50 years ago St. John Paul saw America – and saw right through us
By Joseph Serwach
Fifty years after his first visit to America, the influence of St. John Paul the Great takes center stage in the new film and based on the book by Robert Orlando and Paul Kengor, The Divine Plan: John Paul II, Ronald Reagan and the Dramatic End of the Cold War.
In summer 1967, a delegation from Orchard Lake, Michigan, traveled to Poland to ask the great Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński if he would come to America to visit North American Poles. Wyszyński wanted to, he said, but he was certain that if he left Poland, the communists would not allow him to return as he had become a thorn in their side preparing a nine year Novena leading to the 1966 world celebration of 1,000 years of Polish Christianity.
Cardinal Wyszyński proposed another solution: what if they instead invited a young Pole who had just become the youngest cardinal in the world on June 26, 1967? The young man was just 47-years-old but already an accomplished author, who had participated in Vatican II. His name: Karol Józef Wojtyła (the future Pope John Paul II and now St. John Paul).
The invitation was made and accepted. Wojtyła went to 12 cities in 12 days, including interactions with heavily Polish populations around places like Doylestown, Pa., Buffalo, N.Y. , Chicago, Cleveland, Ohio, New York City, Washington, D.C., Montreal and Detroit, Orchard Lake and Hamtramck, Michigan.
In one of his homilies to young people, St. John Paul said we are created by God for a specific reason, with a specific mission, calling and purpose: “This is the truth that every person must perceive; he must be aware of the fact that he is ‘called.’ And to be aware of the fact that ‘I am called’ means to understand the whole reason for existence; it enables us to overcome the sensation of nothingness.”
The establishment scoffed at then Gov. Ronald Reagan for aggressively challenging the Soviet Union. St. John Paul made his own aggressive predictions when he made his second trip to America in 1976:
“We are now standing in the face of the greatest historical confrontation humanity has gone through. I do not think that wide circles of American society or wide circles of the Christian community realize this fully. We are now facing the final confrontation between the Church and the anti-Church, of the Gospel and the anti-Gospel,’’ he warned.
He also predicted, accurately, that the battle would begin on the Vistula, which stretches through the center of his native Poland, the place where the first dominos of communism would indeed fall.
In June 1979, a decade after his first trip to America, Wojtyła was pope, returning to Poland, bringing God back to a public square where God had been banned. Suddenly millions realized that believers were, in fact, the majority no matter what the government and state-run media had to say.
They began chanting “We want God, we want God’’ and John Paul II gave them the courage to lift high the cross. Ronald Reagan, getting ready for his 1980 run for the White House, watched this coverage and immediately sensed and knew the pope would be the key to toppling the Soviet Union.
A year later, the Solidarity strikes began. Reagan won a landslide soon after and in the spring of 1981, both Reagan and John Paul were shot in public, miraculously survived and became convinced that God had a Divine Plan for them to do something that would change the world.
The Divine Plan chronicles how Reagan and John Paul, aligned the U.S. government and the global Church, coordinating efforts to undermine communism and then win over anyone who could work with them from Mikhail Gorbachev to political prisoners praying for hope.
Both former actors who remained public figures throughout their lives knew better than anyone how to win over audiences and turn crowds into movements. Within a decade of their first meeting, the Iron Curtain collapsed and the Soviet Union crumbled into pieces.
And the battle between the Church and the anti Church that John Paul saw decades ago remain quite evident today between today’s believers and non-believers. John Paul and Reagan showed the way to win.
Theatrical release on Nov 9th to commemorate the Fall of the Berlin Wall
Our Foundation’s Mission: To promote the teachings of St. John Paul II and To support the St. John Paul II “Be Not Afraid” Center in Krakow, Poland.