John Paul II built bridges to peace and hope

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, April 13, 2005

Over the past weeks of Pope John Paul II's failing health, death and funeral, I have encountered repeated occurrences in the media of the words "pontiff," "pontifical" and "pontificate." It wasn't until I opened a recent installment of A.Word.A.Day, however, that I was struck by their special significance in relation to the beloved Pope from Poland.

A.Word.A.Day ( is the e-mail newsletter founded in 1994 by Anu Garg while a graduate student in computer science. Celebrating "the music and magic of words," it now enjoys a worldwide circulation of over 600,000.

I found the April 10 newsletter particularly intriguing. The word-of-the-day was "pontificate."

Did you know that words like "pontificate" trace their origin back to the Latin word "pons," which means "bridge"? "A pontifex (priest) was literally a bridge-maker between here and the hereafter," the newsletter noted.

How timely, I thought. For in the case of John Paul II, the world had a bridge-maker not only "between here and the hereafter," but in the here-and-now across chasms of religion, culture and politics that have long divided the human race.

For evidence, all anyone had to do was watch the broadcasts of his funeral. There before our very eyes were some of the fruits of John Paul II's 26-year pontificate: traditional enemies stood shoulder to shoulder – peacefully! – to pay respect to this prophet of peace, this bridge-builder to brotherhood.

Not only that, but right here in Canada and the United States, unexpected words of praise for this anointed man were proclaimed from countless pulpits by conservative Protestant pastors who in other times were sure the Pope had horns.

As Edmonton coffee companion Leanne Forest, a Catholic, expressed it in a note to me:

"We were at [an Evangelical church] this morning and I was touched by the beautiful tribute given to John Paul II. The message of justice, hope, peace, and dignity made me want to live a stronger Christian life."

Yes, this Pope certainly did build some magnificent bridges, and people are traveling in both directions across them now to discover the wonderful realities on the other side.

Now to the topic of last week's column. You'll recall that I featured coffee companion Monique Achtman's recent book, Am I Next In Line?, the story of how she dealt proactively with hereditary cancer.

I received this response from the Town of Cochrane's director of corporate services:

YOUR ARTICLE meant a great deal to me, as I have also been personally battling cancer over the last 10 months. My experience with this horrible disease was somewhat of a shock as there is no one in my family with any history of cancer and to be diagnosed with colon cancer during the summer of 2004 was quite life-altering. I was immediately scheduled for surgery in August and, after approximately eight weeks of recovery, managed to assume most of my duties back here at the Town of Cochrane.

My journey continued over the last few months as I went through extensive chemotherapy sessions at the Tom Baker Cancer Clinic. During my monthly sessions, I was horrified by the sheer number of people affected, destroyed and totally debilitated by this hateful disease.

However, I am proud to say that I am a survivor and am looking forward to many years of doing what I can to help fight this disease.

To this end I have registered in the "Weekend to End Breast Cancer" 60 km walk taking place in Calgary Aug. 12–14. While I have not been personally affected by breast cancer, I have been kicked by cancer and now it is my turn to do some kicking back. I personally want to make a difference and want to do something to help fight this disease.

Thank you for promoting awareness of cancer and the continual fight to find a cure.

—Lori Leipnitz, Cochrane

THANK YOU, Lori. Like John Paul II, you too are a bridge-builder. May the rest of us do our part to help you build that bridge of hope for many.

© 2005 Warren Harbeck

Return to Coffee With Warren home page