Archbishop Vincent Nichols gave the following Thought for the Day this morning on BBC Radio 4. This ancient city of Rome has seen many spectacular events, but none of this magnitude, for those coming for tomorrow's Funeral Mass of Pope John Paul II are counted not in their thousands but, predictably, in their millions. All across this city, pictures of Pope John Paul have appeared. Above that familiar face one simply says: "A Good Man". Another has "Thank you" printed across the portrait. Underneath are the words: "Rome weeps and salutes you, her father." These are among the titles by which this Pope will be remembered: a Good Man, Il Papa, "father". And by another title too: A Witness to Hope. He grew up under the most brutal regimes of the last century, fascism and communism; between them they slaughtered 100 million people. Yet out of that utter darkness he carried the light of an unflinching belief in the innate dignity and nobility of the human person. Everyone whose life he touched came away feeling valued and strengthened. As one woman, waiting patiently in the seven hour queue to pay her last respects, said: "He did so much for me; this is the least I can do for him". Yet this Pope has described himself by another phrase: A Sign of Contradiction. Many do not agree which much of what he said, particularly in societies like ours, which have privatised truth. We like to live by the conviction that if it's true for me, if it's true for the majority, then it's true indeed. The light and hope given by the Pope come from a quite different place. He was convinced that within each of us lies a deeper truth, part of our God-given nature, a truth beyond opinion, beyond my own making. If we can't accept that, then he will indeed remain a contradictory figure. He knew, for example, that communism would end, not on the basis of his political judgement but because communism was based on a lie. It denied that every person is built for a freedom of spirit, a freedom that comes only with the truth given us by God. This Pope knew that no circumstance, no oppression, no popular opinion can ever ultimately remove this truth and all it implies. That was his conviction and it remains a sign of contradiction to many. All day and all night an unending stream of people have been approaching his dead body, lying in the splendour of St Peter's Basilica. It's so moving to witness: a parable of the journey of life itself. We're all so different yet here we're united in recognition of this remarkable pilgrim who retained to the end his poise, his humanity and his deep love of God. A good man, "il papa", a real witness to hope in our world: May he rest in peace.
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