One of the saddest things about the funeral of John Paul II yesterday was the failure of the world leaders gathered there to use the event to engage in meaningful discussion.
At one point in the service the congregation were asked to offer each other the sign of peace. On TV I saw Bush shake the hand of the head of the UN and that was about it.
Later that day the headlines proclaimed that Prince Charles committed a diplomatic gaffe by shaking the hand of Mugabe. According to aides, Charles was ‘taken by surprise’ when Mugabe offered him his hand. Was he not listening to what the Cardinal asked them to do?
And this morning, the BBC is reporting that Iran’s president is denying any contact with Israel’s. He shouldn’t be denying it happened – he should be apologising that it didn’t.
Really, was there any point in any of them being there? Was this perhaps not the best chance we ever had for Bush, Blair and Annan to wander over and shake hands publicly with the Iranians? For the British and Zimbabwean delegations to look each other in the eye and say, ‘ok, we have our differences but today, let’s acknowledge the possibility of peace’.
The turnout for the Pope’s funeral was unprecedented, not just in terms of the ‘great and the good’ but in a wider sense too. The sight of Rome, a city that’s witnessed more history than most, at a standstill and thronged with people (predominantly young people) was moving, and maybe so overpowering that it will take years before we look back and realise quite what happened in the past week. In many ways John Paul’s whole life was leading to those few hours when people of all colours, creeds and nationalities could stand in the same place and think the same things.
It’s never going to happen again, and the people we call our leaders wasted the best opportunity they would have to put a face and a voice to the name of their own personal demons. For them, the funeral was an event to be seen at, nothing else.