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Pope's death poignant for young Airmen

by Nick Stubbs
Thunderbolt staff writer

In a lot of ways the passing of Pope John Paul II is particularly significant for the younger Airmen at MacDill and not just Catholic Airmen, says Chaplain Lt. Col. Stephen Booth, MacDill's resident Catholic priest.

Some tears, sadness and a measure of dismay have been common this week, said Chaplain Booth, but no group has been impacted as much as younger Catholics.

"This was like the Catholic 9/11 for many, particularly those who are losing the only pope they've every known," said Chaplain Booth. "This is the fifth pope I have known but if you are Catholic and 35 or 36 or younger, you have known no other pope in your lifetime."

Chaplain Booth will be holding a special Memorial Mass for the pope today at noon. In it he will pay tribute to Pope John Paul II and his accomplishments, many of which are the result of his powerful influence and a reach that extended well beyond the Catholic Church and its followers.

Chaplain Booth notes that the pope had a special bond with younger people and a message that resonated well with young Airmen. He didn't hesitate to identify good and evil, right and wrong -- a strong moral position that was a life buoy for so many, particularly younger people looking for answers, Chaplain Booth said.

"Unlike the baby boomers and people who grew up in the 60s, today's younger people were looking for something better than the (moral) ambiguity their parents had growing up," said Chaplain Booth. "The pope didn't hesitate to define things as black and white, right or wrong."

While partly a sign of the times and the number of modern media outlets, it nevertheless is significant that the pope's death appeared on headlines in 280 major newspapers worldwide, said Chaplain Booth. In addition, some 60,000 news stories were written about his passing between Sunday and Tuesday in a wide range of publications including Muslim and Jewish.

Chaplain Booth said he has been inspired by the outreach of nearly every religion. He believes the pope's impact in Christianity, as well as his ability to stimulate dialogue in the Jewish and Muslim worlds is a powerful legacy.

The passing of a pope sets in motion a traditional process in which there is mourning and much prayer. There will be prayer for the conclave charged with electing a new pope and more prayer once the new pope is announced, said Chaplain Booth.

While all Catholics look forward to their new pope, Pope John Paul II will be hard to replace for many, particularly among the younger generation that came to love and respect him.

"His bond with youth remained to the end when during his illness he sent a blessing to all the youth praying for him," said Chaplain Booth.

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