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Pope St. John Paul II: warrior of peace in a time of suf­fering
| Col­legian Archives

A biog­rapher of Pope John Paul II credited the former pontiff with top­pling the Soviet Union and ending the Cold War in a campus speech on Oct. 26.

“The col­lapse of European com­munism and the rev­o­lution of 1989 hap­pened the way it did because Pope John Paul II ignited a rev­o­lution of con­science in June 1979,” said George Weigel, a Catholic writer and intel­lectual whose books include “Witness to Hope,” a biog­raphy of the saint.

Weigel delivered the lecture, hosted by the Catholic Society, sur­rounding the details of John Paul II’s resis­tance to com­munism with the strength of faith rather than violence. 

“The beginning of the end of the Cold War came at 10 a.m. when John Paul II stepped off the plane at the Warsaw airport on his pil­grimage to Poland on June 2, 1979,” Weigel said.

During his visit, John Paul II reminded them of their identity, Weigel said. 

“‘You are not who they say you are,’” Weigel said, quoting John Paul II. “‘Let me remind you who you really are. Reclaim your culture and true history and use the tools of resis­tance that com­munism cannot match.’”

Weigel said the pope brought a dis­tinctive under­standing of the dynamics of history which was the result of his dis­tinctive Polish experience.

“The revival hap­pened through Poland’s culture, through its dis­tinctive lan­guage, dis­tinctive lit­er­ature, and it hap­pened through Poland’s Catholic faith,” Weigel said. 

Upon the pope’s election, the head of the KGB, Yuri Andropov, per­ceived the pope’s election as a mortal threat to not only the com­munist position in Poland, but to the whole Soviet enter­prise, he said.

Weigel said Russian writer Alek­sandr Solzhen­itsyn described the moment well when he said, “This is the greatest thing that has hap­pened since the first World War. It will change everything.” 

John Paul II entered his pon­tif­icate real­izing the weakness of the Vatican’s diplo­matic rela­tions with the Soviet Union, Weigel said. Through a leak within the Vatican, the Soviet Union had infil­trated the diplo­matic process of the Vatican. John Paul II sought to rebuild this structure, and made it clear that this rela­tionship would be a zero-sum game: one side would win and the other side would lose.

In con­tinuing his mission of peace, John Paul II col­lab­o­rated with other world leaders to establish the Sol­i­darity Movement in August 1980. 

“He ana­lyzes John Paul II’s life from a his­torical per­spective,” freshman and attendant Liam Regan said. “He gives an outside per­spective, looking at the his­torical events and how the church and John Paul II reacted to them. It was very powerful.” 

Pres­ident of Catholic Society and senior David Strobach com­mented on the way in which John Paul II struck his life. 

“Truth itself can take down com­munism,” he said. “It gives you hope if you live out the faith in any day and age. The pru­dence of John Paul II of under­standing what he was doing was absolutely masterful.”

“We can live that lesson if we live our lives from the inside out as he did, praying our lives into a better future,” Wegel said.