April 9, 2005
Pope John Paul Fought Communism
Stalin once sneered, "How many divisions has the Pope?"
Enough to bring down the Soviet Union and its Iron
Curtain across Eastern Europe without firing a shot! How was that
Pope John Paul II was a man of iron courage, deep
prayer, a will of steel, profound Biblical knowledge, graced by an ability
to inspire with his spoken or written words.
The corrupt world of Communism was no match for this
man, which it greatly underestimated. He saw the evils of Nazism
replaced by the evils of Communism, leading him
to believe that "the evil of our times consists in the first place in a kind
of degradation, indeed in a pulverization of the fundamental uniqueness in
Churches could not be built without government
permission. Requests to build were not
acted upon. The town of Nowa Huta was built as a new city outside of Krakow
for the workers of a giant steel mill. But no church was allowed to be
built. As a young bishop, Karol Wojtyla, 39, decided to defy the
government by erecting a huge cross on a field, a precursor to a church,
where he celebrated Christmas Mass in 1959.
The next day, government workers tore down the cross.
The next Christmas Karol (Charles) built another giant cross, and held an
outdoor Mass. Again it was destroyed by the
government. This process was repeated eight years until October, 1967 when
he finally got permission to build a huge "Ark Church," an assertively
modern structure shaped like a ship,
decorated on the outside with two million polished stones from Polish river
beds and a huge steel figure of the crucified Christ, forged at Nowa Huta
"The redemption of mankind" he said means "assisting
man to achieve the greatness he is
meant to possess." That's how he helped build "a generation of
confident young Catholics who would embody an ongoing cultural resistance to
Marxism," wrote George Weigel in
his landmark semi-authorized biography, "Witness to Hope."
Months after he was elected Pope, John Paul returned to
Poland in 1979. The government, initially opposed his return, and then
allowed a two-day visit, which the Pope happily pushed up to a nine-day
visit to six cities. He arrived on a pilgrimage dedicated to the ninth
centenary of the martyrdom of St. Stanislaw, a predecessor Bishop of Krakow.
For 30 years, the government refused the Church access
to radio and TV. Under pressure,
it reluctantly agreed to coverage believing it might cut down the crowds at
his events. Of course, it did the opposite. As he descended from
the plane, kissed the earth, he exclaimed, "Praised be Jesus Christ."
Weigel writes, "Poland had been denied its history and
culture by five years of Nazi occupation and then 33 years of communist
hegemony. Now he, a son of Poland, would give his people back what was
theirs by birthright." A third of the nation, 13 million Poles, saw
him in person. Others saw him on TV declare that "Christianity must commit
itself anew to the
formation of the spiritual unity of Europe," divided, of course, by the Iron
In nine days Poland experienced a "psychological
earthquake, an opportunity for mass
political catharsis," as one observer put it. Millions felt that "we" are
the society, the country is
"ours" and the government is outnumbered. They experienced their individual
dignity and collective authority for the first time, a revolution of the
The pilgrimage breathed courage into the Poles to
create Solidarity, the first independent
trade union, only months later. The government was so alarmed by its success
that Solidarity was banned after 16 months, under pressure from Russia. The
Pope returned to Poland in 1987, declaring "There's no freedom without
Solidarity." It was an electrifying phrase, repeated by all.
Within months strikes by miners sparked sympathy
strikes across the nation. The government asked Lech Walesa, founder of
Solidarity, to help bring things under control.
That led to the first semi-free elections in February,
1989. This developed was lubricated
behind the scenes, by John Paul developing a cooperative relationship with
What gave the Pope such confidence and brilliance to
push for change, but not so much
as to spark a backlash (other than his near assassination, which might have
motivated)? Deep spirituality. John Paul began his day praying two or
three hours a day, with a list of countries and people and
He felt God protected him to accomplish great things
Hundreds of millions of people are free due to his
inspiring actions on his belief that man
is created in God's image.
There was no greater giant of the 20th Century.
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