Cardinal George on the Pope's Impact on U.S.

«Really Changed Youth Ministry in a Lot of Dioceses»

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ROME, APRIL 13, 2005 ( John Paul II had an impact in the United States, especially with the World Youth Day in Denver, says Cardinal Francis George.

The archbishop of Chicago talked with ZENIT about the legacy of the Pope. He gave this interview last week, before the cardinals decided to maintain media silence in the days leading up to the conclave.

Q: Have the cardinals been surprised by the outpouring from the crowds — the numbers and emotions they are displaying?

Cardinal George: We’ve been very touched. I guess, this was a very popular man, in the sense that he touched people and that’s always what is said.

How could this man who holds all these things — like you’re not supposed to have sex before marriage etc., etc., which of course comes to us from the Lord, not from the Pope — how could he say all these things that people don’t always observe, and still be so popular?

It’s because he was a man of integrity and he did preach the Gospel without fear. Even when you «can’t» obey that Gospel, when you’re stuck, as we all are in our own ways and sinfulness, you know it’s true.

This man had not only the courage to say it but to live it thoroughly, so I’m touched more that surprised. But it is surprising, in itself, to see this many folks come.

Q: Has it changed your perception of the Church and where it is at in the world?

Cardinal George: I don’t know that — just that it tells me that we shouldn’t be afraid, as the Pope always said, because in the end the Spirit works in people’s lives and we should trust that and have the courage to go forward.

Q: What do you feel the impact of this Holy Father was in the United States?

Cardinal George: Well, the World Youth Day in Denver had a tremendous impact on Denver in the U.S. and really changed youth ministry in a lot of dioceses, especially smaller dioceses because suddenly they discovered that they were part of this huge, huge Church and they may come from small towns with 17 Catholic teen-agers and had no idea what the Church was or meant prior to that meeting.

World Youth Day had a tremendous impact as an experience.

Beyond that — each of his very successful visits stayed with us. His teaching was and is a constant challenge because he was able to recast it in ways that weren’t the usual dogmatic language; it was experiential and people tried, and try, to resist it, I think, because they felt the tug.

So, he had the influence in the United States that he had everywhere — he’s Pope! But, because we had more problems about certain teachings of the Church than others, he was perhaps more challenged.

Q: So rather than a so-called conservative man, he might be described as radical?

Cardinal George: Oh, the faith is always radical and he was a man of faith and was certainly challenging.

You know, he challenged the status quo, so what do you want to call that in political terms? I guess you’d want to call that radical. But he was simply the faith personified in many ways.

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