The following appeared in the Summer 1995 issue of Caelum et Terra:
Was it really only a year or so ago, when Pope John Paul began showing signs of physical weakness, that his critics were eagerly discussing his demise and speculating about his successor? At least one of them–Peter Hebblethwaite–himself met an untimely death, may he rest in peace, but the Holy Father has gone on to the most spectacular phase of his already spectacular papacy. In the past year or so he has: stared down the powerful of the world at the Cairo population conference, preached to the largest gathering of human beings in history (five million) in the Phillipines, promulgated the Catechism, released a best-selling book and an apostolic letter on the coming third millenium. And as a sort of stern counterpoint to the radiant hope reflected in the book and the letter, John Paul has given us Evangelium Vitae, a prophetic masterpiece and a rallying cry for resistance to the "culture of death."
The world has fallen back astonished, sort of like the men in the Gospel who came for Christ in the garden. The phrase "the lion in winter" keeps reappearing in their mumblings, and while I think they have the leonine image right they may well have mistaken the season. John Paul is planning on greeting the year 2000, and while the charism of infallibility does not extend to such plans, this man has other, more personal charisms and I tend to think he’ll make it. Another five years like this last one? This may be, not winter, but spring: as aging takes its toll on John Paul’s physical strength it seems to concentrate and focus the fire that burns within him, strong and pure and radiant. I have long said it, and I repeat it: he will be known as Pope St. John Paul the Great, a pivotal figure in human history.
The mistake of his would-be pallbearers was to see only the outward, immediate evidence: the cane, the wince of pain passing across his face, the occasional stumble. They missed the wider pattern, the deeper movement. "In our weakness is our strength" wrote St. Paul, and it is really no great wonder that this pope has found new strength in the crucible of physical suffering. Long may he live, and long may he guide Christ’s Church.