They were an unlikely political "trinity" -- Ronald Reagan, the president of the United States who came from the Disciples of Christ Church; Margaret Thatcher, whose background was lower-class Methodist; and Karol Wojtyla, the Roman Catholic priest from Krakow, Poland. Together, they did something no one thought possible: They contributed to the collapse of communism, a political pestilence of the 20th century.
Even former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev acknowledged as much when he told Italy's La Stampa newspaper in 1992: "What has happened in Eastern Europe in recent years would not have been possible without the presence of this pope."
The beginning of the end for communism started in the pope's native Poland. It was June, 1979, and the relatively new pope traveled to Poland for a nine-day visit. In more than 40 sermons, addresses, lectures and extemporaneous remarks, the pope fired a shot at communism's weakest link, telling his fellow Poles they were not who their rulers said they were and reminding them of their true identity.
He spoke of Poland's real history and culture, which had been oppressed and rewritten by the communists. He launched a "revolution of conscience" which, 14 months later, gave birth to the Solidarity movement. Solidarity produced a groundswell of fearlessness and a hunger for freedom that the communist leaders could neither suppress nor reach. Commenting on the pope's 1979 visit (subsequent trips in 1983 and 1987 sealed the deal), Polish dictator Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski said, "That was the detonator."
Solidarity's leader Lech Walesa credited the pope with giving Poles the courage to rise up. "The pope started this chain of events that led to the end of communism," Walesa said. "Before his pontificate, the world was divided into blocs. Nobody knew how to get rid of communism. He simply said, 'Don't be afraid, change the image of this land.'"
While the pope was about liberating millions from the yoke of communism, he also reined in the "liberation theology" that had undercut fundamental church teachings. This orthodox theological revolution not only had influence in Third World countries (many of which he visited), it also resonated in American domestic politics.
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