was an inspiration. Not just that he suffered but the heroic way in which he suffered with dignity. His coherence of life was my inspiration.”

Huddart said, “It would have been easy for him to have kept up his message (of the value of life in the midst of suffering) if he had never suffered. His suffering backs up what he said. If he had stayed strong and vigorous…anyone could say those things. But to live them through such suffering is proof of his authenticity.”

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