In 1979, schoolteachers in Poland were told to inform their students that the man about to visit their country “is our enemy.” Teachers were urged to explain to their classes that this man’s sense of humor and great communication skills made him “dangerous, because he charms everyone.”
Who was this dangerous enemy?
It was Pope John Paul II, and the warnings were sent out to schools in Poland because in 1979 the communists were still in control. John Paul II was going to visit his home country for the first time since becoming Pope, and the communists allowed it because they thought he would “behave himself.” They gambled that he would not say anything too controversial in this officially atheist country.
Poland might have been officially atheist at that time, but it was unofficially a very religious country with a large Catholic population.
Suffice it to say, Pope John Paul II, one of the most popular Popes in history, did not behave himself. The moment he arrived in Poland and kissed the ground of the land where he grew up, the bells of churches throughout the country began to ring. The communists must have taken this as the first sign that the Pope’s visit was not going to be what they planned.
Authorities thought they could discourage people from coming out to see him, but they were still afraid that tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands might try to hear him.
Again, they were wrong. More than a million Polish people came out.
Pope John Paul II said to the throngs, “Christ cannot be kept out of the history of man in any part of the globe, at any longitude or latitude of geography. The exclusion of Christ from the history of man is an act against man… the history of each person unfolds in Jesus Christ.”
In response to the Pope, the massive crowd began to chant: “We want God! We want God! We want God!”
By this time, the communist leaders must have fully realized that they had made a strategic mistake in allowing Pope John Paul II to visit Poland, wrote columnist Peggy Noonan in a 2005 retrospective in The Wall Street Journal. “Perhaps as John Paul spoke they heard the sound careen off the hard buildings that ringed the square,” she said. “Perhaps the echo sounded like a wall falling.”
Many people pinpoint the fall of the Soviet Union’s communist empire to November 9, 1989, when the Berlin Wall came tumbling down. But Noonan said, “I know the moment Soviet communism began its fall.” She said it was in June of 1979 in Poland and “it happened in public. Anyone could see it. It was one of the great spiritual moments of the 20th century, maybe the greatest.”
Even more remarkable than the Pope’s speech, Noonan said, was the Mass he said in Blonie Field a week later. The Polish communist officials would not allow the service to be advertised, but word spread, person to person. Two to three million people came to that Mass.
Over the next 10 years, beginning in Poland with the Solidarity movement, the cracks began to form in the communist empire, until that crack became an earthquake, bringing down the Berlin Wall in 1989.
When President Trump went to Poland last year, he referred to this historic moment when a million voices shouted, “We want God” in the face of a totalitarian government. “Totalitarian” means total control, but don’t be fooled. This moment in history showed that the Polish communists did not have total control.
As John Paul II said during his visit, “Let your Spirit descend. Let your Spirit descend. And renew the face of the earth, the face of this land.”
By Doug Peterson