Skip links

Aroused Consciences Changing History

Forty-five years ago, The New York Times cast its gimlet eye over the first three days of Pope John Paul II’s return to his Polish homeland. Reading the signs of those times through the conventional wisdom of the day, the Grey Lady then offered a typically ex cathedra judgment, in a June 5, 1979, editorial:

As much as the visit of Pope John Paul II must reinvigorate and reinspire the Roman Catholic Church in Poland, it does not threaten the political order of the nation or of Eastern Europe.


To begin with, the Polish Church did not need reinvigorating or reinspiring in June 1979 — it was the strongest local Church behind the Iron Curtain, the repository of Poland’s authentic national identity, and a constant thorn in the side of the communist authorities. (Stalin had famously said that trying to make Poland communist was like fitting a saddle on a cow. Little did he know.)

As for the “political order of the nation,” well, Polish Communist Party boss Edward Gierek surreptitiously watched John Paul’s homecoming Mass on June 2 from a hotel room high above what was then Warsaw’s “Victory Square.” When he heard the Pope call on the Holy Spirit to “renew the face of the Earth — of this land!” as hundreds of thousands of Poles chanted “We want God! We want God!”, he surely felt the winds of change blowing, even if the anemometers in New York failed to register what amounted to a Force 10 storm on the Beaufort Scale.

And as to the “political order … of Eastern Europe,” America’s premier historian of the Cold War, Yale’s John Lewis Gaddis, would write in 2005 that “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.” I had made precisely that argument 13 years before in my book The Final Revolution. There, I suggested that, while many causal factors shaped what we know as the Revolution of 1989, the indispensable factor determining when the revolution happened, and how it happened, was John Paul II.

What did he do, and how did he do it?

Read more at National Catholic Register 

Share with Friends: