04/08/05 — Providence? Seemingly miraculous events transpired in John Paul II’s papacy

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Providence? Seemingly miraculous events transpired in John Paul II’s papacy

The hand of Providence cannot always been seen in unlikely occurrences, but Karol Wojtyla was involved in so many of them that his whole life seems miraculous.

He was born in a small town in Poland in 1920, survived being struck by a streetcar at age 12, and lived through a collision with a truck as a young man.

During Germany’s occupation of Poland, he studied at an underground seminary in Krakow, a city not far from one of the Nazi death camps. He escaped detection and the execution that would have followed, and he entered the priesthood.

In 1978, he became the first non-Italian to be elected as pope in 450 years.

Those certainly are highly unusual occurrences, but it was the timing of it all that seems most miraculous — for it helped to alter dramatically the course of history, to lead much of Europe from the darkness of communism into the light of freedom.

Just two years after Karol Wojtyla became Pope John Paul II, Ronald Reagan would be elected president of the United States. At around the same time, Polish labor leader Lech Walesa was leading protests against his country’s government, which was a puppet of the Soviet Moscow.

When Pope John Paul met Reagan, the two world leaders found that they had much in common. For one thing, they were both great communicators — Reagan a former actor and master orator, and John Paul conversant in eight languages.

Each also had a sense of humor and enjoyed the company of the other. But most important, they shared a great vision — to end the Cold War with victory for freedom.

With their support, and that of British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, they were able to strengthen Walesa’s movement, called Solidarity, to the point that it finally toppled Poland’s communist leadership.

Other Eastern Europeans followed Poland’s lead and cast off the bonds of communism. On Christmas Eve of 1991 — note the timing — Mikhail Gorbachev announced that the Soviet Union was being disbanded.

In the years since, John Paul’s health had deteriorated. He was stooped and he shook with palsy, but his leadership of the Roman Catholic Church remained strong. He was the most-traveled pope in history and devoted most of his attention to poor countries.

He had called out a simple injunction at his first Mass as pontiff: “Be not afraid!” And that was his message to the oppressed during the two and one-half decades of his papacy.

On April 2, after a long illness, he died at age 85, not afraid but peacefully. His last word before he shut his eyes, said a friend who was with him, was “Amen.”

Published in Editorials on April 8, 2005 10:47 AM