Forty-two years ago Polish Karol Wojtyła became the Pope “from a distant land” but as the head of the Polish Episcopal Conference (KEP), the highest administrative body of the Catholic Church in Poland, Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki wrote “in this phrasing, the distance referred not to the geographic but to the fact that the man hailed from behind ‘the iron curtain’. He, however, never agreed with the division of Europe.”
Having written for the “Wszystko co Najważniejsze” magazine, the KEP head stressed that John Paul II did not eschew difficult matters.
The Archbishop recalled that the future Pope John Paul II, Karol Wojtyła was born in the year of the Battle of Warsaw (1920). “He experienced the German occupation and the communist regime which seized power in Poland after WWII. Encountering both totalitarian systems, the German and the Russian, just like the experience of being a physical worker influenced his worldview deeply,” Abp Gądecki wrote.
“He never agreed with the [Cold War era] division of Europe. He stressed the right of all nations of Europe to join the process of the continent’s unification. This thought often faced opposition,” the KEP head noted, recalling that John Paul II wrote in his Centesimus annus encyclical that at the time many believed that the world order established as a result of WWII could only be altered with another war.
“Meanwhile, John Paul II adopted a thoroughly different defensive strategy for Europe and the Church in Central and Eastern Europe – the strategy of ministry. He launched Vatican Radio programmes aired in the languages of Central Europe and new editions of L’Osservatore Romano in new languages. While analysing the underlying causes of the West’s failure at the hands of the world of communist atheism he pointed out that the West does not lack experts, albeit it does lack experienced people who would be free from marxism-induced complexes,” the Archbishop wrote.
Recalling the first pilgrimage of John Paul II to Poland, the KEP head wrote that it became an impulse for the blue-collar workers’ resistance of 1980 and the creation of the Independent Self-governing Trade Union “Solidarity” (NSZZ “Solidarność”). It was “Solidarity” that initiated the fall of communism in Europe.
“The Pope provided spiritual and intellectual support to anti-communist opposition in Central Europe publishing, among others, the encyclical on theology and spirituality of human labour and teaching solidarity ethics. The price, which he paid for engaging in this dialogue with the world of the working-class was the attempt on his life. It seems that Saint John Paul II deserved to be introduced to the group of popes customarily called ‘the Greats’,” the KEP head wrote.
Abp. Gądecki stressed that John Paul II was also a staunch defender of the right to live from the moment of conception to natural death. “He bequeathed to us a grand manifesto of the defenders of life that the Evangelium vitae encyclic is. He also left us with his reflections on the ulterior phase of life in his ‘Letter to elderly people’. He paid attention to the dramatic change taking place in western civilisation.”
As the KEP head highlighted while writing on marriage and family, John Paul II did not eschew difficult topics. “John Paul II, as the Pope of the Divine Mercy, was convinced that mercy does not leave a fallen man but lifts him from his sin, returning the dignity of the son to him. This also refers to married couples who, just like the prodigal son, live the conviction of lost dignity of a husband or a wife. It is also possible in their life to return to the house of Father and redeem their dignity stemming from the sacrament of marriage. God, our Lord, has not turned away from them either. In this context, it is important to stress that during John Paul II’s canonisation, Pope Francis called him ‘the Pope of Family’,” the KEP head wrote.