Pope John Paul II (1920 – 2005) was the first Polish Pope and lived through the Nazi occupation of Poland. The sufferings of his people during the Second World War and later under Communism left a powerful mark on his later activities and opinions. During his papacy Pope John Paul II sought to normalise relations with Communist Russia and urged the Berlin Wall to be brought down.
Pope John Paul first visited Poland, to a rapturous reception in 1979. He avoided any overt controversy but emphasised cooperation between the State and the Church. Throughout the 1980s Pope John Paul placed a keen eye on events in Eastern Europe, expressing support for Solidarity, the Polish opposition to Communism.
Under the leadership of Mikhail Gorbachev it was clear that the Soviet Union was undergoing profound economic and political change through his policies of Glasnost and Perestroika. There was a marked thaw in relations between the Kremlin and the Vatican, which in previous decades had been antagonistic.
For example on Feb. 20, 1988, a Red Army choir performed a rendition of Ave Maria before the pope at the Vatican. Also in 1988 Mikhail Gorbachev allowed and promoted a celebration of 1000 years in Christianity in Russia and the Ukraine. Although an atheist himself Gorbachev allowed a return to legitimising personal worship in the Soviet Union. The Pope John Paul the Second had also done much to outreach to other religions, expressing apologies for crimes committed in the name of Catholocism he enabled improved relations with the Jewish and Orthodox faiths in particular. Similarly the Pope was willing to enable a new friendship with a leader of the Soviet Union. In December 1989 Gorbachev met with the Pope at the Vatican and each have expressed their respect and admiration for the other.
Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev once said the collapse of the Iron Curtain would have been impossible without John Paul II. On his passing Mikhail Gorbachev said.
“Pope John Paul II’s devotion to his followers is a remarkable example to all of us.”"
In the fall of the Berlin Wall the Pope John Paul II played a vital background role in promoting the ideals of unity and empathy to his Polish homeland. His considerable moral authority laid an important framework for the eventual breaking down of the Iron Curtain and reuniting East and West. Of course the fall of the Berlin Wall cannot be attributed to any one person but the influence of the Pope was significant in promoting this ideal of non violent reunion.
“Warsaw, Moscow, Budapest, Berlin, Prague, Sofia and Bucharest have become stages in a long pilgrimage toward liberty. It is admirable that in these events, entire peoples spoke out – women, young people, men, overcoming fears, their irrepressible thirst for liberty speeded up developments, made walls tumble down and opened gates. “
- Pope John Paul II
Despite the fall of Communism John Paul II did not assert that this implied the victory of Capitalism. John Paul II remained commited to a Christian vision of social Justice an ideal Capitalism often failed to achieve.
Quote by John Paul on Communism
“It would be simplistic to say that Divine Providence caused the fall of Communism. In a certain sense Communism as a system fell by itself. It fell as a consequence of its own mistakes and abuses. It proved to be a medicine more dangerous than the disease itself. It did not bring about true social reform, yet it did become a powerful threat and challenge to the entire world. But it fell by itself, because of its own inherent weakness.”
Quotes on John Paul II
‘You are the living emblem of peace on earth.’
- Sri Chinmoy
- Pope John Paul and Sri Chinmoy – Kind Words