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Today, Pope Benedict XVI announced that he would be resigning from the papacy, effective at the end of this month. This is not unprecedented throughout history, but is certainly so in the modern era. In fact, it has not happened since 1294. Reactions seemed mostly to fall into two camps: shock or a complete lack of knowledge and or caring. However, even those of us who are not Catholic should care about the Pope, as he is frequently a champion of political, personal and religious freedom. In that regard, the Pope matters to all lovers of liberty. In looking at the legacy of our current pope, as well as that of his predecessor, we have seen two great examples of men who use their religious post to pursue freedom.
Pope John Paul II had a role in the fall of many dictatorships, including those of Chile, Haiti and Paraguay. In the role of advocate for freedom, however, he is best known for his work in the Cold War. Perhaps this was because, as a Pole himself, John Paul II brought his personal experience of suffering under both Marxist and Nazi tyranny. This gave him the desire, coupled with his strength of character, to advocate on behalf of those oppressed and to push for freedom. Mikhail Gorbachev himself said that "The collapse of the Iron Curtain would have been impossible without John Paul II,” and quoted the pope as saying “Europe must breathe with both its lungs." President George W. Bush awarded John Paul II with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, saying that his "principled stand for peace and freedom has inspired millions and helped to topple communism and tyranny."
With the mega battles between evil empires less visible in current day, perhaps the battle for freedom is less noticeable with our Pope of present, but his zeal is no less pronounced. In 2008, he visited America and spoke about freedom, saying
“Freedom is not only a gift, but also a summons to personal responsibility. Americans know this from experience—almost every town in this country has its monuments honoring those who sacrificed their lives in defense of freedom, both at home and abroad.”
Those who strive for freedom know how true these words are, and that freedom and personal responsibility are a partnership that works for the betterment of society.
The Pope is a man who leads a billion people by his faith and inspires many more. This should foster a bond between liberty loving individuals all around the globe, creating an incredible network of freedom fighters to help with battles ahead. Whomever is chosen to follow Pope Benedict XVI, he will undoubtedly have many challenges, but we hope he will use his position to continue to fight for individual liberty and personal responsibility around the world.