Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Off-Piste Pope

Super Pope - John Paul II (1920-2005)
So if you haven't heard, the Pope is stepping down. This news is quite the departure from papal historical norms, but all-in-all a welcome move for the better. The current Pope scores low marks for charisma, he is often socially awkward during appearances and can be tone deaf in Vatican media releases. His style projects the sterile coldness of doctrine and orthodoxy rather than the wonder of faith. Not much of a well of inspiration to his Catholic flock around the world, practicing or not-practicing. These shortcomings are magnified several fold by the unique brilliance of his predecessor, Pope John Paul II.

The magnetism of John Paul - previously Cardinal Karol Wojtyla of Poland - was manifest in the way he humanized the seat of St. Peter with natural charm and ease of grace. That, and the man had balls. He waded into the tension of the Solidarity movement in the early 80's in open defiance of the Soviets and the Iron Curtain that veiled off eastern Europe. He publicly lent his (and Rome's) support to the cause, even holding an open Mass during his first visit as Pope to several hundred thousand of his countrymen. The ruskies unsurprisingly tried to knock him off for this stunt, but like a badass the Pope shook off four gun-shots wounds, later recovered, and eventually pardoned his would-be assassin. And a big papal middle-finger to the KGB when the Soviet state toppled and fell nine years later.

The Pope on vacation in 1984
What made the guy seem real to me were the stories of his youth, wandering and adventure-seeking in the Tatra mountains of Poland. Hiking, kayaking, exploring. He was John Muir with a funny hat. It was oft publicized that his first love was skiing.
When asked, "Is it befitting a cardinal to ski?" his reply was, "What is unbefitting a cardinal is to ski badly."
Undoubtedly the best ski quote of all-time. Upon his passing, several of his closest confidants revealed that in his early days in Rome the Pope engineered several clandestine trips to the slopes, having his bros help him sneak through the guarded gates of the Vatican then back again. They'd head off in a borrowed car, no security detail, no cellphones, no one on the planet knowing their whereabouts, trunk loaded with parkas and wool sweaters I assume, and the Pope - with all the many burdens of heaven and earth on his conscience - would then spend his morning, hidden there in broad daylight, waiting his turn in the lift line and bombing down runs with a smile on his face.

Happy Ash Wednesday. Find time to get some turns in this week if you haven't already.


  1. Very interesting. Nice post.

    You were tempted to write it in Latin, weren't you?

  2. Heh, actually latin would be in line with the backward thinking of the retiring Pope. Gnarly skier John Paul was a symbol of the Church post-Vatican II, when they retired much of that anachronistic nonsense. Benedict may have been selected as Pope because John Paul was seen as too much of a reformer. This post was fun to write, thanks for the friendly acknowledgement.



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