Tuesday, May 1, 2012

John Paul II and bin Laden: A Common Humanity

It’s hard to believe that one year ago today "Operation Geronimo" was executed and succeeded. Jake Tapper writes "Geronimo was the code name for the operation that sent two teams of 12 SEALS zooming by Blackhawk helicopters to a walled compound in Abbotabad, Pakistan, on Sunday to kill or capture the most wanted man in the world. Anxious White House officials weren't positive that they would find bin Laden in the fortress-like complex, that he might leave while the SEALS were en route."
My seniors asked if we could spend some time talking about the historical event in class. I said “yes” because believe it or not, I have a lesson about bin Ladin that relates to our curriculum. In a broad talk I give on Sports and Spirituality, one slide in particular gets quite a reaction. It features the face of two men the world readily remembers: Blessed John Paul II beside Osama bin Laden. The title on the page reads “humanity.”
People see it and they laugh in discomfort, others raise eyebrows and give wary retorts. I let the images and the title sit for an uncomfortable minute until I ask: What could these two men possibly have in common? The answer is on the page—their humanity.

The humanity of Blessed John Paul II is inviting. It is as warm as the smile in his eyes. For me, he is an image of truth, light and love.

The humanity of Osama bin Laden however is easy to forget. In fact, it’s something I often deny. When he was killed a Navy SEAL sent back the coded message to Washington that said simply, "Geronimo-E KIA." The “E” stands for Enemy.


However, as described last year in my post “The Humanity of bin Laden,” I confronted this reality from unsuspecting information. It wasn’t when I read about his parents, his wives or his children. It wasn’t when I learned about his heritage or his education. No it’s when I read the teenage bin Laden was tall, almost gangly, and was often picked as a forward on his school soccer team for his superior ability to head the ball in. Bin Laden was an athlete. He played and may even have loved a game that unites boys and girls, men and women throughout the world. Suddenly, the enemy was human.

Blessed John Paul II was larger than life. Perhaps his devotion to God and the demands of a life of faith make him unrelatable. But it’s a well-known fact that JPII was an athlete, possibly the most athletic pontiff in history. Nate Beardsley writes
While growing up in the Polish town of Wadowice, he played goalkeeper for his local soccer team. 'Lolek the Goalie,' as his teammates called him, also took frequent dips in the Skawa River and played ice hockey on its surface once its waters froze in winter.
Karol Wojtyla, as he went by then, would hike up mountains for nearly five hours just to ski to the bottom in ten minutes. Unlike most of us, John Paul II didn't forget what was important to him or what made him happy.

He remained active, even after becoming pope in 1978. During the first summer of his papacy, the pope had a pool built at his summer residence at Castel Gandolfo, said biographer George Weigel. He also took breaks during the first 15 years of his pontificate to go skiing, hitting the slopes at 72 years young.
To read about bin Laden’s athletic gifts and appreciation for sports makes me uncomfortable; he has entered the familiar territory of my life. I do the same for JP II and I only love and revere him ever more. Suddenly, I am confronted with the common denominator among us—humanity. Mine is replete with limitations, failings, findings and a desire for truth.

I remember this day as a victory for freedom, I do. I do not defend a single act or choice that bin Laden made.  Humanity is capable of doing great things; too often it chooses the other. 

Photo Credits
Operation Geronimo
bin Laden and JP II
Blessed John Paul II

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