"He instinctively can find the shining greatness of our American culture and does a good job of highlighting it (although he also does have those rare lapses when he writes about hockey, but that is something caused by impurities in the Eastern waters or something)." Erik Keilholtz
Under the patronage of St. Tammany
Mark C. N. Sullivan is an editor at a Massachusetts university. He is married and the father of three children. Email
Thursday, October 16, 2003 "Christ cannot be kept out of the history of man in any part of the globe." Pope John Paul II, Warsaw, June 4, 1979
Czestochowa, Poland, June 4, 1979
"The Pope's visit in 1979 was like a gift from God."Lech Walesa
The makers of a Frontlinedocumentary on John Paul II write on the Polish pope's role in the fall of the Iron Curtain:
Our images of revolution are filled with blood-stained pictures: French aristocrats lined up against the Bastille wall; the Tsar's family executed in a cellar under cover of night; Mao's victims floating down the Yellow River. The romantic collective Polish psyche brims with images of violent, quixotic rebellions. They range from the futile uprisings of the 19th century to the calvary charging German tanks on horseback at the beginning of World War II. But the revolution launched by John Paul's return to Poland is one that conjures roads lined with weeping pilgrims, meadows of peaceful souls singing hymns, and most of all, of people swaying forward as one--reaching for the extraordinary man in white as he is borne through their midst. "What is the greatest, most unexpected event of the 20th century?" James Carroll asked in his interview with us. "Isn't it that the Soviet Empire was brought down non-violently? Isn't John Paul II's story part of it?"
Again and again, people told us that it was. John Paul II's 1979 trip was the fulcrum of revolution which led to the collapse of Communism. Timothy Garton Ash put it this way, "Without the Pope, no Solidarity. Without Solidarity, no Gorbachev. Without Gorbachev, no fall of Communism." (In fact, Gorbachev himself gave the Kremlin's long-term enemy this due, "It would have been impossible without the Pope.") It was not just the Pope's hagiographers who told us that his first pilgrimage was the turning point. Skeptics who felt Wojtyla was never a part of the resistance said everything changed as John Paul II brought his message across country to the Poles. And revolutionaries, jealous of their own, also look to the trip as the beginning of the end of Soviet rule.
It took time; it took the Pope's support from Rome--some of it financial; it took several more trips in 1983 and 1987. But the flame was lit. It would smolder and flicker before it burned from one end of Poland to the other. Millions of people spread the revolution, but it began with the Pope's trip home in 1979. As General Jaruzelski said, "That was the detonator."
See also: An interview with Observer reporter Neal Ascherson on the Pope's impact on Poland in 1979 * William F. Buckley's profile of JPII as one of Time Magazine's 100 Most Important People of the 20th Century.