John Paul’s reign has been so long, and last week’s vigil so filled with the imagery of raw human suffering—his last, mute appearance at his window, the increasingly dire bulletins—that it was difficult to bring into focus the extraordinary and vital images of the first days of his papacy, days that helped to re-order the world. . . .
The story of those remarkable years carries with it the temptation of mythmaking and, perhaps, Western self-satisfaction. The Pope’s critique of materialism did not end with his opposition to Communism; it carried over to his critique of the Western world, of consumer culture, and of the decline of the Catholic Church in Europe. His papacy has lasted twenty-six years, and his legacy—as a spiritual leader, a cultural critic, a thinker, a politician, a performer in the media age, and, in his last days, a man determined to provide an example from his own visible demise—is so encompassing that no obituary will make complete sense of it.
Remnick, the great reporter-editor of our day, gets it right. As usual.