Remembering Pope John Paul II – Five Years Later
This past Friday was the 5th anniversary of the death of Pope John Paul II – one of the most consequential figures of our lifetime.
In partnership with Dave Bossie at Citizens United Productions and our director Kevin Knoblock, we have just completed Nine Days that Changed the World, a movie about Pope John Paul II’s historic nine-day pilgrimage to Poland in June of 1979 that created a revolution of conscience that transformed Poland and fundamentally reshaped the spiritual and political landscape of the 20th Century.
Nine Days that Change the World will premiere this Friday, April 9, at Mount Vernon and will also be screened at Catholic University on April 13, Ave Maria University on April 18, and Georgetown University on April 19. To learn more about our movie, you can visit ninedaysthatchangedtheworld.com.
Yale University Professor John Lewis Gaddis writes in his book, The Cold War: A New History, “when John Paul II kissed the ground at the Warsaw airport on June 2, 1979, he began the process by which Communism in Poland—and ultimately everywhere else in Europe—would come to an end.”
Millions of Poles, almost one third of the nation, turned out to see the Holy Father in person during these nine days in June 1979. The rest of the country followed his pilgrimage on television and radio. Within 16 months, Solidarity became the first officially recognized free-trade union in the Communist bloc, with over 10 million members.
Ten years later on June 4, 1989, Poland held semi-free elections and victorious Solidarity candidates formed the first non-Communist led government in Soviet-dominated Eastern Europe. On November 9, 1989, the Berlin Wall fell. Two years later the Soviet Union disappeared.
God is Sovereign, Not the State
When Soviet dictator Josef Stalin famously asked “How many divisions has the Pope,” he was of course referring to the fact that the head of the Roman Catholic Church commanded no armed forces and therefore could pose no challenge to the military power wielded by the Soviet Union.
But what Stalin did not anticipate was the election of a Polish Pope who would be in a position to go to the heart of Soviet-dominated Eastern Europe and provide his countrymen with unbounded hope and inspiration from the simple reminder, repeated everywhere, that God was sovereign, not the state.
George Weigel, biographer of John Paul II, describes it best: “During the Nine Days of June 1979, John Paul II gave back to his people their history, their culture, and their identity. In doing so, he gave Poles spiritual tools of resistance that Communism could not match.”
Vaclav Havel and Lech Walesa Agree that the Pope’s Role Was Key
We learned about the significance of John Paul II’s 1979 pilgrimage during a trip to Europe in 2008 when we were conducting interviews for our documentary, Ronald Reagan: Rendezvous with Destiny. We traveled to Gdansk, Poland, to interview President Lech Walesa, and then to Prague to visit with President Vaclav Havel.
In both interviews, we asked about Pope John Paul II’s role in bringing about the end of Communism. Both Presidents described the Holy Father’s role as critical and agreed that his 1979 Pilgrimage to Poland was a decisive turning point in undermining Communism.
The more we learned about this historic nine-day pilgrimage, the more we realized that this was not just an incredible chapter of history; it was an extraordinary moment of human liberation, achieved through Pope John Paul II’s worldwide message of freedom through faith.
A Story for Our Time
You might ask yourself: How does Communist oppression in Poland relate to America in 2010? To bring these nine days to life:
• Imagine a government that stopped school prayer;
• Imagine if crosses were knocked down by anti-religious governments;
• And imagine if it was more acceptable in the classroom or the newsroom to be an atheist than to believe in Jesus Christ.
As you can see, there are many parallels between the anti-religious government in Poland in 1979 and the anti-religious elite in the United States in 2010.
Beyond America, this pilgrimage has direct relevance to those who seek freedom. As President Vaclav Havel says, “it’s our obligation for those who have lived through this time, to bring this back to the attention of the free democratic world, particularly in countries where dictatorships still exist, and where there are opposition movements that deserve support, such as Burma, Iran, Cuba or Belarus.”
This is why we are determined to produce and distribute Nine Days that Changed the World in Chinese, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, and Italian—as well as in English.
Our goal is to bring not only hope to the oppressed in dictatorships, but also to offer inspiration to those who find themselves trapped in secular anti-religious cultures.
We have it in our power to extend Pope John Paul II’s influence far beyond Poland and 1979. We hope you will enjoy Nine Days that Changed the World and share its message.
P.S. We recently reflected on Pope John Paul II in an article you can read on National Review Online.
Newt’s Quick Links:
• You can sign up for a membership at Newt.org to get alerts of when Newt will be in your area for speeches and book signings, media appearance notifications, and special discounts at the Newt.org Store. Click here.
• President Obama literally edited Christ out of his ‘holiday greeting,’” wrote Vince Haley from American Solutions. You can read his article on the ReAL website here.
•A letter from one of our writers at the Americano.