Pope John Paul the Great

Larry Elder

4/7/2005 12:00:00 AM - Larry Elder

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 desert."

 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 own father.

 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.