While Prince Charles' marriage to his long-time companion, Camilla Parker Bowles, has become the subject of intense press scrutiny and, in some quarters, public ridicule, the future king of England deserves credit for postponing the ceremony for a day so he can attend Pope John Paul II's funeral.
With 200 or so heads of state, including President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and thousands of Catholics and non-Catholics expected to participate in Friday's solemn occasion in St. Peter's Basilica, Prince Charles would have been roundly criticized at home and abroad had he stuck to his original plans. Nothing will be lost by his getting married on Saturday to Parker Bowles in a civil ceremony in the town hall in Windsor. A service of blessing in the chapel of Windsor Castle will follow. A reception for some 700 guests, hosted by Queen Elizabeth II, will be held in the royal residence.
Charles' presence in Rome as the representative of the queen, his mother, will not only serve as a reminder of the pope's success in building bridges between the Roman Catholic Church and other faiths -- the queen is head of the Church of England -- but will give him the chance to reflect on John Paul's life and his willingness to use his high office to make the world a better place.
If he is true to himself, Charles will see that the press' preoccupation with his love life, his impending marriage and even his negative comments aimed at reporters reflects the superficiality of his existence. Here is a man born of privilege and wealth, the heir to the throne, and yet he has not made his mark in the world. Rather, Charles and other members of the Royal Family define the word dysfunction.
As the Observer newspaper in Britain put it several years ago, "The final traditional defence of monarchy has been that it provides an example of a model family to set before the nation. Even the more ardent adherents have quietly abandoned this redoubt in the last 20 years. For regardless of the Edward VII's philandering, or the last Duke of Kent's bisexuality -- which were kept secret from a deferential public -- no one could now maintain that the children of the Queen and Prince Philip offer anything but a reflection of the society in which we currently live, rather than a model for traditional family values."
But Charles has the opportunity, inspired by the life of John Paul II, to make the royals more than just participants in inconsequential pomp and pageantry or tourist attractions.
It remains to be seen whether the prince's marriage to Parker Bowles will bring new recognition of the responsibility he bears as his mother's successor, but as the late Princess Diana showed, with her active involvement in many charitable and global causes, especially those on behalf of children in underdeveloped countries, being of the people is not only fulfilling personally, but is a sure way of winning over the hearts and minds of the masses.
It was no accident that Diana and Pope John Paul formed such a close bond.