WASHINGTON, D.C. -- "Be not afraid!" No better eulogy can be written for Pope John Paul II than this exhortation from his inaugural Mass on Oct. 22, 1978. His simple statement resonated from the halls of the Kremlin to the streets of Eastern Europe, from the jungles of Central America to the oppressed tending rice paddies in Communist China. These words even touched hearts here in secular America.
Those three words -- "Be not afraid" -- from Matthew, quoting Christ's command to a group of fearful men in peril on a dark and dangerous sea -- defined who he was and what he did. At every opportunity, this man who would become the most loved, viewed and likely one of the most feared men on earth urged fearlessness in the face of all that life offers -- right up to death itself.
Loved? Certainly. Viewed? No doubt. More than 100 million people in 129 countries can claim to have seen him -- not on a screen, but in person. But feared? Yes, John Paul was indeed feared by despots and dictators, the cruel and those who would deny the sanctity of human life that he espoused in every sermon and in all of his writings. His faith, strength of character and devotion to the dignity of every person informed everything he did. Those virtues are terrifying to tyrants and can change hearts in ways that military force and economic might never can.
Best of all, his life will continue to inspire. Few know the given name of any of this pope's predecessors. But almost everyone who has ever heard of John Paul II knows that he was once a parish priest, Karol Wojtyla. And because of all that has been said and written of him, hundreds of millions of people know that his courage and steadfastness were forged in the crucible of adversity -- first under the boot of Nazi oppression and ultimately beneath the Soviet proxies who ruled Poland after World War II.
In the early 1950s, the communist regime constructed Nowa Huta, a "model city" on the outskirts of Krakow. When Archbishop Karol Wojtyla discovered that this new "worker's paradise" wouldn't have a church, he set out to change their minds. He lobbied the apparatchiks. They ignored him. He went to the Communist Party authorities. They threatened him. So he went to the people -- and began badgering the bureaucracy for a permit to construct a place of worship.
Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of War Stories on the Fox News Channel, the author of the new novel Heroes Proved and the co-founder of Freedom Alliance, an organization that provides college scholarships to the children of U.S. military personnel killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty. Join Oliver North in Israel by going to www.olivernorthisrael.com.