After his election, on October 16, 1978, Karol Wojtyla, now St. Pope John Paul II, joyfully exclaimed to the world “be not afraid.” It was a message, I think, as much for himself and his own pontificate as it was for the faithful, especially those imprisoned behind the “Iron Curtain.”
For there was much to fear. And only divine assistance, totally trusted and relied upon could break the chains of subservience to the socialist god of man and his minions who directed the elite and arrogant planners and controllers who enslaved half the world.
Unlike his predecessors, however, the relatively young Pole would navigate the ship that is the church, not into calm and quiet seas where comfortable détente could make things manageable and not rock the boat in church-state relations, but into the very shoals of a dangerous and rocky shore where he would captain his crew faithfully into the teeth of the gale and bring his ship home safely to a protected harbor. A harbor of renewed faith and truth.
This took guts.
Without hesitation, the new pope, within a year of his election, went back to his homeland and confronted the monster face to face. He was not personally afraid of the monster, he never really was because he had seen him before in the form of Hitler’s National Socialism and dealt with communist overseers daily in his duties as Archbishop of Krakow. Yet, he must have been afraid of what his own actions would do to cause even more suffering to the people he loved.
But, he did something outside the box. Unheard of since Pope Leo XIII, in 1886, insisted the prayer to St. Michael (of Leo’s own design) be said at the end of every mass after he heard in his head a diabolical conversation between God and the devil, and as remarkable as Pope Pius V’s urgent request that all the faithful pray the rosary before the Battle of Lepanto, in 1565, the Polish pontiff trumped his adversaries with something so simple they could not possibly understand.
Pope John Paul II invoked the power of the Holy Trinity. He declared and pled, after kissing Polish soil, “let Your Spirit descend and renew the face of the earth.” He pronounced himself a “Slavic Pope.” Thus he was appealing to millions beyond Polish soil, those suffering in all the “minor countries” in Eastern Europe, including Poland, that were surrendered by the ailing Franklin Roosevelt and the dismayed British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, to the tyrant Joseph Stalin at the Conference in Yalta, in 1945.
“From Warsaw, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade, Bucharest and Sofia,” an “Iron Curtain” had descended, as Churchill so famously coined, if not first voiced the phrase in his speech at the obscure Westminster College, in Fulton, Missouri, in 1946. But, it was too late for the catholic populations of those poor cities and countries. They would be subject under communist rule for decades. For them, there was no VE-Day, no VJ-Day; no reason to celebrate as the rest of the western world did. Sure, they were as imprisoned as they always had been under the boot of tyrannical and despotic rule despite all the efforts of the Allies in the Second World War.
The west was tired of war. Churchill was deposed of power in Britain. Thus, dominos began to fall across not just Europe, but in Asia, South and Central America, Africa, and all over the world.
America tried to stem the tide in Korea and Vietnam, sacrificing tens-of-thousands of men and women in the process. Perhaps, they bought some needed time.
Bear with me now. I know many disagree with this. But, it’s something this author needs to get off his chest.
Although, the “Domino Theory” has been debunked in academia for decades now, I think history will ultimately prove the sacrifices of our heroes who served in these wars to be well deserved and worthy of any in the service of our nation’s honor and in the defense of freedom. That the “Domino Theory,” which was the preeminent foreign policy strategy of the United States from Eisenhower to Reagan, was on point and well thought out.
It did not produce the same results as St. John Paul II did, to that there is no question.
But, America simply didn’t have the kind of military divisions that the pope had at his disposal. The invisible divisions. The number of divisions who were sarcastically questioned by Joseph Stalin to Winston Churchill during World War II. As if the Catholic Church meant absolutely nothing to him because they were not a military power; therefore to be dismissed as but a trivial inconvenience and nothing to be concerned about. Churchill knew better, yet, like FDR, the Prime Minister acquiesced to Stalin’s demands.
Yet, the divisions of millions of souls willing to sacrifice life and limb, career and comfort, for the sake of conscious and inner peace and heritage and redemption remained buried deeply in the hearts of Eastern Europeans everywhere.
Reverse the Dominos
What those imprisoned souls needed was a spark. They were so convinced of their own lost freedoms being forever trod upon they never believed liberty could be theirs, at least not in their lifetimes. After all, they faced Soviet tanks. What could possibly defeat the monster?
An idea could.
When John Paul II came to Poland he supplied them, the infant Solidarity Labor movement, and all of Eastern Europe with the one thing that could and would change history: hope.
Suddenly, there was a sense that change could be effected. Not by armed conflict, not by bloodshed, not by outside intervention (although through God’s instruments of Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, and Helmut Kohl, help, at least initially, as moral support, would come).
No, the change could only truly come from the inside out. From the inside of every individual who actually accepted the promptings of the Holy Spirit. This is a phenomenon that the Polish and Soviet Commissars and entrenched “Apparatchik” did not know how to contend with. They tried of course, starting with kindergarten children to engrain in them the political virtues of communist collectivism and the propaganda of all-powerful state run programs as the nirvana of every society and the best hope for the world’s workers and all mankind.
But, this didn’t succeed as much as they hoped it had. There was something they missed. Something intangible. Something invisible to the human eye in any governmental document.
So then they tried assassination. But, that didn’t work either.
As much as a government might try to convince its citizens that the truth is on their side; that they hold the keys to a utopian world, that they know best and you do not, somewhere deep inside every individual is a quiet dignity which totally refutes this premise. It is kindling only waiting for the spark.
St. John Paul II lit this fuse in the human person one at a time. And, then the dominos righted themselves on a national basis one-by-one. It was a magnificent checkmate against all odds.
It succeeded because it first recognized the divine gift of free will. Therefore, it didn’t need the muzzle of a gun or a tank corps or an armored division. It only needed acceptance.
Perhaps, throughout the world today, especially in Europe and America, there’s a similar yearning for a national identity. For a return to national values, a commonality among peoples who no longer tolerate the modern “Apparatchik” and the commissars who rule our world with impunity. Surprisingly, this was evident in the recent referendum in England. Who would have thought this to be the case even just a few months ago?
It, Brexit I mean, has been festering for a long time. It has been roundly condemned in the press by those on the left who desperately fear something called individuality. Especially those who serve in the entrenched bureaucracies who run our countries, our media, and those in academia who indoctrinate our children in a globalized, politically correct curriculum as if we were all back in high school and must kowtow to the cohort bullies endemic in our common past. But, some of us grew up.
We can think for ourselves now. We needn’t be told what to do and how to do it. Because we have to pay the mortgage or the rent and we have to pay the grocery bill and plan for our family’s future. We don’t want the government’s help to do any of these things. We don’t want charity. We don’t want a handout. And if we want to cling to our bibles and guns, then so be it.
What we want is to be left alone.
We want to be proud of and wave our flag. Because we love our country and our independence and deeply appreciate and pray for those who gave the last full measure of devotion.
Still, there is one thing we need that our leaders cannot give us. It is the gift of hope.
On this, our Independence Day, let us ask for the intervention of John Paul the Great. Let us take a knee in thanks for everything the Lord has bestowed upon us and resign ourselves to accept what the Polish pope gave to his beloved, to all of Europe, to all the world and to us: the message of hope when there seems to be no possibility for any hope at all. In short, “Be not afraid.”