Jewish World Review April 7, 2005/ 27 Adar II, 5765
Pope John Paul The Great
It was a perfect political storm.
Have we forgotten about the peril of worldwide communism? Have
we forgotten about the brutality and inhumanity of it? Soviet dissident
Alexander Solzhenitsyn, after his expulsion from the Soviet Union in 1974,
gave a speech here in America called "A Warning to the West." He said: "It
is precisely because I am the friend of the United States, precisely because
my speech is prompted by friendship, that I have come to tell you: 'My
friends, I'm not going to tell you sweet words. The situation in the world
is not just dangerous, it isn't just threatening, it is catastrophic.'"
Enter Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, a Pole who, in 1978, became the
first non-Italian pope in nearly 500 years. By the age of 25, the man who
would be pope had lost a sister, a brother, and both mother and father. He
also watched as the Nazis and then the Russians occupied his beloved
country. He knew just a little something about human suffering.
The pope traveled to Poland several times, the first in 1979. In
1980, Polish tradesmen began agitating for workers' rights, and, in
September of that year, formed a fledgling union called Solidarity. They
chose, as their leader, an electrician named Lech Walesa. The pope received
Walesa at the Vatican in 1981. Two years later, the pope returned to Poland
for a second visit. Walesa, who remarkably later became president of Poland,
said that Pope John Paul II deserves "the greater credit" for the end of
communism in his country. "At the moment when the pope was elected," said
Walesa, "I think I had, at the most, 20 people that were around me and
supported me and there were 40 million Polish people in the country.
However . . . a year after [the pope's] visit to Poland, I had 10 million
supporters and suddenly we had so many people willing to join the movement.
. . . I compare this to the miracle of the multiplication of bread in the
Enter in 1980 President Ronald Reagan, who also had a difficult
life. Reagan's father was an alcoholic and an unsuccessful salesman. His
father could not hold down a job, causing the family to move numerous times.
His mother was a loyal housewife and became Reagan's role model. She taught
him about compassion for other people's shortcomings, including those of his
During Reagan's acting career, which included a stint as
president of the Screen Actors Guild, Reagan began giving speeches in which
he called communism a menace and a threat to worldwide stability. In 1975,
he wrote that communism "is neither an economic nor a political system, but
a form of insanity, an aberration . . . [and he wonders] how much more
misery it will cause before it disappears. "
The pope and Reagan first met in 1982 in the Vatican. They
agreed, according to Time magazine, "to undertake a clandestine campaign to
hasten the dissolution of the communist empire. . . . The operation was
focused on Poland. . . . Both the Pope and the President were convinced
that Poland could be broken out of the Soviet orbit if the Vatican and the
U.S. committed their resources to destabilizing the Polish government and
keeping the outlawed Solidarity movement alive after the declaration of
martial law in 1981."
How much, politically, did the pope and Reagan collaborate?
Apparently, they left few smoking guns lying around. UPI, however, writes,
"Thus began a series of unofficial, intermittent contacts that some writers
and historians have elevated to the status of holy alliance, while others
have denied almost their very existence."
Consider this: In a telegram to Nancy Reagan following her
husband's death, the pope said, "I recall with deep gratitude the late
President's unwavering commitment to the service of the nation and to the
cause of freedom as well as his abiding faith in the human and spiritual
values which ensure a future of solidarity, justice and peace in our world."
Mikhail Gorbachev, former president of the Soviet Union,
credited both the pope and Reagan with the fall of communism. Gorbachev said
of the pope, "[Communism's collapse] would not have been possible without
the presence of this Pope." Gorbachev called Reagan a "great president . . .
instrumental in bringing about the end of the Cold War."
A perfect political storm.
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