Pope John Paul II not only was an unwavering defender of the sanctity of life and the church's patriarchal hierarchy but also a crusader for the world's poor, the disabled and the oppressed.
Those of us who might have hoped for the church that guides 1 billion of the world's people to allow priests to marry or allow women as priests saw only small baby steps in that direction in the past quarter-century -- with women given a greater role in Mass, for instance, and married men allowed to turn to the priesthood in limited cases. Nor would the pope accept artificial birth control as a personal matter and a social policy to help improve the lot of the poor.
Still, in many ways the pope has been a liberal in challenging the status quo, warning about capitalism's pitfalls, praising universal health care and challenging kings, prime ministers and presidents to make peace, not war. (Most recently, he publicly disagreed with George W. Bush on the war in Iraq.)
El papa, as the Holy Father of the Catholic Church is called in Spanish, never wavered on the principles of love and dignity he believed should guide humankind. His astounding life explained how he would advance conservative Catholic principles while tempering the "liberation" theology that took hold in poor countries, particularly in Latin America.
Pope John Paul II never played favorites. He remained consistent not only in church theology about God being the only acceptable arbiter of life's end -- against abortion and just as adamant against the death penalty -- but also uncompromising in following Christ's call for forgiveness of those who seek it. He taught by example. He would forgive the man who attempted to kill him, pray with him and call for his life to be spared.
His death marks the end of an extraordinary era.
This is the first pope who would step inside a synagogue. The first pope to visit a mosque. The first pope to apologize for the old church's role in anti-Semitism. The first pope to speak out against apartheid. The first pope to marry creationism with evolution, saying that faith in God and belief in science can coexist. Even the first pope to welcome break-dancers to the Vatican.
Above all, this pope sought to show the world that there is dignity and love in suffering -- for many, the true mystery of faith.
X Myriam Marquez is an editorial page columnist for the Orlando Sentinel. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.