What does the passing of Pope John Paul II mean to you?
As a so called "lapsed" Catholic (born, baptised, confirmed) I feel compelled-no, obliged-to answer this question.
When I think of John Paul II I think along two lines.
The positive aspects...the numerous pilgrimages he conducted, the immense popular support where he traveled, the sheer vitality and activity of the man...I shouldn't have to detail too much. As a (still) semi-disenchanted Catholic, I must say that the general positive face he put on the Roman Catholic church was inspiring and encouraged me to look upon the Church with a good face even when I felt farthest away from it. His towering stature and his influence, the span of his tenure-27 years, the longest of any Pope in memory, all these will combine to a historical feature that will be called John Paul the Great.
Seriously. There's been academic buzz about the way historians will refer to him. Look forward to seeing his name in print that way, if not now, in future.
The negative aspect...I will be direct and honest. As someone sympathetic to the Roman Catholic Church, I think his conservatism hurt in a certain way, rather than helped. There are actually lay factions within the Church which seem to have formed because of his conservative stance or were reinforced by them (Opus Dei) or as loyal oppostion (Voice of the Faithful). Whilst it is foolish to expect utter unity in such a huge population (over 1 billion avowed members in numerous countries and even in differing Catholic traditions) i despair over the power that the Pope had to heal and to promote general unity, which he did not use.
The writings of Gary Wills (I recommend) suggest that the big guns in the Church are just as political as any temporal authority, and are just as willing to play both ends against the middle as any temporal political authority is. But then, as I mentioned elsewhere, whether one finds the Church divinely guided or not, they are an organization of humans, and humans are as humans do-flawed, mistaken, prone to misunderstanding, arbitrary and sometimes cruel in the name of a greater good.
The other thing that JPII missed was the chance to effect real change in the matter of the recent child abuse scandals here in America. The Pope was usually given a pass on this, the matter being seen as a mishandling laid at the feet of the American Catholic bishops. And this may be true and valid. But as the Man In Charge, the Pope could have, and should have, done something. He could have promoted healing and revitalized the church by doing the right thing, giving a sense of direction from the top. Nothing ever came from him. A big chance was missed here.
I look to the future with a sense of apprehension and hope. Who will be the next pope? It won't be an American. It may be a Hispanic or African bishop. It could certainly be an Italian. He may be as conservative as JPII, in fact, that's what I expect.
I, like many, will miss John Paul II. There are things I wish he'd done; but I enjoy and appreciate what he did do as much as my heart aches for what he didn't.