My lasting memory of 2005
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My lasting memory of 2005

First there was 1916, by Tim Coogan, which focuses on the Easter Rising in Ireland. Then there was 1932, in which Gerald Stone explores events here in Australia including the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge (though he omitted any mention of my birth that year!!!). More recently, while passing through the USA, I chanced upon 1776, by David McCulloch, which brought to life George Washington’s military engagements with the British troops that significantly turned the tide against the latter, and led ultimately to the successful establishment of the United States of America.

In light of this growing approach by successive writers, I fell to wondering recently whether some author might decide to turn his or her hand to a pen portrait of 2005, which has so recently passed into history. Were that to happen, I am certain that one event on the world stage that would call for considerable comment would be the funeral of John Paul II. While the news of his death gained extraordinary coverage even in the secular press, it was his remarkable Requiem Mass in St Peter’s Piazza that will be imprinted on my mind forever and, I’m sure, on the minds of the millions who watched it right around the globe.

The capacity congregation that day, which included political notables from diverse countries and cultures, along with the detailed coverage of the ceremony by the TV cameras of the secular media, constituted a viewing experience that might well never be repeated. The Polish Pontiff, by the force of his personality, his truly global ministry and the extraordinary length of his pontificate, had been taken into the hearts of millions of people.

These people ranged from deeply religious members of the Catholic Church to those of no particular faith commitment who had nevertheless been profoundly touched by John-Paul II’s extraordinary achievements, especially his vital contribution to the fall of Communism.

The particular picture of his funeral that I will carry forever was taken from the top of St Peter’s cupola, and stretched out over that vast assembly down to the banks of the Tiber River. However, it was not the grandeur of it all that grabbed my attention, but the significance of the simple wooden coffin at the centre of it all.

There lay the mortal remains of one of the most powerful personalities of the 20th century with the mortality that is common to us all. It was clearly manifested to anyone who was ready to learn the lesson about his or her own fragility. It was a message that certainly was not wasted on me. Hopefully, it wasn’t wasted on you either.

As I sat there entranced by this extraordinary spectacle, captured so graphically on television, I found myself haunted by those oft-quoted words from Gray’s Elegy Written In A Country Church-yard:

“The boast of heraldry, the pomp of power,
And all that beauty, all that wealth e’er gave,
Awaits alike th’ inevitable hour –
The paths of glory lead but to the grave.”
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