You won't see another pope like John Paul II (search). It can't happen and here's the reason:

This was a man whose life was unfortunate enough that he lost both his parents and a brother while he was still young. He stood at that odd crossroads of the world in Eastern Europe in the first half of the 20th century and had to face and endure both the Nazis and the communists.

People whose views of life, and right and wrong were formed in that cauldron are getting old now, and we're losing them one by one, hundreds by hundreds, every day.

That was an enormous crucible of history and John Paul II learned from it in ways that were incalculable until he became pope and he could put the lessons into play.

It was this Polish priest who had the guts to stare down the Soviets, who were oppressing his people, and then all those years later he turned out to be much more important and have much more power at his disposal than a mere priest.

As pope, he could align himself with Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher and say this must end. He could do things that put forces into motion and that put the lie to the question Joseph Stalin (search) asked about another pope, "How many divisions does the pope have?" Turns out he had plenty when the time came to push Stalin's Soviet state over like it was a Saddam statue.

So people are saying the next pope has big shoes to fill, and it's true. In fact, you wouldn't expect the cardinals to even try. The current thinking is they will chose a placeholder and see if another big figure is waiting in the wings — perhaps the Cuban cardinal. Would Castro survive a Cuban pope any better than the Russian stooges in Poland survived a Polish pope?

Well, we'll let history take its course. But remember, you won't see a pope like this one again. The time in history that formed John Paul II has passed and we should all hope it doesn't come again.

That's My Word.

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