April 4, 2005
By Lee Edwards, Ph.D.
It's been less than a year since Ronald Reagan "slipped the
surly bonds of earth … to touch the face of God," and now
John Paul II has joined him. Only Margaret Thatcher remains of the
remarkable triumvirate that led the West to victory in the Cold
President Reagan and the pope shared strong convictions about
communism. As the pontiff's official biographer, George Weigel,
points out, both believed communism was a moral evil, not simply
bad economics. Both remained confident that free peoples could
overcome the communist challenge -- that victory over communism was
Throughout his long life, whether as a young layman, a priest, or a
bishop, whether as Karol Wojtyla or John Paul II, the pope spoke
firmly for freedom and against tyranny, taking as his text Christ's
words, "Be not afraid."
In the late 1940s and early 1950s -- when actor Ronald Reagan was
fighting the communists in Hollywood -- Fr. Wojtyla persistently
rebutted efforts by Poland's Stalinist rulers to reinvent the
country's history and culture. He visited student dormitories
preaching the existence of God and the spiritual character of the
In the 1960s -- when Gov. Reagan was putting down radical-inspired
violence on California's campuses -- Bishop Wojtyla reminded Poles
that in their thousand-year history they often had "to break
through to freedom from the underground."
In the 1970s -- when presidential candidate Reagan persisted in
calling the Soviet Union "evil" and an empire -- Cardinal Wojtyla
reached out to Polish dissident intellectuals as part of his effort
to forge, in the words of George Weigel, "a chain of cultural
resistance" to the communist regime. In April 1974, he traveled to
Czechoslovakia, where, surrounded by Czech secret police, he
attended the funeral of Cardinal Stepàn Trochta, who had
spent 10 years in communist prisons.
Wherever he went and wherever he was, the Polish cardinal
fearlessly challenged what Vaclav Havel called "a culture of lies."
He effectively articulated a Christian alternative to the false
humanism of communism.
In June 1979, Pope John Paul II made his first pilgrimage to
Poland, a nine-day-visit that produced an awe-inspiring spiritual
awakening in Poland and the birth of the Solidarity trade union.
Tens of millions of Poles realized that "we are the society and the
country is ours." The pope's historic pilgrimage set in motion "a
revolution of the spirit" that resulted -- a mere decade later --
in the collapse of communism in eastern and central Europe.
Not even an attempted murder by a professional assassin in May 1981
could stop John Paul II and his campaign for freedom. In 1987, when
President Reagan called on Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to tear
down the Berlin Wall -- the pope spoke for the first time of a
Europe united "from the Atlantic to the Urals," reflecting his
conviction that communism was finished.
When many commentators fumbled for an explanation of why communism
had fallen so suddenly and unexpectedly, the pope offered this
reason in January 1990 at his annual meeting with the diplomatic
corps accredited to the Holy See: "The irresistible thirst for
freedom ... brought down walls and opened doors." It was a freedom
made possible, he said, because "women, young people and men have
overcome their fear."
The extraordinary leader who helped them conquer their fear, who
served as an eloquent witness to hope, and who helped topple the
empire of lies was John Paul II.
Lee Edwards, is the
Distinguished Fellow in Conservative Thought at The Heritage
Foundation and chairman of the Victims of Communism Memorial
Distributed nationally on the Knight-Ridder Tribune wire
It's been less than a year since Ronald Reagan "slipped the surly bonds of earth
to touch the face of God," and now John Paul II has joined him.
Lee Edwards, Ph.D.
Distinguished Fellow in Conservative Thought, B. Kenneth Simon Center for Principles and Politics
Read More >>
Request an interview >>
Please complete the following form to request an interview with a Heritage expert.
Please note that all fields must be completed.
Heritage's daily Morning Bell e-mail keeps you updated on the ongoing policy battles in Washington and around the country.
The subscription is free and delivers you the latest conservative policy perspectives on the news each weekday--straight from Heritage experts.
The Morning Bell is your daily wake-up call offering a fresh, conservative analysis of the news.
More than 200,000 Americans rely on Heritage's Morning Bell to stay up to date on the policy battles that affect them.
Rush Limbaugh says "The Heritage Foundation's Morning Bell is just terrific!"
Rep. Peter Roskam(R-IL) says it's "a great way to start the day for any conservative who wants to get America back on track."
Sign up to start your free subscription today!
The Heritage Foundation is the nation’s most broadly supported public policy research institute, with hundreds of thousands of individual, foundation and corporate donors. Heritage, founded in February 1973, has a staff of 275 and an annual expense budget of $82.4 million.
Our mission is to formulate and promote conservative public policies based on the principles of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values, and a strong national defense. Read More
© 2013, The Heritage Foundation Conservative policy research since 1973