Anyone who likes the idea of global citizenship but isn't sure how to put it in practice, can learn a lot from Pope John Paul II.
The man lived physically in Rome. But morally he lived in the world.
I am neither a Catholic, nor a great proponent of organized religion, yet as an aspiring global citizen I'm inspired by Pope John Paul II.
As a leading member of the Polish clergy and later as Pope, he was able to play a historical role in upholding the importance of individual conscience against facism, Communism, and terrorism.
Seeing the global nature of all these threats surely helped him see the importance of thinking and acting as a global citizen not only as Pope, but even more, as an individual human being.
It was on this smaller, more human level, that most of us felt we were able in some way to understand, to empathize, and even to love this Pope. He made this personal connection with so many millions of people, I believe, because of his attitude and relation to human suffering.
By his physical bearing, by the look of his face, and by the weight and tone of his public utterances, he was able to communicate to people that his heart was open and vulnerable to the suffering of all people.
His encyclicals, poems, plays, and letters all spoke to this global community of human beings, united by the universal fact of suffering.
The tenets of his global view, rooted in this fact, are worth recalling.
First, he decried the "culture of death" that he warned is spreading around the world in the form of genocide, ethnic cleansing, legalized abortion, capital punishment, and euthenasia. His stands against the latter three practices had a moral basis that transcended local politics and spoke to every human being who is concerned to keep the sanctity of life a paramount human value.
Second, he believed that rampant materialism in the developed world energizes the culture of death. He didn't condemn capitalism but he criticized its manifestation in societies that exalted the virtue of "having" over the virtue of "being." Societies drenched in the values of materialism are leading to a "blunting of the moral sensitivity of people's consciences," he said.
Third, he said that a global citizen's first obligation is to the poor, an inclusive term embracing all people in the world who for whatever reason -- economic, social, or political -- lack the chance to lead lives of health, freedom, and opportunity.
"God has a preferential option for the poor," he said. He travelled tirelessly to the slums of this world, and the majority of those he chose for nearly 2,000 canonizations and beatifications were from the developing world. Fortunate world citizens struggling to spiritually survive their immersion in materialism and the culture of death can clarify and ennoble their lives with purpose by offering help and seeking justice for the poor, he said.
Fourth, his vigorous travels, his willingness to intercede and negotiate at times of global political crisis, his embrace of other world religions, and his astute use of the global media offered a model of a spirituality that was fully engaged with the world.
There was both a fearlessness and an openness to his spirituality. If his intransigence on some moral questions maddened many in the West, no one doubted his committment to the liberal principles of social justice and to dialogue, mutual forgiveness, and non-violence as the rules of engagement across all borders.
His understanding of suffering was especially acute and probably formed the basis of his popularity and charisma. Throughout his life, in many ways, he showed he was a man who could sit with his own suffering and not act out violently or in revenge as a result of it. He appeared to absorb suffering as a kind of divine gift, in solitary prayer, and he found a way to make his experience of suffering his chief point of connection to the hearts of people all around the world.
In his experience of suffering, he also appeared to find motivation. He found a way to live physically in Rome, and yet spiritually to connect to human beings -- and thus change their lives -- in Lima, and Manila, and Iowa, and Venezuela.
He was a global citizen par excellence.