The new Blessed John Paul II was an icon of the 20th century and a defender of human rights. His legacy to the world includes two fundamental teachings, namely love for one’s enemy and personal sacrifice. The Polish-born pope was an extraordinary man, whose life and example radically changed diplomacy and the way we perceive, defend and promote human rights.
For the first time in history, John Paul II spoke about the deep values of Christ, which are compassion, forgiveness and peace, on the international scene.
I remember his historic trip to Cuba in 1998. In that visit, the pope showed world leaders that no human being, even an enemy, ought to be isolated, that it is possible to engage a dialogue with countries whose principles and ideology are different.
His Holiness strengthened democracy, stressed the importance of individual ideas and transformed diplomacy.
John Paul II also showed how poverty is in itself a violation of human rights, how it is part of structural violence. This violence is part of a dehumanising system that belittles the value of the poorest and marginalised segments of society.
Along with Mother Teresa, the pope said that everyone has a right to human dignity. For us human rights defenders, this is the greatest teaching John Paul II left us.
(Nirmala Carvalho contributed to the article)